LifeLabs Fabrics Keep You Warm or Cool With Physics

This gives new meaning to our phrase 'fabric first.'

LifeLabs intro


Lifelabs introduced a line of clothing that keeps you cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Its WarmLife is a "fabric that warms, so the earth doesn’t have to. WarmLife is a proprietary technology that creates warmer, breathable apparel with less material.​ It’s warmth without restriction." It evidently "keeps you 21°F warmer with 30% less material." CoolLife will keep you 2 degrees Fahrenheit cooler.

Using clothing to keep warm is an ancient concept: Some may remember former President Jimmy Carter telling Americans to put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat. But as we have noted before, historically clothing was insulation, an essential tool in keeping warm before central heating. As Kris de Decker of Low Tech Magazine noted: "Insulation of the body is much more energy efficient than insulation of the space in which this body finds itself. Insulating the body only requires a small layer of air to be heated, while a heating system has to warm all the air in a room to achieve the same result."

We have also tried to explain with various degrees of success the concept of Mean Radiant Temperature (MRT) and how our minds perceive heat and cold. As we learned from engineer Robert Bean: "One square inch of skin contains up to 4.5m of blood vessels, the contents of which is heated or cooled before flowing back to influence the deep body temperature."

If that skin is losing heat because a nearby surface is colder, we will feel cold. This is why we wear clothes in cold environments: it keeps our skin from radiating our body heat to cold surfaces that surround us. That's why physicist Allison Bailes titled his explanation "Naked People Need Building Science." Radiative heating and cooling are misunderstood but it is as important as the ambient temperature.

Keep Warm With WarmLife

Warmlife jacket


LifeLab's fabrics do more of this with less. The company states: "WarmLife uses less than a paper clip’s worth of aluminum to reflect 100% of your radiant body heat back onto your skin, with 30 percent less material than similar items for a higher warmth-to-weight ratio. WarmLife allows you to pack lighter, move more freely and lower your environmental footprint."

But you are not wrapped in a foil blanket, as the company notes: "Our unique production process allows us to work with a range of fabrics including ultra-breathable, lightweight fabric that ensures the most comfortable fit."

The insulating value of clothing is actually measurable; the unit is the "Clo." According to Decker, it was defined as "where one 'clo' equals the thermal insulation required to keep a resting person (for instance, a couch potato) indefinitely comfortable at a temperature of 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit)"

Treehugger asked LifeLabs if it knew the Clo value of the WarmLife and they told Treehugger " WarmLife achieves the same CLO Value as a typical down jacket with 30% less material." 

Keep Cool With CoolLife

Coolife Pyjamas


So far it is selling WarmLife as a jacket and vest. I would love to see pajamas, as it sells with the CoolLife fabric that it says is essentially transparent to heat:

"CoolLife lowers your body temperature up to 2°C in a warming world. CoolLife is the world’s first thermally transparent fabric. Our yarn- based textile is the first derived from Polyethylene—an infrared transparent material--allows all of your skin’s heat to escape. The result is a uniquely cooler, drier, more comfortable experience. CoolLife helps you reduce your personal AC energy usage, lower your body temperature, and experience the coolest and most sustainable fabric available."

The products appear to be the commercialization of research done at Stanford University. Lifelabs co-founder Dr. Yi Cui told Stanford News in 2016 about a "new family of fabrics could become the basis for garments that keep people cool in hot climates without air conditioning," noting that “if you can cool the person rather than the building where they work or live, that will save energy.”

"The material cools by letting perspiration evaporate through the material, something ordinary fabrics already do. But the Stanford material provides a second, revolutionary cooling mechanism: allowing heat that the body emits as infrared radiation to pass through the plastic textile. All objects, including our bodies, throw off heat in the form of infrared radiation, an invisible and benign wavelength of light."

The published scientific paper says it all in the title: "Radiative human body cooling by nanoporous polyethylene textile." It's all about radiative cooling and heating. A 2018 paper, "Nanoporous polyethylene microfibres for large-scale radiative cooling fabric," claimed the fabric could lower skin temperature by 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit, saving 20% on indoor cooling energy.

Cui is a battery expert, and this is maybe a spinoff of that research: "A variant of polyethylene commonly used in battery making that has a specific nanostructure that is opaque to visible light yet is transparent to infrared radiation, which could let body heat escape. This provided a base material that was opaque to visible light for the sake of modesty but thermally transparent for purposes of energy efficiency."

Clothing line


To bring this to market, the company has former North Face Manager Scott Mellin and fashion guy JJ Collier, formerly of Spyder and Ralph Lauren, and have introduced a pricey line of clothing made with these textiles. But it clearly has bigger plans than just clothing, saying, "This is only the start." LifeLabs is looking at everything from "cooling the seat of your automobile and warming your curtains at home."

A few years ago I complained how we forgot about clothing when we got central heating and air conditioning, but that it was incredibly useful for needing less of both, noting:

"The energy savings potential of clothing is so large that it cannot be ignored - though in fact this is exactly what is happening now. This does not mean that home insulation and efficient heating systems should not be encouraged. All three paths should be pursued, but improving clothing insulation is obviously the cheapest, easiest and fastest way."

LifeLabs is on to something big here. It understands how what we wear affects how we feel about the environment around us, that our comfort depends on radiative heating and cooling. It states: "By regulating the temperature of your skin, our technologies reduce the need for wasteful ambient heating and cooling, unlocking lower personal energy use as you wear your garment."

That could make a significant difference in times of energy insecurity and high prices, as we all may be seeing soon. So please, bring on those WarmLife pajamas before winter; we may need them. It gives new meaning to the phrase we use about building envelopes: "fabric first."

View Article Sources
  1. Hsu, Po-Chun, et al. "Radiative Human Body Cooling by Nanoporous Polyethylene Textile." Science, vol. 353, no. 6303, 2016, pp. 1019-1023., doi:10.1126/science.aaf5471

  2. Peng, Yucan, et al. "Nanoporous Polyethylene Microfibres For Large-Scale Radiative Cooling Fabric." Nature Sustainability, vol. 1, no. 2, 2018, pp. 105-112., doi:10.1038/s41893-018-0023-2