A newly released study by ICF, an international consulting firm with expertise in the energy and energy efficiency sectors, shows that upgrading building envelope insulation leads to substantial energy savings and carbon emission reductions. ICF was tasked with quantifying the lifetime energy savings, economic benefits, and carbon emission reductions that can be achieved with insulation improvements to existing single-family homes, commercial buildings, and industrial facilities. The study’s findings underscore insulation’s enormous potential to help each corner of the country meet building performance standards and carbon reduction goals.
The study assessed the state and national-level energy and emissions savings benefits as well as the economic benefits that could accrue over 50 years as a result of the implementation of code-compliant insulation retrofits. Key findings showed that energy savings ranging from 10%-45% can be achieved in existing homes that are air sealed and have insulation added in the ceiling and floors to levels prescribed by the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code.
Nationally, this retrofit activity could yield roughly ten billion tons of carbon emission reductions over a 50-year period, the assumed useful life of building insulation. This is equivalent to eliminating over 25,000 natural gas-fired electrical generation power plants for a year, the annual energy use of over one billion homes, or operating almost three million wind turbines over a year.
The study assessed the impact commercial roof and pipe insulation retrofits would have on state and national-level energy use, energy costs and carbon emissions on an annual basis and over a projected 30-year service life. ICF analyzed a range of commercial buildings, including schools, small to midsize office buildings, midrise apartments, and stand-alone retail.
Key findings showed that insulation upgrades reduce energy use in primary schools by an average of nearly 9% and secondary schools would save an average of more than 7%. Upgrading roof and pipe insulation in just 25% of existing commercial building floor space in the United States 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. Over a 30-year service life of these insulation upgrades, cumulative CO2 equivalent emissions savings reach nearly 360 million metric tons. This is equivalent to the annual energy use of more than 45 million American households.