Grenfell tower; Does this affect the future insulation choice in construction?

Architects in Europe expect the use of natural and mineral insulation materials to increase over the coming years due to changes in legislation and certification. The increased usage in these types of insulation comes largely at the expense of polystyrene foams (EPS/XPS).

These are expectations regarding the usage of insulation materials of European architects in the European Architectural Barometer Q2 2018 report. In the European Architectural Barometer USP Marketing Consultancy has asked 1,600 architects in eight European countries on their expectation regarding trends in material usage. 

A key aspect to fireproofing buildings is the type of insulation that is used. There are four major types: natural materials (e.g. sheep wool), mineral insulation materials (e.g. stone wool), PUR/PIR insulation and Polystyrene foams (EPS/XPS). Although nearly all insulation materials are rated fireproof, natural and mineral insulation materials (particularly stone wool) are relatively less combustible than PIR/PUR and polystyrene materials.

The tragedy with the Grenfell Tower in the United Kingdom has sparked a review of fire protection laws and regulations across Europe. Society, too, is starting to become more concerned about whether the buildings that they live in, work in, and send their children to, are safe.

ZEMBLA, a Dutch investigative reporting tv-program, for example investigated adherence to the existing fire regulations. During the show ‘Brandgevaar’, ZEMBLA identified not only loopholes in the system, but also buildings like a senior-living facility that was currently improperly insulated. These discussions and potential changes are monitored carefully by architects, as the overwhelming majority of architects indicates that for insulation materials, legislation and certification will have a (very) strong impact on the usage of insulation. 

More natural and mineral insulation is expected in the UK and Germany

When asked whether architects expected the use of each type of insulation material to increase or decrease, a trend towards more natural materials emerged. In the United Kingdom and Germany, natural and mineral insulation materials are expected to gain ground at the cost of PUR/PIR insulation and especially polystyrene foams.

French architects, on the other hand, see a brighter future for PUR/PIR and less so for mineral insulation materials which is quite interesting considering the quest for building in a more energy efficient way. It could be expected that other types of insulation materials would have shown an increase as well. Polystyrene foams are only expected to be used more in the Netherlands and Poland.