How Does a Manager or Owner Start to Improve Their Facility or Plant?

Brooks Holmgren

Brooks Holmgren founded Elite Insulation in February 2002, focusing on commercial and industrial projects. Since then, the company has grown, completing new construction and renovation projects nationwide. Their expertise focuses on heat/frost, duct, and piping insulation projects—insulating boilers, mechanical rooms, and pump stations. Elite’s client base spans schools and university buildings, restaurants, hospitals, retail stores, government buildings, breweries, auto-body facilities, hotels, and more. You can learn more by visiting Elite’s website ( or contacting Brooks directly (

May 1, 2024

Do you want to make improvements but are not sure how to get started? First, when someone is looking  to make improvements to a facility or plant, mechanical insulation should be one of the initial systems considered, especially if emissions, energy, or financial savings are needed. Mechanical insulation offers a wide array of benefits, and the project pays for itself quickly.  Elite Insulation, Inc. strongly recommends getting advice from a professional mechanical  insulation consultant at the beginning of the planning process. An insulation professional can identify areas of potential energy savings, predict long-term results and return on investment (ROI), and help select insulation to meet your design needs and goals. They can also protect you from scheduling delays and extra costs. The mechanical insulation industry has so many variables that it is almost impossible to navigate them without knowledge and experience in the trade. You do not want to be swayed by or misinformed by people whose profession is not mechanical insulation or whose main knowledge field is a different area. Also, be wary of people who are willing to save a few dollars on the project by reducing the overall system performance or the continual energy savings. A few thousand dollars shaved off a project could mean hundreds of thousands or millions for the owner over the system’s lifetime if their solution involves reducing the insulation.

I Didn’t Know You Could Do That: Customer Comments and Questions

Over my 20+ years of experience, here are some of the comments I have heard from my customers when I share my knowledge and help spread correct insulation information.

  • “We didn’t know the mechanical insulation system was supposed to look like that.” Customers who say this are typically talking about the quality of the work and the details of installing the correct insulation system: No gaps, crushed material, or globs of silicone; straight cuts; nice clean sealed ends; no lack of care.
  • “We bought these really cool and expensive pipe supports/anchors because we didn’t know what to use.” These customers were talked into using and spending money on a product by another trade or individual—and this often involves a product that does not give the spacing or the continuous insulation required.
  • “We were told that we didn’t need to design this insulation system because the contractor built another one of these in a different state and would just do it the same way.” Unfortunately, each state has different temperatures, humidity, conditions, codes, and regulations. Not every contractor is knowledgeable about all the different requirements moving from state to state.
  • “They told us it was only getting 1/2” thick insulation, so they ran it that way, but the spec said 1 1/2”. What do we do now?” This customer needs to contact the engineer and figure out the next step or run it with the correct spacing.
  • “We didn’t know we could have PVC jacket/fittings in anything other than white. It has helped greatly knowing where all the different systems are running to!” Not only can you do color coding with PVC for your customers, but also with metal jackets/fittings.
  • “We were told that they always use PVC fittings on the elbows outside because they don’t make metal fittings for them.” They do make them, and if the elbow is too big for a stamped fitting, it can be gored. Gored fittings are done using layered segments of metal to cover the elbow.

A List of Mechanical Insulation Project Considerations

There are many areas where a knowledgeable mechanical insulation professional can help with preventing excessive costs and achieving savings. Here is a basic, step-by-step list of considerations that a knowledgeable mechanical insulation professional can walk you through.
  1. Identify what systems are in your facility and what you are looking to improve or add. This could include duct work (supply/return/outside air/exhaust/etc.), plumbing/domestic water (hot/cold/recirculating), hot water heating, steam (high/medium/low pressure), chilled water—cooling of ambient air/equipment/process/etc., uninsulated valves, pipes, or equipment, and many more! You need to know what you are working with to understand your future needs.
  2. Doing an energy audit on the facility will show your baseline and possibly reveal areas that may need attention that were not previously known. By having an insulation energy audit done, you can really see how much money is being spent and what you will be able to save going forward. Then you can consider applying for energy rebates, and they can help with project costs. They will not cover the costs 100%, but they can offset them, and any amount is better than nothing. Professional mechanical insulation companies may have one or more individuals who have been certified through NIA’s Insulation Energy Appraisal Program™.
  3. Having mechanical insulation professionals on the project also will protect you from beginning to completion. They will look over the local codes, the insulation specifications, and other trades’ work (electricians, painters, ceiling grid contractors, plumbing, ductwork, etc.) that may adversely affect the insulation work schedule and help prevent problems. A consultant also will make sure the contractor that you decide to go with is buying the correct insulation and thickness, and that they ship and store it in the manner recommended by the material’s manufacturer. Hiring an NIA Certified Thermal Insulation Inspector™  will ensure correct installation of the insulation to the specification, performing a non-biased inspection with results given to the owner’s representatives to review, including recommendations for corrections, if there are any. The inspector should never be the one to discuss corrections with the insulation contractor or individuals doing the work. Companies may have one or many individuals who have gone through the Thermal Insulation Inspector Certification program and are certified by NIA.
  4. In the early stages of planning, knowing the other trades that impact the outcome of the insulation installation is also very important. For example, working with these trades, informing them, and having them install their work to avoid situations that could compromise the integrity of the insulation installation. What hangers/supports will they be using, and are they compatible with the system that is being installed? For example, you do not want to use a pipe-sized hanger/insulation support that has thermal transfer (heat) on a chilled water line (cold) since it has direct contact to the system and will likely cause condensation under the insulation and compromise the entire system design. On a chilled water system, you want to design the system with insulation that has the correct density to avoid crushing at pressure points and to use a hanger/insulation support that allows the insulation to be continuous. Having the correct insulation support inserts (a 360-degree, high-density section purchased from the insulation company by the mechanical contractor as they run the system) can help, with everyone seeing the thickness of insulation so that correct spacing for routing is maintained, keeping installers from having to notch the insulation or reduce the thickness of the insulation. Penetrations through walls, floors, and ceilings also need to be a focus point. Insulation thickness is important for everyone to know, so the insulation can be continuously installed to avoid gaps and uninsulated areas. It is also important to know if any of these penetrations need to have firestopping/fire proofing done so that it can be addressed beforehand, avoiding any wasted time or extra cost.
  5. It is important to understand the path of the system: whether it is going to be inside, outside, exposed, concealed, etc. For example, it may be simpler for a trade to run a pipe outside than through a congested area, but make sure you take everything into consideration. If you are in an area that could freeze, that pipe will need heat tape/tracing and thicker insulation versus not needing to be insulated at all. Making that decision without checking with everyone could run up costs by tens of thousands, if not more, just because it was easier for one trade. This is why knowing the routing is so important, and someone with understanding and experience could pay for themselves by preventing an incorrect, costly rerouting.
  6. What materials do you need to use on your system? It depends on what type of system you have and the requirements and goals you have for the system. Is your goal preventing corrosion under insulation (CUI), heat retention/temperature control, energy savings, condensation control, personnel protection, occupants’ comfort, or freeze protection? Are you trying to achieve more than one goal? Designing the system to fully include all of the proper components and then making sure it is installed correctly makes all the difference. When selecting materials, the state/location of where the facility/plant is located as well as what the insulation will need to withstand will be factors in the process. These factors may not be conducive for certain insulation materials to be installed. What insulation thickness do you need (most commonly, but not limited to, between ½”and 4”)? Do you need a protective jacket or coating?
  7. If the system is outside, make sure the correct materials are being used to ensure the system’s lifespan and a good ROI. Make sure the seams are placed in an orientation that will cause water to shed and prevent water intrusion. Use banding instead of screws to reduce the number of punctures to the jacket and a vapor retarder (a vapor retarder inhibits water vapor from traveling to lower temperature surfaces, where it may condense; it will either be a jacket, film, or coating). If the system is inside, and in an area with water/wash down, make sure a PVC jacket and fittings are used with glued joints/seams. Joints/seams should NOT be installed with tape on the outside, silicone or a box store adhesive, or thumbtacks. All joints/seams should be glued together with an approved manufacturer’s PVC glue/adhesive, with water shed being followed. With a PVC jacket, if the saddle supports are a concern—as in a food production area—you may want to have the saddles installed underneath the PVC so that product and water do not have a place to stay, mix, and possibly create mold. A saddle is a metal shield to help spread out the weight of the hanger/support from the system to reduce the compression of the insulation or cutting through the jacket.
  8. Does your system require maintenance of pumps, strainers, controls, etc.? To do the maintenance, do you need to remove or cut into the insulation and jacket covering it? This destroys the insulation, resulting in paying for it to be fixed. There is an easy solution. These are areas where removable blankets or boxes should be utilized so they can safely be removed, maintenance can be performed, and then the insulation blanket or boxes reinstalled. Companies manufacturer or fabricate these removable covers differently, so make sure you discuss what your needs are; ask suppliers how they intend to manufacture them; and ask for a sample to be made, if possible.
  9. Additional system considerations include:
    •  Does your system require a multilayer insulation system with staggered joints/seams? This type of insulation system is used to reduce thermal short circuits and moisture draw, and achieve thickness required by the specifications.
    •  Do you need valve extensions installed? Valve extensions are important and almost always a must. They extend the valve handle so the required insulation thickness is consistent or can be built up to cover the valve body without impeding the turning ability of the valve and allowing a much tighter seal. One more thing with your valves: If they are in a wet area, or outside, turn the valve downward to keep water from entering the valve handle penetration.
These are only some of the considerations you need to think about when it comes to improving your facility or plant. With so many materials and project environments, there are endless variables and solutions from the mechanical insulation industry. In addition, the world is becoming more aware of energy use, and costs are only increasing. Educating yourself in mechanical insulation requirements and needs for your facility/plant will only benefit you in the future. The mechanical insulation system is a very important part of your daily energy consumption and should not be an afterthought. It is also a health and safety consideration for your organization. It can be overwhelming for someone not fully educated in the industry. Do not be fooled by individuals who say they can do numerous trades. Make sure you research and talk to others they have worked with in the recent past. If anyone says you do not need to talk with someone to figure the mechanical system out, that should be a red flag.