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What Are the Benefits of “Insulating” Paint?

In this very brief article by Scientific American it primarily negatively discusses ‘insulating’ paints. Loosely and brief is very accurate. This is much more about fiction than facts and starts off making assumptions to the reader that ‘insulating’ paints are harmful. No evidence is provided and there’s direct quotes from other articles around the web. It’s really a poor article that has very little science and more about gossip. I’m sure if a website is called Scientific American it’s integrity to research should be much better…oh and zero source references to other reference documents.

Scientific American state it covers the most important and exciting research, ideas and knowledge in science, health, technology, the environment and society. It is committed to sharing trustworthy knowledge, enhancing our understanding of the world, and advancing social justice. Founded 1845, Scientific American is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. It has published articles by more than 200 Nobel Prize winners. Well this article seems to be written by a primary school student. Must be, there’s no author.

Scientific American

July 15, 2009

What Are the Benefits of “Insulating” Paint?

Do these products actually save energy or do more harm to the environment?

Really, do more harm to the environment? The paints and coatings are designed to cool roofs, so the notion they harm the environment is ridiculous. According to the US Department of Energy:

A cool roof can benefit a building and its occupants by:
• Reducing energy bills by decreasing air conditioning needs
• Helping older inefficient (or undersized) air conditioners provide enough cooling for today’s hotter summers
• Making it possible to downsize new or replacement air conditioning equipment, saving money and potentially increasing cooling efficiency
• Improving indoor comfort and safety for spaces that are not air conditioned
• Decreasing roof temperature, which may extend roof service life

Cool roofs also:
• Lower local outside air temperatures, thereby lessening the urban heat island effect
• Slow the formation of smog from air pollutants, which are temperature-dependent, by cooling the outside air
• Reduce peak electricity demand, which can help prevent power outages
• Decrease power plant emissions by reducing the demand for energy to cool buildings.
• Help offset global warming by reflecting more sunlight to outer space 

Dear EarthTalk: Do insulating paints actually insulate and save energy? If they do, are they environmentally friendly to use? — Bob Dibrindisi, Easthampton, MA

Paint additives that claim insulating qualities have been marketed since the late 1990s, but energy research organizations have not confirmed their insulating value.

Super Therm® was invented in 1989 so that article is 10 years out and it’s not a ‘paint additive’. Insulating paints don’t have an insulation value because they don’t resist heat…they aim to reflect visual heat. In the case of Super Therm® it is tested and rated to block 96.1% total solar reflectance so the notion of pushing ‘insulating’ paints into the same area as bulk insulation makes no sense. It’s a bit like comparing petrol vehicles to electric vehicles. Completely different technology that drives the car but the outcome is the same. Bulk insulation allows heat to slowly transfer into the material with the goal of cooling an area. Paints and coatings aim to block and reflect heat away to keep an area cool.

For its part, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not recommend using paints or coatings in place of traditional bulk insulation. “We haven’t seen any independent studies that can verify their insulating qualities,” the agency reports. The federal government does rate roofing paint for its energy efficiency, but such findings only take into account a substance’s ability to reflect heat off the roof—not its insulating properties per se—to keep the building cooler.

Super Therm® has been tested by the US Department of Energy in Texas, Florida and Denver and proven to show a 20-50% energy saving. It blocks 92% of heat in visual light, 99% in UV heat and 99.5% in Infrared heat. The statement of “take into account a substance’s ability to reflect heat off the roof—not its insulating properties per se—to keep the building cooler.” Well if the DOE tested and proved 20-50% energy savings by reflecting heat that means the heat isn’t being transferred. It’s not insulating, it’s blocking the heat load. Other insulation products allow heat to be absorbed inside the roof.

With regard to the EPA. When Super Therm® was tested by the State of Florida Energy Office in 2004 the closing statement of the report: On behalf of the United States Department of Energy, The State of Florida Energy Office and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, let me thank you for your efforts to conserve Energy. We hope you will continue to promote ENERGY STAR BUILDINGS ALLY & REBUILD AMERICA BUSINESS PARTNER products to assist your clients reducing energy consumption and their related negative environmental impacts.

According to the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the use of so-called insulated paints is in most cases “difficult to justify on the basis of savings in energy costs alone.”

Super Therm® Energy Savings Cool Ceramic Coating has been tested by the US Department of Energy in Texas, Florida and Denver and proven to show a 20-50% energy saving. That’s not ‘difficult to justify on the basis of savings in energy costs’. Clearly the statement by the DOE Oak Ridge National Laboratory statement isn’t accurate at all as the Florida office proved otherwise with Super Therm®.

Meanwhile, the non-profit EnergyIdeas Clearinghouse, a partnership between Washington State University and the nonprofit Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, found that under ideal circumstances insulating paints can achieve a “reduction in heat gain” of around 20 percent on freshly-painted sun-exposed walls, but notes that such walls will only face direct sunlight for a limited part of even the clearest summer day. Also, the clearinghouse reports that “heat gain reductions…are significant only for sun-bathed surfaces” and that the “reflectivity of the painted surface generally declines considerably with time.

While Super Therm® is tested to block 96.1% of total solar heat this includes 99.5% of infrared heat. This is on roofs, walls or any surface. So even when the sun’s not shining yet it’s hot, that solar infrared heat is being blocked. This is a major point of difference to our competitor products. White paint only reflects two elements of heat (UV and Visual Light) and does not reflect Infrared heat. We have no idea of the paint they’ve used in the referenced ‘EnergyIdeas Clearinghouse’ article. It’s highly unprofessional to not have links to source references to make the claims above. Our search results show a reference to this article which is again Insuladd a paint additive product (see this debunked article). We’re unsure of the actual product but with white paint the performance drops because it reflects only visual heat when clean and not infrared heat. Scientific American should be much sharper with their ‘science’ and research.

A Japanese study found of 21 heat reflective paints showed even the most reflective paint lost it’s solar reflectance by 44% within 1.5 years. However when Super Therm® was tested in comparison to other paints by the Energy Star Program, Super Therm’s loss of solar reflectance in 3 years was only 1% compared with minimum of 30-90% by competitors.

Alex Wilson of the website is not a fan of insulating paints: “To say that there is a lot of hype about insulating paints…is an understatement,” he tells the website “The Internet is rife with claims of paints that dramatically reduce heat transfer—usually based on some technological magic spun off from NASA. While these products may have some relevance in the extreme conditions of outer space, manufacturers of paints containing [insulating additives] are making claims that defy the laws of physics…when they claim they can save significant energy in buildings.”

Yeah we’ve seen Alex Wilson’s work on several online articles. Pity Scientific American just copied and pasted similar to other articles online. Check out our 2 responses and here with Alex’s quote reused. Yawn. We’ve seen all the hype, imitators and deception in the marketplace as well. One of the worst articles for this is on Wikipedia which we highlight all the wrong facts about insulation coatings and paints along with misinformation. The real Super Therm® is very much based on science and physics of micron sized ceramics that reflect the 3 heat waves and prevent heat load. It’s very precise formulation…again with independent results. With regard to NASAenjoy the read.

Nevertheless, for certain applications, especially in concert with traditional forms of insulation underneath, insulating paint can help reduce energy expenditures and air conditioning bills accordingly. For those who want to forge ahead with insulating paint despite the limited benefits, some of the leading brands to look for include Insuladd, Hy-Tech, Therma-Guard and Eagle Coatings’ SuperTherm.

This article does recommend Super Therm® however it is manufactured by Superior Products International II, Inc., not Eagle Coatings who is the Canadian Distributor. We also believe Super Therm® works with bulk insulation to help the total energy efficiency of a building. Keep the heat out and reduce heat transfer. While Super Therm® is tested to block 96.1% of total solar heat this includes 99.5% of infrared heat. As the Department of Energy stated at the top of the page, cool roofs offer a significant amount of benefits including reduced energy into the building, therefore reduced air conditioning costs. We have written a great article that talks about the shear volume of air conditioners expected by 2050 in the world…it’s alarming so cool roofs can help reduce the CO2 load.

Adding insulating paint should merely be the icing on the cake of an otherwise well-conceived plan to cut heating and cooling costs. Installing a traditional form of insulation would be the first defense. A reflective, radiant barrier on the roof structure in the attic also could offer significant help, according to the Florida Solar Energy Center.

Paints and coatings are more than ‘icing on the cake’. Entire cities are now running programs across the world for cool roofs, along with articles by copious organisations on the benefits of paints and coatings is undeniable.

Effects of Urban Surfaces and White Roofs on Global and Regional Climate
Driving Increased Utilisation of Cool Roofs on Large Footprint Buildings
Clean Energy Solutions Centre – Cool Roofs
How ‘Cool Roofs’ Can Help Fight Climate Change – New York Times

Painted rooftops reflect the heat instead of absorbing it, reducing the need for air-conditioning and cutting greenhouse gases.

Thermal-pane windows and energy-conscious practices will contribute to the effort. Finally, consider trees and other landscape shading, which the U.S. Department of Energy recommends as an effective way of passively cooling your home. For more ideas, visit the “do-it-yourself energy audit tool” on the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Home Energy Saver website.

Regrettably not only is this a very flippant article for ‘insulating’ paints the copy seems to be just a cut and paste off other articles. Unfortunately when other blogs use references from Scientific American and Wikipedia as a source reference that have misleading information this perpetuates inaccurate information. Clearly Scientific American need to put in some thorough research into true products that block solar heat. What’s worse is people are linking to them like this article is the truth. Again it’s not supported by any facts, truth or evidence and no source references. It bundles all products into one category.

To make alarming statements of ‘do more harm to the environment’ and ‘are they environmentally friendly to use?’ clearly during the article it does nothing to address their statements yet frames the ‘insulating’ paints as potentially damaging…and they’re not! Fortunately you can always coat again but with bulk insulation that will become landfill once expired…not to mention energy savings from cool roofs.

Lucky Super Therm® is the Ferrari. Scientific American are testing and talking something completely different. Not too much science in this article, more fiction than fact!

More Debunked Media

NEOtech Coatings : The Winter Penalty Fallacy for Cool Roofs
Military solutions with Insulation Coatings NEOtech Coatings

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