SIPLOCK. “Changing the building Paradigm”

What are thermal bridges? Why are they so Bad?


A thermal bridge is a penetration in the insulation layer with a highly conductive material, allowing increased amounts of heat flow through that material. This is a problem – a BIG problem. Energy bills are increased, interior comfort is reduced, and the building’s integrity is compromised.

Sadly, thermal bridges are all around us. Chances are your home or office is full of them! For example, exposed concrete balconies are a very common thermal bridge in typical construction. The concrete slab extends out to the exterior air from the interior space. We spend money to keep that interior air warm in the winter, and cool in the summer, but then unnecessarily design our buildings to lose or gain heat.

Another class example is a structural stud, or even worse, a metal stud! Many designs expose one side of the stud to the interior, and one to the exterior. That is very bad. The standard 2×6 wood framed wall with R19 batten insulation is more realistically a R13, and if metal studs are used, you can count on an R9.


Thermal bridging matters!


It matters a lot, and not just for energy loss.

Have you ever stood beside a cold interior surface in your home or office? We all have, especially in January. Thermal bridges cause these cold interior surfaces. Cold interior surfaces cause mold, mildew, and eventually decay. Yes, mold. If surface temperatures are below the interior air’s dew point temperature, then we get condensation. Continuous condensation is a serious problem for the interior occupants’ health, comfort, and the building’s integrity. Common locations for this are:

  • Around low quality windows & doors
  • Interior corners
  • Behind furniture
  • Where the building is in contact with the ground
  • Rim joists
  • Roof connections to the wall
  • Concrete balcony penetrations through the wall
  • Voids in the insulation layer






Thermal bridging is seen with the glowing from the foundation basement wall. That is a lot of energy being lost! There’s no use in heating up your backyard. This is a common reason why basements smell ‘musky.’ That’s because so much heat is lost through un-insulated foundation walls and slabs, reducing interior surface temperatures, and allowing condensation to accumulate over time. Bad news.




A schematic representation of what thermal bridging looks like in a typical residential house. The yellow at the studs, and the rim joist locations is not a pretty color for a building scientist, or a homeowner. Even worse, the low quality windows outlined in red represent even more heat loss, low interior surface temperatures and an increased potential for forming interior condensation. We should strive for all exterior surfaces to be cold, and interior surfaces to be warm.






A great representation of how much framing studs are in typical construction. Each one of those studs will allow more heat loss than the insulation.

This needs to be accounted for! Next time you hear, ‘Oh, my wall is an R-19!’ Ask them if that includes all of the framing? Chances are it does not, and it makes a very big difference

Most ‘R-19′ walls are more like an R-10 to R13 range, depending on how much framing was used. That is a 30% to 50% change in thermal resistance, that’s no joke.