Radiant Barrier, Cold Climates, & Ultimate Survival Alaska?

As an owner, I always find it rewarding to see our material or its variants used in the field.  I find it even better to see it used correctly in applications where there is some controversy.

So what's the controversy you ask? There is a myth that radiant barriers do not work in northern climates and there are a fair number of discussions around the internet to this point. Is there any truth to this? Well yes, in a way.

While it is true that radiant barriers decrease their effectiveness the higher North in latitude you go, this statement requires some background information. The radiant barrier in this case is an attic radiant barrier. I agree that the further North your home or building is, the less of the impact from the overhead sun. This is why someone would say radiant barriers do not work in northern climates. Essentially they are measuring the return on investment in a cold climate versus a hot climate and in most attic applications in Canada and Alaska they would be right.  The return on investment would be low.

However, attic radiant barriers are only a fraction of the places reflective insulation is successfully installed. In the North, you find reflective insulation and radiant barriers used in basements, crawlspaces, metal buildings, barns, and for duct wrap insulation.

What does all of this have to do with the show Ultimate Survival Alaska? As a backpacker and hiker I have found myself watching and enjoying this show more and more. If you don't know Ultimate Survival Alaska on Discovery Channel, it is a show about a group of outdoorsmen. There are 8 of them and each episode they break into 2-3 man groups and have 72 hours to complete a certain objective in the wild wilderness of Alaska, surviving on only their pack and meager food supplies. At the end of the 72 hours, a plane comes to pick up the 8 man group and they travel to a new area and complete another objective the next episode. If they don't make the "LZ" or landing zone as they call it, they will be left in the wilderness.

In a recent episode, one of the groups runs into a backcountry cabin in the middle of nowhere while traversing to their pickup point. They meet the owner, a homesteader who has been living completely off the grid, in the wild for the last 7 years. Upon entering the homesteader's cabin, the show's commentator notes that all of the interior walls are wrapped in radiant barrier. He terms the material aluminum insulation, which it is also called by.

This is where the myth is debunked that radiant barriers do not work in northern climates. This guy is way up in Alaska, living year round, with his only heat source being a wood stove in a backcountry cabin. Wood stoves emit a tremendous amount of radiant heat. So what does this survivalist choose to insulate his dwelling with? Why radiant barrier of course, the only insulation that blocks the transfer of radiant heat. This homesteader is smart and he is successfully using reflective insulation in a specific application despite the frigid, northern climate.

I share this because it is a striking example of reflective insulation being used in an area where some claim that it does not work. What critics really should be saying is that reflective insulation works but not as well in an attic application in a northern climate. This would require detail which is generally sorely lacking in critical opinions. The survivalist is successful because he is using the material on the inside of his walls to keep heat in not keep heat out, as one would do in attics for southern or tropical climates.

If you are confused about reflective insulation and where to best install the insulation in your home or building give us a call, we would enjoy helping you. We have seen reflective insulation used successful in hundreds of applications. We even carry radiant barriers and bubble foil insulation for use in the pristine wilderness of Alaska come to find out.

2 thoughts on “Radiant Barrier, Cold Climates, & Ultimate Survival Alaska?”

  • David Wertz

    Hello, I live in Bloomington, Illinois. I'm considering purchasing the reflective insulation for my new pole barn and wrap it between the metal and the girts with the reflective side out. Is that the correct way to use it for the walls? Apprieciate your sugguestion. More concerned about keeping the cold out. Thanks!!

    Reply
  • Colleen K. Peltomaa
    Colleen K. Peltomaa December 9, 2013 at 8:43 am

    While I live in Connecticut, not Alaska, and do not have a cabin, but a small Shasta camper which I want to take on the road this winter, the article tells me that I can and should shroud the interior with radiant bubble-wrap.

    If I use the one-side-is-white product does the white side have the same reflective value?

    Should I use double bubble or single bubble? I will be putting a thin airspace between the bubble-wrap and the interior walls.

    Any other advice you have regarding keeping a camper cozy is much appreciated.

    Reply
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