The awareness among decision-makers and opinion-formers on the benefits, multiple uses and environmentally-friendly nature of expanded polystyrene (EPS) is on the rise. Therefore it came as no surprise that Mike Brain, managing director of the plastic packaging specialist Bower Metcalf, decided to use EPS as the insulating material in the ceiling of his two-century old historical home.
This beautiful Constantia Valley home’s upstairs rooms have gone from being unbearable in previous summers to completely liveable. The house is situated in the Western Cape’s Constantia wine triangle and the surface temperatures on the actual roof tiles can reach 40C or more on the hottest days.
The Brain family has lived in The Hope of Constantia for the last 31 years and the building has a rich history. “The building was erected in 1800 as a barn, but was altered in 1837 to become the home of the Malans, the first of only four families ever to live in this house. We are continuing that tradition and have lived here for over three decades now.”
Brain says he and his wife have made changes over the years, but always kept with and sometimes exceeded the strict regulations of the South African Heritage Resources Agency, which has replaced the National Monuments Council. If a glass pane is broken, it has to be replaced with specially aged glass to match the other panes. Replacements for roof tiles have to be imported from a specific quarry in Batavia in the Netherlands.
EPS saves the day
Even though EPS is slightly more expensive, Brain knew it would last a long time and insulate efficiently. “I have an engineering background, built buildings before and spent some time in air-conditioning and ventilation,” he says. Therefore EPS was his first choice for replacing the insulation in the ceiling.
According to Brain, they had a very small space to work in – there is just 80mm between the ceiling and the roof. “By choosing 75mm thick EPS, we could maximise the available space and ensure the lowest possible thermal conductivity. From a practical and logistical perspective, we needed to use a material which could be installed from below and pushed into the void. The rigid yet flexible nature of EPS meant that we could push the sheets into the ceiling and even cut them to fit into more tricky spaces.”
There were several advantages for using EPS on this project. Not only does EPS have excellent insulation properties, but it does not decompose, providing a lifetime of durability. EPS can be manufactured in almost any shape or size and is compatible with a wide variety of materials. With its flexible production process, the mechanical properties of EPS can also be adjusted to suit unique applications.
EPS is very light, meaning it is easy to transport and saves fuel in transport. Furthermore the product is easy to install. EPS is practical, safe and easy to handle, especially when working in a very limited space as in the case of The Hope of Constantia’s ceiling. EPS is also moisture resistant and fire retardant, while it also has sound-absorbent abilities.
Brain says he was convinced that the ceiling was the source of the problem. “The Hope of Constantia’s walls are 600mm thick, while the large surface area of the roof, which covers an area of more than 400m2, faces a north-westernly direction which lets in a lot of heat.” His suspicions were confirmed when the area was opened up and Brain found that the previous insulation had collapsed, leaving just a thin layer of insulation. That was another reason why the Brains opted for EPS as it will not collapse.
The Brains are so pleased with the result that they will use EPS in their newly-designed house in Hermanus too to ensure that it is also properly insulated.
Pics: EPS was the Brain family’s first choice when it came to replacing the collapsed fibreglass insulation in their two-century old home. Since they have replaced the insulation, the upstairs rooms stay cool, even though it is 40C on the roof.