‘Thin sulation’ tested in the Yukon

The Steve Cardiff home, which will temporarily house Yukoners living with HIV/AIDS, has already nabbed a lot of attention for its pint-sized proportions. It boasts all the necessities of a regular home in just 204 square feet.

by Vivian Belik

The Steve Cardiff home, which will temporarily house Yukoners living with HIV/AIDS, has already nabbed a lot of attention for its pint-sized proportions. It boasts all the necessities of a regular home in just 204 square feet.

What few people know is that the tiny house may also be one of the best insulated in Whitehorse. Lodged into the roof of the home is a thin, metal-foiled panel that has been vacuum-sealed shut.

Though it looks unassuming, the panel is actually a technological innovation. A single vacuum-insulated panel is two and a half times better at keeping out the cold than a standard 3.5 inch piece of fibreglass insulation. Yet it’s only half an inch thick.

The tiny home will be the first house in Whitehorse to sport the technology. It’s exciting, says Stephen Mooney, the Yukon Research Centre’s director of cold climate innovation.

The centre donated several vacuum-insulated panels (in addition to $10,000) for the construction of the home.

In the end, only a few panels were used because the layout of the home didn’t work with the panels’ fixed dimensions. But Mooney hopes the technology will take off in the Yukon.

He likens the panels to vacuum-sealed bags of coffee you might find in the grocery store. But instead of using plastic wrap, engineers use two thin sheets of metal foil, called mylar.

Long strands of polyester are placed between the mylar sheets to keep them apart. Then, the air is sucked out of the middle creating a vacuum and forming a hard membrane of insulation.

“It’s crazy insulative,” says Mooney.

The reason a vacuum works so well as an insulator is that it prevents the conduction and convection of heat away from a building. Heat is transferred through the interaction of air molecules. That’s why a vacuum – the absence of air molecules – greatly restricts this from happening.

A 3.5 inch piece of insulation that you might find in an average Riverdale home has an insulation R-value of 12. By comparison, the thin vacuum-sealed panel has an R-value of 27.

Yet the panel in the Steve Cardiff house boasts an even higher R-value. It’s been padded with styrofoam and spray foam insulation bumping the R-value up to 45 – almost four times higher than standard insulation.

The concept of vacuum insulated panels has been around for almost 20 years, but they’ve only taken off in the last five years. The ones used in the tiny house were donated to CCI three years ago by Panasonic but sat mostly unused aside from an install on a demonstration greenhouse at Yukon College.

When Blood Ties Four Directions, the non-profit group behind the house, approached the CCI for help, it was a perfect opportunity to contribute to a good project and demonstrate the effectiveness of these panels, says Mooney.

He’s hoping that vacuum-insulated panels will be used in the design of more low-cost houses in the Yukon. The up-front cost of these panels is more expensive than a standard sheet of insulation (they’re about $50 per panel). But the significant savings homeowners get on their energy bills will pay off over time, says Mooney.

One downside to the panels is that they start to lose their negative air pressure over time. The more air that leaks into the panel, the less effective it becomes.

Mooney would like to see renters and home-owners being able to suck-up any excess air with a simple blast from their home vacuum cleaner. A valve attached to a wall of panels could tell homeowners when the negative pressure is getting low. At the moment this technology doesn’t exist, but Mooney is hoping that CCI will be able to help develop it.

Installing the panels can also be a bit tricky. The contractor working on the Steve Cardiff house tried cutting the panels to fit the design of the home until he realized that he had rendered the panel completely useless. “If you cut the panel you let all the magic out,” says Mooney.

Even scratching the panel too deeply with your fingernail can damage the vacuum seal. That’s why panels are inserted about three inches away from the interior of a wall to avoid punctures from any nails or tacks.

The Yukon government’s Energy Solutions Centre worked on the project with CCI. They’ll be monitoring the effectiveness of the panels over the next year with the help of a heat sensor. The centre is planning to use the panels in other test projects, says communications coordinator Brigitte Parker.

If the panels are deemed a success they’ll be incorporated into more government-designed buildings. Yukon Housing, for instance, is looking at building small, cost-effective homes for the elderly in communities around the Yukon, says Mooney. Vacuum-insulated panels would work well in the design of these homes, he says.

It’s a way in which science can help solve practical issues facing the Yukon.

“The reason we first got involved with the tiny house project is because of the housing crisis and the need for lower cost housing in the Yukon,” says Mooney. “That little Steve Cardiff house now has the insulation equivalent to a SuperGreen home.”

This column is coordinated by the Yukon Research Centre at Yukon College with major financial support from Environment Yukon and Yukon College. The articles are archived at www.taiga.net/yourYukon

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision


Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited internet options beginning Dec. 1. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet for some available Dec. 1

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited… Continue reading

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read