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Vacuum Insulated Panels

Findings #11, March 2014

VIPs met the requirement of upgrading our roof to an R-50 value without adding thickness to the existing roof, and they proved to be cost-effective compared to traditional panels where additional thickness would have meant expensive remodeling. Quote from Tony Lopez Construction Control RepresentativeCamden, New Jersey, GSA

VIPs Save Energy While Meeting the Demands of Real-World Construction

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) account for roughly 34%(1) of all the energy used in commercial buildings, a large percentage of which routinely escapes as heat through the building envelope. Vacuum Insulated Panels (VIP) are a promising technology that present new opportunities to mitigate those losses. Invented for use in major appliances, like refrigerators and stoves, VIPs use vacuum technology to achieve high R-values within a very slim profile. Until recently, the price and fragility of VIPs have undermined their investment value in building envelope applications, when compared with standard insulation panels. With more manufacturers entering the market, however, unit costs have declined, and it is now possible to consider VIPs for roofing applications, particularly for retrofits where space limitations prohibit additional roof height. GSA’s Green Proving Ground (GPG) program recently assessed a VIP installation for material performance at the Post Office and Courthouse in Camden, New Jersey, and used digital modeling to estimate cost and energy savings across various building types and climate zones. Researchers found that VIPs were more durable than anticipated, and that R-50 insulation can offer favorable payback in one-story buildings in regions with extreme climates and high utility costs.

What We Did


In November 2011, GSA retrofitted a leaky section of the roof at the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Camden, New Jersey to improve its insulating performance. Due to limitations imposed by building design, the additional roof height required by standard insulating roof panels would have necessitated expensive modification of flashing, brickwork, and windowsills. GSA therefore elected to install VIPs to achieve an R-50 insulating value, avoiding any increase in the thickness of the existing roof structure.

Because they are vacuum-sealed, VIPs lose R-value and rigidity if cut or punctured; installation requires both careful site preparation and meticulous measurement. Researchers surveyed the construction team for lessons learned, with particular attention to how the fragile VIPs withstood the rigors of construction. Researchers also inspected the completed installation with an infrared camera in search of thermal leaks that would signal damage. Finally the team digitally modeled three types of buildings common to the GSA inventory: small (single-story), medium, and large office buildings. The modeling sought to determine the impact of R-50 roofing insulation on overall cost and energy consumption, and compared electric and gas savings by both building size and climate zone.


What We Found

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ENERGY SAVINGS GREATEST IN SINGLE-STORY BUILDINGS  In energy simulations, R-50 insulation reduced consumption of electricity by up to 8% and natural gas by up to 10%, compared with code-compliant roofs of R-9 to R-16. The most pronounced savings are in single-story buildings with large, flat roofs.

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PAYBACK VARIES BY CLIMATE, UTILITY COST AND BUILDING PROFILE  In the test case, installing VIPs was 53% less expensive than modifying the building to accommodate a thicker roofing material. However, payback for a typical single-story office building without roof-height constraints is estimated at between 55 and 90 years. VIPs may have a favorable payback if physical barriers exist to installing a standard code-compliant roof, or if an extreme hot or cold climate combined with high utility costs make a small improvement in R-value worthwhile.

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PROPER PLANNING MAKES FOR A STURDY PRODUCT  Though indeed more fragile than standard roofing panels, VIPs were found to be hardier than expected. Key factors in a successful installation include keeping the roof surface clean during installation, choosing a trusted vendor that can meet job requirements, and properly sizing the custom-made panels.

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RECOMMENDED IF R-50 IS REQUIRED AND INSTALLING CONVENTIONAL INSULATION NECESSITATES COSTLY ALTERATIONS  If extreme climate and energy costs alone recommend R-50, conventional insulation will be more cost-effective.


Modeled Energy Use in a Single-Story Office Building, Largest savings in extreme climate zones, such as Fairbanks and Phoenix

What We Concluded


VIPs are a viable roofing choice in structures where building constraints make it expensive to accommodate the thickness associated with traditional insulation materials, and where an R-value of 50 is required either to meet code or to save on energy costs in extreme climates. In the case of Camden’s post office and courthouse, VIPs were 53% less expensive than modifying the roof to accommodate thicker roofing materials. Simulations show that R-50 roofing panels can reduce a building’s electricity bill by up to 8% and natural gas bill by up to 10%, with best performance in single-story buildings..

Best Practices


  1. Since perforation of any kind causes a loss in rigidity and R-value, using VIPs requires meticulous planning and rigorous onsite precautions.
  2. A clean roof surface that has been cleared of all remnants of the prior roof system is critical.
  3. Since VIPs cannot be modified once they are fabricated, the roof area must be precisely measured and panels sized to fit by the manufacturer.
  4. Choosing a trusted vendor who is capable of careful planning is key.
  5. Because insulation offers diminishing savings as R-value climbs, the cost benefit of increasing the R-value of insulation must be carefully considered.


For more information, contact Green Proving Ground

These Findings are based on the report, “Vacuum Insulated Panels in a Roofing Application Camden U.S. Post Office and Courthouse Camden, New Jersey,” which can be downloaded here .

Reference above to any specific commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.


The Green Proving Ground program leverages GSA’s real estate portfolio to evaluate innovative sustainable building technologies.