Solutions for a Net-Zero Economy: Saving Energy with Insulation
February 2, 2023

In celebration of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy’s 30th Anniversary, the Solutions for a Net-Zero Economy interview series promotes the leadership and innovation of clean energy businesses and the membership of BCSE. Featured speakers will showcase the broad range of technologies available to achieve sustainability objectives and a net zero economy.


By Justin Koscher, President, Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association, and Curt Rich, President and CEO, North American Insulation Manufacturers Association

Insulation really is unique among building materials in that sustainability is our core value proposition. Insulation is used throughout the building portfolio – in the homes we live in, the offices we work in, and the stores we shop in – to not only improve occupant comfort, but also reduce energy consumption. For insulation, the story begins and ends with sustainability.

Today, residential and commercial buildings account for 31% of energy-related CO2 emissions in the United States. Insulation has a large role to play in reducing energy use and carbon pollution across the building sector, helping our country move forward toward a lower carbon future.

To that end, the insulation industry recently commissioned ICF – a globally recognized firm with expertise in the energy and energy efficiency fields – to quantify the immense energy savings and carbon emission reductions that can come from upgrading building envelope insulation and air sealing.

How immense? The impact to the studied building population is the equivalent of increasing current wind production by 135 percent or offsetting the emissions associated with 40 percent of total natural gas-fired generation in the United States.

Energy savings ranging from 10 to 45 percent can be achieved in existing homes that are air sealed and have insulation added in the ceiling and floors (and walls in very limited circumstances) to levels prescribed by the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code. In the business sector, upgrading roof and pipe insulation in just 25 percent of existing commercial building floor space in the U.S. would save more than 700 therms of natural gas each year – or the equivalent of having 800,000 fewer gasoline-powered passenger vehicles on the road.

The findings are instructive for environmental leaders searching for solutions to immediately and rapidly decarbonize the existing building stock. Insulation improvements should be a critical component of any environmental policy and support the deployment of other technologies, including clean energy generation, that can further reduce the environmental impacts of heating and cooling homes and buildings.

As states begin to receive energy efficiency funding from the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the report can serve as a resource for state-level practitioners. With the state-level information the report includes on average consumer cost savings and emissions reductions across the building sector, we believe it will serve as a valuable resource while states implement funding from this pair of legislation in the coming years.

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