Is your balcony costing you heat & energy?

By |January 11th, 2018|blog|

Did you know your home’s insulation may be up to 60% less energy efficient if you don’t have what’s called thermal breaks between your patio and your indoor framing?

A study conducted in 2014 by Building Science Labs explored the effect of thermal bridging on the r-value of a home, or, in non-builder terms, how much your wall insulation may be affected by places where outdoor meets indoor (like where your balcony floor meets your living room floor).

Their findings indicated that a lot of heat is lost in homes that don’t consider this small but significant space… in fact, the effectiveness of the insulation in your walls can be reduced by up to 60%.

Think about it: balconies in many homes and nearly all apartment towers are built from concrete and reinforced with steel – both notorious energy conductors. If your home is nice and toasty inside, but the weather is freezing outside, the steel and concrete will conduct the heat outwards. This is what’s called a thermal bridge. You’ll end up using more power to effectively heat your home, because heat is escaping through the bridge.

This thermal map of a high rise in Vancouver shows how much heat is transferred to concrete balconies when thermal breaks aren’t installed between the framing of the building and the outdoor space.

Passive House and Thermal Breaks

As a Passive House builder, we pay attention all of the spaces, materials, and technologies that can create energy efficiency in the homes we build. To combat energy loss through a thermal bridge, you must create what’s called a thermal break – a form of insulation that prevents heat and energy from escaping the structure.

To do so at our Radcliffe Project (which will be completely net-zero energy, and is one of our most ambitious energy efficiency projects yet), we tried out a new product – and we’re excited about its implications for Passive House design going forward.

A simple render of the back of the Radcliffe project, which will feature several decks and patios to capitalize on the spectacular ocean views of the site.


Schock Isokorb at Rondoval

Schock Isokorb structural thermal breaks create a barrier between your balcony and the interior of your home. They look a little like a 2 x 4 with steel spikes sticking out of either end, but their design is much more intricate: they’re load bearing for cantilevered structures (like balconies), flexible, and create a break between indoor and outdoor heat transfer.

Schock Isokorb thermal break, from their website

They also use stainless steel rods, which are 70% less thermally conductive than regular mild steel.

Beyond the energy implications, the product also prevents excess condensation and mold, which can be a big maintenance problem on the rainy west coast.

Using the product to create thermal breaks at the Radcliffe Project

The Radcliffe project will have a substantial patio and deck system to capitalize on the property’s ocean view, and we wanted to ensure we weren’t losing excess heat or energy as a result of this special feature. We installed the structural breaks before the holidays, and are excited to measure the added efficiency when the home is complete.

A preview of what’s to come: a thermal break between indoors and the beautiful outdoor space of Radcliffe

When it comes to Passive House and Net Zero Energy design, the devil really is in even the smallest details!