Thermal energy storage plays an important role in heat management because of the demand for developed energy conservation, and has applications in diverse areas, from building heating/cooling systems which enable solar energy incorporation into the structure, to textiles and clothings providing an enhanced thermal comfort. In this study, we aimed to improve thermal characteristics of polyurethane rigid foams that have been widely used for thermal insulation as the ultimate energy savers due to their ability to form sandwich structures with various facer materials. Through a laboratory-scale work, two paraffin waxes acting as phase change materials, namely n-hexadecane and n-octadecane, each of which is capable of managing large heat storage/release, were directly incorporated into the polyurethane foams at different ratios. Polymerization modified by means of n-alkane addition could be achieved without any adverse effect. In order to determine both structural and thermal characteristics, seven types of foams produced were examined by FT-IR, SEM, DSC analyses, calorimeter bomb and mechanical tests. Results show that polyurethane foams can be designed as thermal insulators equipped with an improved buffering function against temperature changes. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.