Buildings are a significant source of energy consumption in the US and worldwide, and conditioning building interiors occupies a major portion of that expenditure. At the building level, a particular scenario can occur where it becomes more advantageous for a structure’s walls to be “open” to the outside, as opposed to remaining “closed”, in an insulating state. For instance, a cool night may follow a hot summer day after the sun sets, but traditional insulation captures heat built up inside a home. A clear, sunny day may also heat a building’s exterior during a cold winter day, and heat transfer to the interior would be more desirable than insulation. This paper presents a study of a concept, termed “smart insulation”, that could be used in such scenarios to take advantage of beneficial thermal gradients in order to save heating and cooling costs. Enabling heat transfer without moving air can also help control humidity within interior spaces, as well as limit noise either from moving air or through open windows. Unlike traditional insulation that maintains a specific insulating value during its useful life, smart insulation changes between an insulating and a conducting state depending on the thermal gradient. Some design concepts have been fabricated and were tested in an insulated chamber that provides a “hot side” and a “cool side”. In the test chamber, temperature measurements were taken and the insulating capacity of each design specimen was calculated. Results indicate that the designs have potential to operate between two states (with the best case ranging from 11% to 61% of a benchmark insulation case) and effectively provide sustainable heating or cooling by capitalizing on ambient outdoor conditions.

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