The Science of Comfort
by Alex Clarkson
There is a common belief in the insulation industry that open spaces in walls and roofs must be completely filled to provide the best insulation. In reality, performance and comfort are not driven or enhanced by the amount of material in the building’s structural cavities. These qualities are instead achieved and maximized when the building systems and the materials are engineered to complement each other. That’s why The Thermal Envelope company is focused on engineering comfort in every building and home.
The Thermal Envelope Company (TEC) is a high-performance insulation company. The firm integrates insulation solutions into a building’s design and structure to maximize performance and homeowner comfort. TEC understands how to work with builders and architects to achieve the homeowner’s vision and deliver ultimate comfort.
“Although the industry paradigm is to fill any open cavity in the frame with insulation, we offer a different way that brings quality performance and value.”
–Art Carlson, Founder, TEC
TEC was founded over ten years ago by Art Carlson, a retired IBM engineer. During his time at IBM, he learned first-hand about thermal dynamics. He was tasked with maintaining climate equilibrium in the extremely heat-sensitive environment of IBM’s semiconductor labs.
After Carlson’s retirement, he moved to Idaho. As a career problem-solver devoted to understanding how things work, Carlson wanted to take on a new building challenge. He’d been living in Sun Valley for many years when, at age 65, he decided it was time to build his own home.
Carlson had some help, but he was the builder of record, the engineer, the countertop guy, the flooring guy, the plumber, and the electrician. Because he was not a builder by trade, he did certain things unconventionally. Instead of following industry norms out of habit, Carlson developed his build in a way that made sense to him as an engineer.
Carlson was driven to build a house that performed better. As he got deeper into the process, he saw a new application for his knowledge in thermal dynamics. His goal was to make a quality, quiet, and comfortable home that was warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The end result was that he elevated the whole conversation around the systems that make homes perform and how to make them work better together. He asked new questions that focused on how to manage energy and make homes comfortable.
Carlson’s understanding of heat management and his personal building experience helped him realize that there needed to be a paradigm shift in the insulation sector. The old way of filling open spaces in structures for insulation had to evolve. The new insulation systems needed to multi-task and manage heat flow, air flow, air pressure, water vapor, as well as sound dampening and attenuation. Carlson leveraged his understanding of heat and embarked on a new adventure with TEC to deliver the ultimate in performance and comfort.
TEC has grown over the years with Art’s son, Eric, joining the business in 2017. Together, Art and Eric continue to prove that TEC is a trusted partner for builders and homeowners, helping solve insulation problems of all shapes and sizes.
Art and Eric are passionate about building better homes. They accomplish their mission by first identifying the actual problem at hand, and then providing thoughtful insulation solutions, quality engineering, and articulate implementation. The team always honors an architect’s specifications for how they want a home to be insulated. However, TEC also always looks for ways to optimize the performance of a home and presents those as optional alternatives that help inform building decisions.
The company strives to blend the architect’s and homeowner’s design vision with maximum comfort and performance. TEC’s recommendations and analysis are backed by years of engineering experience that are unparalleled in today’s insulation industry. The result of their work is that the ambient temperature throughout a custom home insulated by TEC remains consistent even in the most extreme weather.
“In the Sun Valley area, TEC offers the patented Gen9 System, which takes a systemic approach rather than a product approach
to heat management. Comfort is higher in our homes.”
–Art Carlson, Founder, TEC
“We measure things,” is how Art Carlson explains what TEC does. He adds, “Although the industry paradigm is to fill any open cavity in the frame with insulation, we offer a different way that brings quality performance and value. In the Sun Valley area, TEC offers the patented Gen9 System, which takes a systemic approach rather than a product approach to heat management. Comfort is higher in our homes.”
When insulating homes, people also want to dampen the sound. In addition to his time in heat management, Carlson studied sound. Like insulation, building standards for soundproofing rooms also followed what he discovered to be an antiquated paradigm. The prevailing notion was that the same fiberglass BIBS used for insulation were soft and fluffy, so they must absorb the sound.
Carlson explains, “If you measure and study sound, you arrive at different solutions. Sound travels through hard materials. The more material you put in the wall, the better the sound will travel through it.”
Homes built with staggered studs have intermittent open spaces where there are calculated gaps in the frame. Because the studs don’t reach across the entire ground plate, they don’t transfer sound. “Studs carry the sound more than anything,” says Carlson. “Filling the wall entirely with insulation material may actually work against you because you’re providing a path for the sound to travel through.”
Carlson recalls a time when he worked with a builder who specified a certain thermal resistance level of insulation that was meant to also offer soundproofing. The builder had asked for the highest possible insulation for the project, R30. Carlson instead recommended a solution that actually required less insulation material by adjusting the wall system slightly. Not only did the solution save the homeowner money, it delivered measurably better performance.
The insulation that Carlson recommended became a firm surface in the middle of two air spaces and acted like a speed bump for the sound. It enhanced performance from a sound-dampening standpoint and also delivered more overall cost value. Best of all, the builder loved it.
Carlson explains why the lighter insulation was actually better: “You want as many alternating hard surfaces and air pockets to cancel the sound. This attenuates the soundwave so that when it hits the air pocket, you’ve slowed it down. You’re effectively knocking the sound down and degrading it as it attempts to pass through the wall.”
While traditional insulation companies are adept at satisfying code, they do not focus on the engineering required to improve a building’s performance. As an engineer first, Carlson’s guiding mantra for insulation is, “Comfort lives above building codes.” Building codes provide a starting point, but a high-performing home that delivers luxurious comfort will be built with specifications that far exceed that standard baseline.
Carlson reflects, “The science of heat management and our natural world go hand-in-hand. It is incredibly rewarding to apply my life’s work as an engineer to challenge existing industry norms and set a new standard for exceptional comfort in custom homes.”
Thermal Envelope Company currently serves both the Sun Valley, Idaho, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, basin areas. For more info and to discuss your project, visit ThermalEnvelopeCo.com or call 877.220.6680