How insulation saves energy

St Saviours Junior Church School, Wednesday, 05 December 2018
10 Learning KS1, KS2, KS3

What you did

We used the Transition Bath thermal imaging camera to investigate how different types of cup materials retain heat. We also looked at ourselves wearing different clothes to see which clothes kept in our body heat better. Some groups also looked around the classroom to see where the cold points were and the impact of opening a window on classroom temperatures. 

Activity description

Insulation in our clothing keeps us warm on cold days. Insulation installed into our homes, buildings and schools reduces how much heat they lose during the winter, making them warmer and reducing how much money we spend on gas and other fuels. Insulation in our buildings is often hidden, in the walls, in lofts and under the floor. It is a cheap way to save energy and money; making our homes and schools cheaper to keep warm. 

Some materials let heat move through them easily (they conduct heat well). These materials are called thermal conductors.
Metals (for example, steel and aluminium) are good thermal conductors. We use metals to make objects that need to conduct heat well. For example metal saucepans conduct heat well so the food inside heats up quickly.

Thermal Insulators
Other materials do not let heat move through them easily (they do not conduct heat well). These materials are called thermal insulators.
Plastics, wood and some fabrics are good thermal insulators.
Thermal insulators are good at keeping heat out and keeping heat in. Your winter scarf is a good example of a thermal insulator. It stops the heat from your body escaping into the cold air.
Plastic is a good example of a thermal insulator. It can be used as a handle on a saucepan - the plastic stops the heat from travelling to your hand.

Heat always travels from a warmer area to a cooler one. So a hot drink left in a cold place will always lose heat to the surroundings. It will get cooler until eventually it is at the same temperature as its surroundings.
But if the drink is inside a good thermal insulator (like a thermos flask) it will lose the heat very slowly.

Thermal Imaging camera experiments
Ask to borrow the Transition Bath thermal imaging camera by contacting the Energy Sparks team on Using a thermal imaging camera will allow you to see exactly where the school is losing heat, and then plan measures to improve insulation. The thermal imaging camera can also be used to conduct other experiments such as:
  • Experiments that allow you to see how some objects are better insulators than others. 
  • Experiments that show how different materials such as wood, metal and plastics conduct heat.
  • Experiments that show how your clothes act as insulators to keep in your body heat.
  • Identify where heat is being lost around your school buildings. 
Some possible experiments to carry out with a thermal imaging camera can be found here

Lots of educational resources based around saving energy can be found here