I have had a debate over the years with other contractors and architects about the cold-cabinet-on-the-outside-wall phenomenon. It is my posistion that if the cabinets were adequately vented to the conditioed space they wouldn't be cold. They are cold, becasue, in essense, the interface between conditioned and non-conditioned space has been moved to the face of the cabinet, greatly reducing the relavance and effectiveness of the wall insulation. If this is not the case then what is happening? Why does so much cold air come out of the cabinets when the exterior wall next to the cabinet is warm?
Insulation doesn't stop the transfer of heat, it just slows it down. The indoor surface of the wall is constantly being re-warmed by the indoor air circulating about it. There's less air movement inside the cabinets so, as heat is lost to the outdoors, there's no air circulation to keep re-warming the surfaces inside the cabinets. Those surfaces, and the air itself, get cold.
In terms of heat loss, you're losing much more heat through the walls that don't have cabinets on them, even though they *feel* warm. If you were to ventilate your cabinets, your house would just lose heat to the outdoors slightly faster.
So you're saying that if the conditioned air interface is at the insulated wall the heat loss will be faster and the cabinet acts as an intermediate thermal zone, similar to an interior storm window? Maybe/kind of I guess. I was thinking it was more like shutting off the heat in one room of a house. The conditioning interface plane moves to the uninsulated interior walls of the unheated room and so now the interafce walls are unisulated and are cold to all the other conditiend spaces it interfaces with (which is a much larger surface area and it makes al these spaces uncomfortable becasue of the "radiant" cold and cold convesctive currents). I believe this results in a less efficient heating scenrio (more energy used) even though the volume to be heated is reduced (similar to the cabinets but on a larger scale).
I really don't know the answer but I need to be convincingly and undenaibly educated as to the truth. Maybe it more a mtter of perceived comfort vs energy efficiency?
You summed it up perfectly in your last sentence. Comfort and efficiency are not related to each other. Just because a house feels nice & warm on the inside doesn't mean that it's well insulated or that it's efficient. It just means that it has a heating system that's effective (very robust) for that house.
Leaving one room in a house unheated will certainly make the surrounding rooms feel cooler, but it doesn't affect the overall heat loss of the house. It just makes the house uncomfortable. The insulation in that room's exterior walls is just as relevant and effective as ever, but that has nothing to do with how comfortable the house is.