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Don't Forget to Insulate the Ground!

Learning from Chickens; Case Study

Comparing a chicken barn to our own homes is unlike comparing an apple to an orange. Many of the same insulation principles can be applied to both, but the strange thing is when it comes to insulating the concrete under slab, free range chicken barns are far ahead of our homes. Why is it that a farmer will insulate a concrete slab in a chicken barn but a home builder, home owner or home buyer won’t give it a second thought?

The first thing we need to understand is what the advantages to insulating a chicken barn floor are;

  • Increase the temperature of the barn concrete floor, better for chicks
  • Stops sweating floors
  • Less bedding required
  • Less bird crowding
  • Lower mortality rate
  • Easy clean up as manure doesn’t stick to it.
  • Energy savings

Let’s take all the advantages and apply it to the homes we build or can build;

  1. Increase the temperature of the barn concrete floor- apply this to our homes by simply saying we want to reduce the heat transfer into the ground. Homes are usually insulated to a standard R60 in the attic and R22 approx in the walls.  Apart from windows, the basement concrete slab is typically the next place heat is escaping too.  Insulating your concrete slab can reduce energy cost upwards of 30% on a well-insulated home.  Most farmers don’t insulate there first barn but like most they continually try new methodologies to make better and faster growing livestock.  This is no different in the chicken business. Farmers have learned that insulating the concrete slabs saves start up costs, and decreases overall production costs.
  2. Stops sweating floors – typically sweating floors is caused by a rapid change in outside temperatures and humidity collects on a colder surface. Although barn floors are more susceptible to sweating floors, basement floor in homes can sweat too. This occurs when the temperature of the home and humidity is that where the floor condensates.  Wet floors in basements can smell musty and promote the growth of molds. Insulation under concrete slabs create drier concrete slabs for two reasons. 1. Isolate the slab thermally from the ground and the living space- dew point not on or in the concrete    Under slab insulation like Insta-Panels and Styrofoam SM have vapour barrier characteristics that reduce or stop moisture migration from the ground through the concrete slab, into the living space. Again, good enough for chickens but why not us?
  1. Less bedding required- although bedding in chicken terms is straw, wood shavings or a material that holds and releases moisture typically and isolates the chicken from the concrete, the word we need to focus on is the LESS. Because the concrete slab is warmer- the barn is warmer and the chicken is more comfortable due to the concrete slab being insulated, there is not a requirement to have as much straw or wood shavings.  This again can be applied to a house, insulating your house properly and insulating the concrete slab in your basement will make the whole house more comfortable.
  1. Less bird crowding – with the floor slab insulated even heat in the barn exists and the birds are not flocking to one another for heat. This decreases the mortality rate as birds don’t crush each other when they are huddling for heat. This may be the biggest indicator of what floor insulation does. It’s a true testament how effective warming a slab is.  “warming a slab” typically that means heating the slab hydronically but when you insulate under a slab for thermal reasons the slab naturally becomes warmer because ground temperature is 55F and when we don’t insulate the slab the heating of our home continually is lost into the slab and into the ground. The slab never heats up if the insulation is not place there.
  1. Easy to clean- manure doesn’t stick; well we hope there is no manure on your basement slab but if there is it definitely wont stick as bad! All kidding aside, the fact that the slab does not stay wet creates this condition. In your home wet surfaces attract dust. Dust can be food for mold growth. Wet conditions contribute to mold and allergies. Healthy homes are dry and that includes the basement concrete slabs.
  1. Energy Savings – insulating the concrete slabs reduces the time it takes to heat up the barn. This is crucial on startup and it is important to have a super warm barn at start up. Insulating a basement floor or the floor of a commercial building saves precious heat from escaping into the ground thus creating energy savings.

We now have compared chicken barns to our homes and why it is beneficial to insulate slabs in both. So….. Why is it that a farmer will insulate a concrete slab in a chicken barn but a home builder, home owner or home buyer won’t give it a second thought?

The answer is to simple and if you dig down;

  • Farmers make a living off the chickens and their barns, insulating the concrete floors have an ROI, it makes them money and saves them money, it makes sense
  • Underslab insulation is not in our building code, we are only forced to insulate concrete slabs that are heated with radiant heat. Does that make sense? Aren’t all slabs heated? If you heat the basement are you not heating the concrete slab? Doesn’t the heat transfer into the slab and then the ground?
  • The biggest reason slabs are not insulated in Ontario is simple; our building codes lag behind, farmers are ahead of bureaucrats, politicians and builders, because the biggest home builders control the building code process. Unfortunately the biggest builders are land developers.. They make more money on land, then the building a house. Land Developers/large Builders pop up a cheap as possible house to move the land. Insulating slabs and increasing energy efficiency has a cost and builders feel it will slow the sale of a house with the added costs that people can’t see.  Insulating a concrete slab or using better insulation overall fit in this category. Granite counter tops, hardwood floors items that have no ROI but look pretty, help sell the house unfortunately.

Learn from the chicken, insulating concrete floor slabs makes sense.  There are many good building contractors in Ontario that use good building practices and are open to using Insta-Panels or other foam board insulations that create a more comfortable and energy efficient home or building.