An Insulation Energy Appraiser Who Wears Many Hats

Ann Cogan

June 1, 2003

To Win Irwin, a veteran of nearly 50 years in the insulation industry, choosing to use insulation is a ‘no-brainer.’ He explains, "If your goal is to save money based on a quick payback and high return on investment, there aren’t too many investments out there that are better than insulating bare hot surfaces. With insulation there’s no rocket science involved. It begins working for you the minute you install it. It works for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week as long as the system is in operation, reducing the amount of fuel necessary to get the job done. It just works silently with no bells or whistles."

Even though he believes insulation is a "no-brainer," Irwin says that good insulation practices have largely been disregarded through the years because the trigger message hasn’t gotten through to the right people. "When you get right down to it," he says, "a lot of people at the operating level really understand the value of insulation, but the motivator message hasn’t always gotten through to the people who make the financial decisions. Only when these people ‘get it’ do things really begin to change."

At the large Sun Oil Refinery in Philadelphia where Irwin is currently performing insulation energy appraisals, he says company executives really ‘get it.’ "Sun has made a strong commitment to conserving energy and resources at all their locations," he says. "And, they have made insulation a critical component of their overall energy conservation program."

Irwin is president of his own consulting company, Irwin Services. He has spent the last two years under contract to Sun performing appraisals on various units within the refinery complex. He is quite pleased that Michael Lettich is partnering with him in this effort. "Refineries are a group of energy intensive process units such as catalytic crackers and crude distillation components," he explains. "To date, we have performed appraisals on six units. Of these, contracts were awarded and successfully completed on two, with two still in progress, and two in the bid preparation process. We have been able to demonstrate significant energy and fuel cost savings with a payback of less than a year."

Irwin believes that the success of the Philadelphia appraisals will be a stepping stone for appraisals at other Sun locations. "The more appraisals we do, the more likely it is that we’ll be asked to do more. The energy and financial savings data we provide is the kind of backup support that company executives need to justify requests for the funding needed to implement the energy conservation measures that result from installing insulation on bare hot surfaces."

Getting Certified to Appraise

One of the first things Irwin did after retiring from CertainTeed was to become a certified insulation energy appraiser. He and Lettich were early graduates of the National Insulation Association’s (NIA) Insulation Energy Appraisal Program. "Being certified gives us that extra edge," he says. What is his strategy for conducting insulation energy appraisals? "First, we find out what is in service and look to see whether or not there are surfaces in need of treatment. Usually, there are many, which is not surprising. We’ve known from surveys done through the years that there are a lot of uninsulated hot surfaces out there with temperatures running anywhere from 700 degrees Fahrenheit (F) down to 200 degrees F."
Some of the high-tech tools Irwin employs include a digital camera, an infrared thermometer, and an infrared camera to measure the temperatures on pipes and equipment. "Our job," he explains, "is to tell Sun where they need to insulate and how thick that insulation should be. They have already decided what insulating materials they want to use, so it’s not a question of us recommending one insulation material over another."

Once he has gathered all the measurement data, Irwin utilizes a computer program called 3E Plus® to calculate the annual energy savings and cost savings for every item measured. "Based on the design parameters we’ve agreed on, we calculate the savings, applying the thickness of insulation that has been specified for that particular part of the unit," explains Irwin.
Part of his job, Irwin says, is providing Sun Company with a reasonable cost estimate for installing the recommended levels of insulation. "You can’t estimate the payback period until you have an idea of what the job is going to cost," he explains. "And, it’s the quick return on the investment that convinces the financial people to budget the dollars for insulation. We have been able to demonstrate a payback of less than 1 year-far better than a lot of other, more high-tech, energy savings equipment."

After the calculations on a particular unit are complete, Irwin submits the data to Sun Company. He says, "Also included in the submittal package is supporting data which identifies each unit to be insulated. It documents the location of the item, as well as the insulation to be used, and the thickness of insulation to be used. The supporting data then becomes part of a bid package that Sun gives to potential bidders. Our job also includes preparing some of the paperwork that goes into soliciting the bids."

In addition to helping prepare the bid package, Irwin also works with insulation contractors who want to bid on the project. He explains how the process works. "Sun invites insulation contractors to a bid meeting at which they receive their bid package. The bidders are invited to accompany us to the unit to see first hand what the work entails, and to answer any questions that they may have so that they may prepare their bids with greater confidence."

Quality Assurance

Once the contract has been awarded Irwin Services enters the picture again. This time, they’re wearing "quality assurance" hats. "We physically go out to the site while the insulation is being installed to make sure the specifications are being followed," he says. "When it’s complete, we submit a final report confirming that the work has been completed satisfactorily, and submit a recap of the anticipated savings. With the two projects already completed, we’ve been able to demonstrate to Sun that insulation is one of the most cost-effective ways of helping them meet their energy conservation goals."
When asked if he has encountered any problems that are specific to conducting an insulation energy appraisal at a refinery, Irwin says that "There are many exchangers, pumps, turbines, and piping systems including fittings that are installed with flanges, bolts, and nuts to permit dismounting for inspections, cleaning, maintenance and even replacement. Conventional insulation materials with field applied metal jacketing are frequently damaged severely when the bolts and nuts are removed. When the system is brought back into service, it’s common for the insulation system to be left in disrepair with the resultant degradation of thermal performance. Removable covers are thermal insulations that are specifically designed and fabricated to fit on these irregular and complex surfaces. They are secured in place mechanically, and they are easily removed to permit dismounting. Further, they are easily reinstalled when the system is ready for operation again thereby assuring continued energy conservation and personnel protection. We are promoting the idea that long term thermal performance is in the best interests of the owner, and that operating crews, inspection crews, and maintenance crews recognize and accept the use of removable covers in providing this performance."

How difficult was it to convince Sun Company of the energy and cost savings potential of insulation? "They were convinced even before we got involved," says Irwin. "Mike Sanders, the energy coordinator for Sun, has been very active in NIA programs and Steam Best Practices. He is absolutely convinced of the value of insulation. In all my years in the insulation industry, I rarely got to meet the kind of person I’d been addressing conservation programs to over the years. I often wondered where they were! Mike is one of the true believers."

What about those people who are harder to convince? Irwin suggests a very practical exercise. "I’d take them outside when it’s raining and they’d see that bare surfaces are hot enough to vaporize the rain into steam. I’d tell them that pipe is trying to heat the whole outdoors, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and you are paying for it! Sometimes the picture is worth more than words."

When asked about the value to the end user of the appraisals he is performing at Sun, Irwin says that the real end-user is the person at the gas pump. "If Sun Oil Company can more efficiently convert crude oil into finished products, then the end-user is more likely to have a more plentiful supply of gasoline at a reasonable price. Insulation is proving to be a very cost-effective way to achieve that efficiency."