Thermal Breaks: FRP Vs Aluminum & Steel
A thermal break is a structural element designed to limit heat transfer between an interior and an exterior environment. They usually comprise a low thermal conductivity material formatted as a barrier between two conductive surfaces, such as the end caps of steel beams. Thermal breaks are essential architectural components in extremely cold environments where thermal bridging through the metal framework can be detrimental to energy savings and human safety.
Fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP) are increasingly used in structural applications for their strength and weight-saving characteristics. They are also being implemented to address additional concerns in permanent building construction, such as the difficulty of limiting heat transfer through metal-to-metal fixtures and heat losses through exterior walls. FRP can be used in a range of formats to provide thermal conductivity advantages to architects in a range of challenging environments and for budget-conscious projects.
Thermal Conductivity: FRP, Aluminum & Steel
The term thermal conductivity is a measure of how well a material conducts heat (W/m K). Heat transfer occurs more rapidly through materials with higher thermal conductivities. Steel, for example, with an approximate thermal conductivity of 50.2 W/m K transfers heat more slowly than aluminum (~205 W/m K). Unlike both aluminum and steel, FRP is an exceptional insulator. It boasts a nominal thermal conductivity of 0.58 W/m K, providing exceptional thermal break advantages.
Thermal Break Advantages Explained
FRP thermal breaks are particularly advantageous for buildings expected to withstand severe weather conditions or harsh thermal cycling. Sharp differences between interior and exterior temperatures lead to heat transfer from one side to the other. The path of least resistance for thermal transference tends to be thin or conductive structural elements. So, it would be more difficult to maintain the temperature in a building with an aluminum frame than a steel one.
Using FRP structural supports and fixtures can significantly reduce heat transfer to help maintain ideal internal temperatures, regardless of the weather. Strongwell’s EXTREN® FRP structural shapes and FIREBOLT® fittings have been utilized in permanent structures built in locations characterized by dynamic temperature variations, such as Alaskan climates.
If you would like to learn more about the advantages of our FRP thermal breaks, read our case study on the subject.
An additional benefit of thermal breaking is that heat transfer can often lead to interior condensation, which can fuel mold growth and corrosion of metal fixtures. This issue is pervasive and cannot be corrected cheaply. It can also be hazardous in the close confines of many arctic structures; mold can harm the respiratory health of personnel while rust can damage the physical integrity of the building.
FRP thermal breaks are not only superior to aluminum and steel in terms of reducing heat transference, but they are also impervious to rot and corrosion by moisture ingress. Interior condensation can be significantly reduced while the risk of mold growth and rust is all but eliminated.
FRP Thermal Breaks from Strongwell
Strongwell is one of the industry leaders in FRP products for structural applications. We provide fiber-reinforced polymer structural members and fixtures that reliably outperform aluminum and steel in a range of challenging environments.