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PE vs. PU vs. PIR: 3 Major Insulation Materials and Their Differences

The roof is an integral part of any structure, be it for commercial, industrial, or residential use. Especially in a country that experiences extreme weather conditions, having the best roofing materials is second to none. With the Philippines being an archipelago that lies near the equator, the sun’s intense heat has been a country-wide problem ever since. The fact that global warming is at its peak doesn’t help the situation, that’s why people resort to having their infrastructure be built with proper ventilation and insulation.

Insulated roof panels are recommended because of the numerous benefits they provide. However, if you are not familiar with the different insulation materials, you may have a problem choosing the best one for you. In this article, we will talk about the three commonly used insulation materials in roofing and their differences. These insulators are polyethylene (PE), polyurethane (PU), and polyisocyanurate (PIR).

What is Polyethylene (PE)?

Polyethylene or PE is one of the more common types of insulators.  It can come in the form of either solid or foam.  A solid form is more commonly used as electric insulation due to its high dielectric constant. Meanwhile, its foam form is more suitable for heat insulation.  PE is known for its high moisture resistance, so it’s commonly used in moist environments to maximize its capability.  It is also fairly durable and flexible, and it has high UV resistance.

When used for heat insulation, PE in its foam form can be injected into roofing, walls, floors, and air ducts. It is usually laminated in foil to further induce its capacity to deflect heat.  Despite being in foam form, it is highly resistant to moisture, making it perfect to install in places that may have contact with water.  It is also quite easy to install as it comes with an adhesive on its back.

Because PE is made of thermoplastic resin, it can be melted and recycled to create other types of plastic products.

What is Polyurethane (PU)?

Another insulation material is polyurethane or PU. Technically, it is a thermoset resin, which means that it uses two different reagents at a balanced ratio to form a chemical chain that would then make up the plastic. These reagents are isocyanate (MDI) and polyol. PU in foam form is denser and more elastic than other foams, making it perfect for furniture aside from being used as insulation.

PU used as insulation for structures is a low-density, highly cross-linked plastic. Because of its incredibly low thermal conductivity, it has less energy loss and less carbon dioxide emissions. PU can also be injected into cavities through spraying, as the foam is known to form airtight seals and reach even the smallest of spaces. It also does not hold moisture. Because it can be used on any type of surface, PU is considered a universal insulator in construction.

What us Polyisocyanurate (PIR)?

Polyisocyanurate or PIR is a more recent version of PU. It is made by having isocyanate (MDI) and polyol react with each other. The product of this reaction is a thermoset plastic foam that is heavily linked through ring-like structures. Compared to PU, PIR may not be as far-reaching when injected into cavities. However, it is better at preventing fire, moisture, and smoke, making it a better insulating material. Because of its efficient thermal properties, you only need half the thickness of this insulation material for it to do the same amount of work as other insulation materials would.

Unlike PU which can be applied by spraying, PIR is usually sold in panels because it is more rigid even as foam.

Polyethylene vs. Polyurethane vs. Polyisocyanurate

Comes in solid and foam formComes in foam formComes in foam form
Heat and moisture resistantHeat, moisture, and fire resistantHeat, moisture, and fire resistant
Good insulationBetter insulationBest insulation
ExpensiveMore expensiveMost expensive

The three insulation materials share some common advantages, but they also have their differences. The first similarity, of course, is that they all provide insulation. Another one is that they are all available in foam form. They can also be injected into cavities. All three also resist moisture.

For the differences, one is that they don’t provide the same level of protection to structures. PE is not resistant to fire and some chemicals, unlike PU and PIR. Also, PIR being a better version of PU provides better resistance to fire, moisture, and smoke. Having advantages over other types of insulation also comes with a price, literally. Being the best of the three, PIR is the most expensive.

The Right Insulation Material for Roofing Panels

Now that you know the common insulation materials used for roofing, you may ask: What is the best for my roofing needs? PE is not fire-resistant, so we cannot fully recommend it, so it’s a toss up between PU and PIR. Considering that PIR is more expensive than PU because of its slight advantages, the practical choice would be PU.

PU Panels as Roofing Materials

Union Galvasteel Corporation offers roof insulation in the Philippines. Duratherm which consists of Roofing PU Panel and Standard PU Panels. These panels consist of a layer of PU insulation sandwiched between two structural skin surfaces. For roofing panels, normally the outer skin is metal/steel, while for standard panels, both the outer and inner skins are steel. Aside from durability, PU panels are easy to install and thus require less time and less workforce to install. Our PU insulated sandwich panels are also pre-painted in different colors and profiles.

UGC is the market leader in the manufacturing and distribution of pre-painted and other roofing materials. We have the largest and most diversified distribution network in the industry, with rollforming plants, warehouses, and sales offices in strategic locations throughout the country. Get in touch with us via our website or call these numbers for assistance: (02) 8520-8823; 8520-8831; (049) 545-0084 to 86 or 09175033965 (Globe) and 09190032303 (Smart).

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