In the context of the R-value is a measure of how well a two-dimensional barrier, such as a layer of insulation, a window or a complete wall or ceiling, resists the conductive flow of heat. The R-value is the building industry termfor thermal resistance "per unit area.
An R-value can be given for a material (e.g. for polyethylene foam), or for an assembly of materials (e.g. a wall or a window). In the case of materials, it is often expressed in terms of R-value per metre. R-values are additive for layers of materials, and the higher the R-value the better the performance.
The U-factor or U-value is the overall heat transfer coefficient and can be found by taking the inverse of the R-value. It is a property that describes how well building elements conduct heat per unit area across a temperature gradient. The elements are commonly assemblies of many layers of materials, such as those that make up the building envelope. It is expressed in watts per square metre kelvin (W/m2⋅K). The higher the U-value, the lower the ability of the building envelope to resist heat transfer. A low U-value, or conversely a high R-Value usually indicates high levels of insulation. They are useful as it is a way of predicting the composite behaviour of an entire building element rather than relying on the properties of individual materials.