Insulate Cold Floors At Senior Homes

Structural thermal breaks insulate owners from energy waste and mold, as well as keep residents from cold floors.

By Tracy Dacko

Today’s new senior residences appeal to a growing customer base by offering comforts previously associated with high-end apartments and condo living.

Skylights, green roofs, balconies, courtyards, nature walks, theaters, fountains, and other amenities abound. Less obvious but critical to the comfort and health of seniors are warm interior floors adjacent to exterior walls and doors, and mold-free air recirculating within the sealed building envelope — improvements made possible by insulating concrete and steel structures that penetrate the building envelope.

Correcting An Old Problem Caused A New One

While architects employ a myriad of techniques to incrementally reduce heat from escaping through walls and ceilings, heat energy often finds an easy escape route through thermal bridges. A thermal bridge is created when highly conductive components — like the concrete slab of a balcony or the steel beam that supports an entranceway canopy — penetrate the insulated building envelope.

When winter temperatures chill the outside air, obvious outcomes are high heating costs and cold interior floors, but building owners now face an even larger problem: condensation and mold caused by the higher interior humidity of today’s well-sealed buildings.

Prior to air-tight building envelopes, air leakage caused interior humidity levels to equalize with exterior humidity levels of approximately 25% during cold winter months — too low for cold interior structures to reach dew point or form condensation.

With interior humidity levels now in the range of 40-50%, the interior side of chilled penetrations can reach dew point, form condensation and support mold growth on adjacent interior surfaces and in stagnant cavities. Mold can become airborne years before it becomes visible on interior walls and ceilings, exposing the building owner to significant liability and remediation costs.

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Condensation on the chilled interior side of uninsulated penetrations supports the growth of mold, which can become airborne years before spreading to visible wall and ceiling surfaces, exposing the owner to remediation and liability costs

Insulating Against Energy Waste, Chilled Floors, Mold Growth

Balconies, slab edges, eyebrows, canopies, parapets, rooftop equipment connections, and other structural penetrations can be insulated by installing structural thermal breaks at the building envelope.

Thermal breaks reduce heat loss at the penetrations by up to 90%, often allowing a corresponding reduction in HVAC mechanical system size/capacity, capital cost, and operational cost.

Since penetrations remain too warm to reach dew point, form condensation, or support mold growth, the owner also avoids related liability and remediation costs.

Structural thermal breaks raise the temperature of interior floors adjacent to penetrations by up to 34°F, allowing senior occupants to enjoy greater comfort and useable space.

Increased Energy Savings

Pacific Arbour Retirement Communities (PARC), which operates several senior residences in British Columbia, Canada, incorporated structural thermal breaks in its buildings to avoid thermal bridging at balconies, rooftop connections, and canopies, which also contributes to the requirements for achieving LEED Gold certification.

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