Radiant Barriers: Performance Revealed

September/October 2000
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2000 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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September 01, 2000
In the summertime, radiant barriers give attic insulation a clear advantage in cutting the demand for cooling energy.
        Radiant barriers—sheets of aluminum foil that are normally adhered to a fiberglass mesh or a Mylar bubble wrap—obstruct the transfer of heat from the attic into the conditioned space and can cut summertime cooling loads. But exactly how well do radiant barriers work in different attics with different levels of insulation? Surprisingly few field data exist to help answer this question. To sort out the situations in which radiant barriers would have the most impact, I chose to investigate how the level of attic insulation would affect the performance of radiant barriers during a hot summer. I conducted the experiment in College Station, Texas, where hot summers and mild winters are typical of a subtropical climate. I used two identical single-room test houses with identical insulation characteristics. One of the houses was used as a control, while the other was retrofitted with a radiant barrier.         Both the radiant barrier and the fiberglass insulation were new at the time of installation. Over the summer, I sequentially fitted both houses with three different levels of fiberglass insulation: R-11, R-19, and R-30. Each level was measured for ...

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