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What Are the Different Types of Heat-Insulating Materials?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are several types of heat-insulating materials in use in a variety of commercial and residential applications. Some of these heat-insulating materials include asbestos, fiberglass insulation and mineral wool. Less-conventional materials include multi-layer insulation (MLI) used on spacecrafts and satellites, ceramic-based paints and chemical films that are often wrapped around pipes and laid on flat surfaces.

While the typical use of insulation is to prevent cold air from entering an area, many heat-insulating materials are designed to keep heat away from an object. The materials can also be used inside of a component so as not to damage other components within an assembly. Heat is a common enemy of many devices and, as such, requires special heat-insulating materials to prevent a wide array of damage from minor malfunction to complete thermal meltdown and destruction.

One of the first widely-used insulating materials found to protect against heat was asbestos. A fiber-like material, asbestos has been used in buildings, ships and various types of machinery to safeguard against heat damage. Dust particles from asbestos have been linked to health concerns, including cancer, and the material is beginning to be used in very limited applications.

Fiberglass insulation is a versatile material that has found many uses, including use as heat-insulating materials. The amount of heat protection is often attributed to the thickness of the fiberglass material. The air trapped inside the many strands and fibers of the insulation prevent the transfer of heat from one particle to another, thus creating a successful thermal-barrier. For extreme heat conditions, mineral wool in the form of slag wool and rock wool is commonly used in areas that may come into direct contact with humans. Slag wool is a byproduct of iron ore blast furnace slag, while rock wool is a byproduct of natural rock and stone.

Some of the less conventional and more exotic heat-insulating materials can be found in outer space or under the hood of the family automobile. Ceramic-based paints and coatings are often applied to space vehicles and automobile exhaust components in order to protect against heat damage. By covering a component in this liquid coating, the cured coating has the ability to both contain any heat inside the component as well as protect external heat from entering the component. Other heat-insulating materials known as MLI consist of several layers of materials bonded together and make up the gold-colored material often seen on spacecraft.

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Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Dec 18, 2014

Without doubt and by far, the best insulation you can purchase is the liquid spray insulation that hardens once it is sprayed. This stuff is easy to apply, and it adheres to the places where it is sprayed, creating a seamless barrier that doesn't allow anything to pass through.

As the saying goes, you have to pay for quality, and this type of insulation is no exception. However, if you can afford it, this is an especially good option for outside walls in a house. You can still use a less expensive primary type of insulation if you are on a tight budget.

By Sporkasia — On Dec 18, 2014

@Feryll - Cold floors were a real problem in our house. You're right, heat does rise, which makes keeping the floors warm more of a problem sometimes. In the morning when I would get up to walk to the bathroom, my feet would be directly on the cold wood floor, and it was obvious that we were not getting the full advantages of the heat in the rooms.

We had a wool insulation layer attached beneath our floors via the crawl space. I think the insulation is very effective at keeping the cold air from cooling off the floors, so our furnace doesn't have to work as hard. Our heating bills went down a bit once the insulation was put beneath the floors.

By Feryll — On Dec 17, 2014

We called an insulation company to come out to our house with the intention of having them put some insulation in our attic. When we bought our house there was virtually no attic insulation. Instead of simply installing the insulation, one of the technicians went around our house and pointed out all of the places where we were losing heat or not getting the most efficient use from our heating system.

One of the suggestions he made was that we put rolls of insulation under the house to prevent the loss of heat through the floor. I have always heard that heat rises so I'm wondering is this really necessary, or is this simply a way for the company to get us to pay more money to insulate the house.

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