How Building Envelope Materials Improve Home Efficiency

How Building Envelope Materials Improve Home Efficiency

The Importance of Building Envelope Materials

To understand building envelope materials, we must first understand the envelope itself, and what it is working to accomplish.

Building envelope materials are the structural components that separate a building’s indoors from the outdoors. For visualization, picture an outline or silhouette around a building — every building part that makes up that outline is part of the envelope.

A building envelope is the very reason temperature, air, climate, and even noise are different inside than they are outside. While the envelope includes complex systems like wall and roofing structures, the most obvious features of a house are also included in the definition. These include walls, windows, doors, and openings/barriers (such as air conditioners, chimneys, and doggy doors).

With so many goals to accomplish, it is no wonder building envelope materials vary so drastically depending on region, terrain, and climate. Let’s take a look at some of the building envelope materials we most commonly see throughout the industry.

Types Of Building Envelope Materials

Now that we’ve addressed what it is, let’s take a look at the specific types of building envelope materials.

Enclosing everything you consider to be “home,” your building’s envelope is made up of a plethora of different materials, and can usually be grouped into one of four categories:

  1. Insulation
  2. Siding/Exterior
  3. Roofing
  4. Fenestrations

While the principles of construction are constant within these four categories, there is some inherent leeway that comes with constructing each custom building envelope. Each and every building envelope has unique needs depending on the location of the building, the kind of weather it is exposed to, and the desired layout of the interior space.  

A survey given to homebuilders by “Professional Builder” gives some insight into the preferences of both builder and buyer.


As we can see from the survey, the deciding factors for what building envelope materials used are cost, durability, and moisture resistance.

Whether you are a homeowner or a building professional, these factors are likely the most important variables to consider when choosing what building envelope materials you ought to use.  

Professionals’ Perspective on Building Envelope Materials

Home Builder Survey

The survey mentioned above was conducted by “Professional Builder” in 2015, and was done to shed light on the thought process behind building envelope material decisions. In fact, there are distinct preferences on materials in each of the four main subcategories of the building envelope system.

The survey was given over a one month period to a random sample of “Professional Builder” readers. The 255 qualified respondents —made up of custom home builders, diversified builders/remodelers, architects/designers, and production builders — were all active sellers of homes at the time of the survey. Subsequently, the study gives a rare up-close perspective on the matter.

Insulation Building Materials

When it comes to the insulation, the survey shows that the most prominent material used by homebuilders is batt/blanket insulation.

Sometimes used for acoustic and thermal reasons, blanket insulation was reported to have been used by a majority 72.2% of the surveyed homebuilders.

While this form of insulation probably isn’t going away anytime soon, it is worth noting that spray foam insulation is growing in popularity. Used by 56.5% of the homebuilders, spray foam insulation can be better for heat flow resistance and can prevent excess leaks that are sometimes present with alternative fiberglass insulation.

Other insulation materials reportedly used include loose-insulation (used by 53.7%), rigid board insulation (36.1%), and structural insulated panels/insulated concrete forms (13.7%).

Siding and Exterior Building Materials

To the naked eye, this subcategory of the building’s envelope looks rather simple. Upon further inspection, though, the siding of a building is often the furthest thing from simple. The siding can have as many as seven layers that separate the inside environment from the external climate.

When it came to siding and exterior in the survey, the top five builder choices were:

  • fiber-cement siding (specified by 66.7% of builders)
  • stone veneer (49%)
  • stucco (44.7%)
  • brick (40.6%)
  • vinyl siding (40.8%)

Each building material has its pros and cons. For example, the top choice, fiber-cement siding, is great for people who want the look of having a wooden infrastructure without as much upkeep. It is also fireproof and is not prone to insect damage. Perhaps its biggest con is its weight, which can often be more than other exteriors and is similarly more expensive as well.

With the pros being more numerous than the cons, though, it is no surprise that it is the most used exterior. As mentioned previously, there are many options for exterior — all with pros and cons — and all should be considered when constructing or re-constructing an envelope.

Roofing Building Envelope Materials

The top specified exterior building envelope materials for roofing included:

  • asphalt shingle (specified by an overwhelming 86.7% of builders)
  • metal (46.3%)
  • concrete/clay tile (20.8%)
  • thermoplastic membrane (15.3%)
  • synthetic shake/shingle (11.0%)
  • wood shake/shingle (10.2%)
  • slate, and reflective/tinted (2.0%)

As mentioned in the “Professional Builder” survey, those using synthetic shake/shingle were primarily custom home-builders and remodelers, indicating a potential trend towards more usage of synthetic materials.

However, with asphalt shingles being as durable as they are, and with great UV protection, there tends to be more widespread use throughout different climates and areas.

Window Building Envelope Materials

One of the most important fenestrations in a building’s envelope are the windows.

At the time of publishing, the most recent 12 months for builders included the specification of the top four following windows:

  • insulated double-pane with low-E coating (89.4%)
  • argon-/Krypton-filled units (45.9%)
  • units with integral blinds/shades (22.4%)
  • insulated frames (22.4%)

“Professional Builder” notes that windows with built-in blinds/shades increased in popularity since their previous survey.

While the numbers from the survey are not the most recent figures, it is fair to say they offer a valuable window into the mind of building envelope developers. Both homeowners and industry professionals will need to consider all available building envelope materials when working on improvements to a home.

Homeowners’ Perspective on Building Envelope Materials

What Building Envelope Materials Boil Down To 

It’s plain and simple. The right foundational choices must be made for the subjective location of the building. Perhaps even simpler, though, is the underlying reason for doing so – comfort. Every shingle. Every window. Every tool. They are all a means to one end: comfort for the residents.

Homeowner Insights

In the 2015 survey, homebuilders reported that not many homebuyers were very interested in the envelope of their building.

They were much more enticed by the “durability” and the “energy efficiency” of their new homes. However, these concepts are integral to any competent building envelope, and any homeowners’ preference to this language is often attributed to never hearing terms like “building envelope” before.

So, while homebuyers have proven to be less interested in the building envelope, this may be due to a mere of lack of understanding.

Buyers want all the positive effects from building envelope solutions but simply lack the familiarity with building envelope principles. This is precisely why taking a deeper look at building envelope materials is so important for the people building the homes, but also for those buying them.

DIY Building Envelope Material Repair

For people living in homes more prone to threats to their building’s envelope, it can be worthwhile to take a look at the actual tools that are used to construct the building envelope in case they have to install or fix something themselves.

For instance, a fix for an attic insulation problem may require materials ranging from scissors, hammer, tape, and utility knives to telescope poles, light clasps, and face masks. For those looking to have an in-depth analysis of their foundation, tools like infrared scanners are also available.

Further, comfort can oftentimes simply be a matter of control. So for those looking to take a do-it-yourself approach or for those that want to gain control through a deeper understanding (especially if worse comes to worst and they are forced to do it themselves), it is worthwhile to learn more about the actual tools and materials that go into an efficient home envelope.

In all cases, getting the best building environment materials as is appropriate for your location and having regular house inspections can have a lasting impact on both your personal costs and your comfort.

Always Consult The Experts

While many homeowners tend to take matters into their own hands, we highly recommend a proper building envelope assessment by a certified professional.

Contact us today to discuss how we can provide the resources you need to make educated decisions regarding your building envelope materials.