How Tapes Seal the Deal on Insulation Systems
Insulation Outlook recently spoke with tape manufacturers about the basics of proper use and maintenance of tapes in mechanical insulation systems and asked for their forecasts on the future of tape manufacturing.
The Role of Tape in the Insulation Industry
According to Darrell Peil, national sales manager for Ideal Tape Company, Inc., the main role tape products play in the mechanical insulation arena is to protect the owner’s investment in insulation. For many systems, particularly those that operate at cold temperatures, condensation is a major concern. Tapes complete the vapor barriers (vapor retarders) so that moisture does not penetrate and destroy the insulation.
While an industry guide is not available, consumers can research manufacturers technical literature (MTL) online either using the MTL Online (www.insulation.org/MTL) resource or going to the individual manufacturer’s website where most companies offer detailed listings of their products’ specific capabilities and applications. Ed Sore, a product manager at Venture Tape Corporation says “There are about 50 different insulation tapes available… Realistically, there are only a few dozen ?workhorse’ products; however, every application is different and every manufacturer is different, and therefore we see hundreds of different tapes in the industry.” Peil says that some of the ?work horses’ currently used in the industry, include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), foil/scrim/kraft (FSK), smooth aluminum foil, filament, cloth, white metalized propylene (WMP) and all service jacketing (ASJ) tape. Smooth aluminum foil, for example, has a number of different applications. It is considered a standard vapor barrier product for any kind of insulation material used in the industry. FSK is designed to be a cost-effective type of finish system that is usually more concealed; while ASJ provides a neat, clean-looking finish for the insulation system. While all are designed to complete the vapor barrier, they also do it in a way that matches the finish. Peil notes that insulation is the finished appearance of the mechanical system. While the goal is providing protection, customers are more satisfied if the system looks good and they can actually see the value in their investment.
Recent Trends in Taping
Current trends in taping, according to Peil, include different facing stocks. There is a drive in vapor retarders to go toward more plastic materials, getting away from paper-based materials. Users are looking for high-performance adhesives with higher bond strengths that can operate in extremely low and extremely high temperatures as well as in difficult environments.
Users are also looking for installer productivity improvements—especially those that can translate into decreased labor costs. Sore says, “In the future, all insulation tapes will include mold-inhibiting features. This helps prevent a host of problems from occurring. The trend will continue to find ways to save labor costs. Typically, jobs are 60 percent labor and 40 percent materials. Speeding installation and reducing labor costs for insulation contractors will continue to be the standard.” Ben Wong, vice president of sales and marketing at Compac Corporation, agrees that future focus areas include improving mold resistance and the contactor productivity. He believes that other hot products will be tapes “that will match the future generation of the jacketing the customers will be using. I believe a lot of the customers are concerned about mold and the mold-resistant properties in the tapes.”
Players in the Tape Industry
According to Peil, there are four or five tape manufacturing companies participating in the National Insulation Association (NIA) world today. The three primary suppliers to the NIA membership are Ideal Tape Company, Inc., Compac Corporation and Venture Tape Corporation.
To find out what new insulation products are being developed, and thus ensure that his company is aware of trends and innovations, Peil turns to insulation manufacturers such as Johns Manville Corporation, Owens Corning, Knauf, CertainTeed Corporation, and Manson Insulation, Inc. Says Peil, “They are the companies that typically drive things.”
Peil also tries to keep in touch with other manufacturers and contractors to find out what their customers are asking for. “One of the things I’ve promoted for the past 15 to 20 years,” Peil says, “is that mechanical construction is about systems construction. If any one particular component—be it the insulation, be it the tape, be it the jacketing—is not designed correctly or is not installed correctly or is of low integrity, the whole insulation system is only as good as the weakest link.”
According to Peil, one of the key differentiators that distinguishes a quality product is its adhesive property—how strong the adhesive is and how high and low a temperature it will withstand. There are different kinds of adhesive-type tapes in the industry at present: rubber-based adhesives and acrylic adhesives. Peil predicts, “We’re going to get into other areas of adhesives as products change.”
Also important is the actual material the tape is made of. There are varying degrees of thickness, and thicker material is usually better quality. How quickly the product sticks to the insulation when it is applied is another consideration. In terms of the actual adhesive application to the tape substrate, there are several methods for applying adhesive to tape, and some work better than others. Some provide more uniform adhesive coating, and some provide better bonding of adhesive to the tape material.
To determine which tape is right for a given job, Peil advises asking customers what they are trying to accomplish, what they currently have in place and what problems they are seeing. Many questions need to be answered, including what kinds of operating conditions the tape will be subjected to—how high and low a temperature it will experience, will it be indoors or outdoors and are there chemical environmental concerns. The last point is important because chemicals (as in a chemical plant) are typically used to remove adhesives.
It is important that installers be well versed and educated in working with tape. The biggest mistake is when an insulation contractor or installer applies the tape and then uses staples to secure it. Peil stresses that no additional adhesives or coatings should be put on top of tapes. Tapes are designed and manufactured to give “all of the needed adhesive at a very high-quality, high-bond strength to stick that tape in place.” Staples and other unnecessary fasteners can compromise product soundness.
Problems also occur if an installer uses a solvent-based adhesive. The solvent actually softens and weakens the adhesive in the tape. Peil observes, “Where they think they’re doing a better job, they are in fact reducing integrity of the job.”
Sometimes installers will try to put the product on dirty or wet surfaces, but pressure-sensitive tapes are not designed to go over such surfaces. Additionally, pressure-sensitive tapes—as their name implies—are designed to be installed with sufficient pressure. According to Peil, sometimes an installer “will just stick it on there, rub it down with his hand and call it good. That’s not correct. They need to apply pressure with a tool… and unless that tape is applied with adequate pressure, they can expect that it will let go.” Sore notes that this is especially likely “when a large section of tape is installed, contractors tend to use their hands rather than a squeegee. This results in uneven pressure on the [pressure sensitive tape], causing an uneven and inconsistent installation. [Some manufacturers] provide their customers with squeegees to ensure the most consistent and reliable end result.”
Selection of the wrong product is also an issue. Peil notes that in the drive to reduce installation cost, people may select less expensive products that are not appropriate for a given application. When paying $35 to $40 an hour for labor, trying to save a dollar or two on a roll of tape is false economy, particularly if the products selected are not a good fit for the application.
Peil advises regular visual inspections of the insulation system so that small items are noticed and can be corrected. If, for example, any edges are coming loose, they can be re-secured. These inspections also can give early warning of larger problems—not necessarily with the tape, but with the insulation envelope. One possible red flag is staining on the tape.
Jerry Maratea, vice president of sales and marketing at Ideal Tape, adds that while staining could warn of a problem in whatever is being insulated, bubbling or puckering would indicate that there is something in the duct underneath and liquid or vapor is seeping out.
If someone doing maintenance work happens to damage the tape, Peil warns, the vapor barrier is damaged; and the vapor barrier must be complete to keep the insulation system working. Examples of situations to look out for and to correct include someone crawling or leaning a ladder up against the system and accidentally tearing the tape. In cases like these, the tape needs to be fixed right away.
If there is a reason to remove existing tape, typically the whole insulation system will go with it. Removing just the tape involves a careful procedure of slowly peeling it back. After the tape is removed, a solvent will be needed to clean the surface of the insulation material to be re-taped. Once the surface is cleaned of adhesive residue, it is important to make sure that the solvent is gone, too. Since the solvent is what cleans the old adhesive, any solvent that remains will likely have a negative effect on the new adhesive. After removing the solvent, the installer can re-tape the insulation system, if necessary.
Removing tape is a task that plant maintenance personnel can do. It is not necessarily difficult, but, says Peil, “It’s fussy. It’s time consuming. It’s slow, and [you] have to be willing to take the time to do it.” Maratea adds that if plant maintenance personnel need to know how to clean adhesive residue before they re-tape, a call to the manufacturer will provide the answer quickly.
Tape and Mold
Mold and mold-related issues are concerns that the whole industry is looking to evaluate what the problems are, and tape manufacturing is no exception. Peil notes, “That’s part of what’s driving the desire for new vapor barrier materials. It’s not necessarily anything that’s easily resolved, simply because it isn’t just the material that causes mold and mildew, it’s the conditions that the materials operate in. The [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] (HVAC) industry very specifically took a look at this from about 1989 to the mid-1990s. They did extensive studies and the insulation manufacturers were heavily involved. The conclusions are that mold and mildew can grow on anything: plastic, metal, insulation, wood, you name it. All we can do as manufacturers is try to create products that will create the greatest resistance to mold and mildew possible.”
He adds, “One of the things that people don’t realize is that the vapor barrier stocks are already tested for mold and mildew growth. If they do promote mold and mildew growth, you’ve got to go back to the drawing boards?There is no single silver-bullet answer for mold and mildew. Is it playing a role in our business? Absolutely. We’ve got to watch out and make sure that we’re in tune with what the mold and mildew issues are.”
Tape and Energy Savings
According to Peil, energy savings can be realized whenever there is an insulation envelope that tape can seal. For example, if tape is used to seal up HVAC ductwork, the conditioned air is kept inside the ductwork and is delivered to the space(s) it is supposed to reach.
Maratea agrees that if tape seals everything up, the system will run more efficiently, which will result in energy savings. He adds that people must take the time to put the tape on correctly to completely seal the system or the system will be inefficient.
When asked if the increased cost of energy is affecting the tape manufacturing business, Maratea observes, “We use an awful lot of electricity, and the cost of our electricity has doubled. Additionally, we use a lot of gas—we’ve got gas-fired ovens—and gas is up 120 percent. So, absolutely those costs have impacted the cost of manufacturing products, and it is causing our costs and prices to go up.”
Peil observes that the insulation industry is expected to grow 2 percent per year over the next five years, and tape manufacturers are expected to ride the same tide as the mechanical insulation industry. He notes, “Vapor retarders are changing significantly. As the products that the insulation manufacturers are using change, we have to be in a position to respond and make things that match those new products.”
Pressure-sensitive/adhesive-containing products continue to grow in all segments of the construction industry. Peil predicts that the industry will see new uses, new products and a growth in ways to use pressure-sensitive tapes in the mechanical insulation business.
Maratea adds that their business increases when commercial building is up. If the trend is down, and if the economy weakens, they see that in their business, too. He adds that they have an ongoing development program to look for ways to improve adhesives (so that there are advantages to the insulation installers) and to increase the longevity of the tapes when they are applied to a system. According to Maratea, “We’re always looking for new substrates, new ways to use tape.”
Peil adds that building codes are changing significantly. He notes that tapes have been among the options that people considered last up to now, but with increases in energy efficiency and the desire for longevity, code officials are requiring higher quality tapes. Where lower integrity products have been used previously, codes now demand and dictate higher integrity, longer-lived products with more certifications behind them.
Challenges for the Future
Cost containment is the biggest challenge every tape manufacturer faces now and in the near-term future. Product development is not necessarily a fast process, so when a company decides to make a change or is looking for a new way of doing something, doing it quickly and doing it cost effectively is always a challenge. Then, says Peil, “creating the new facings or other compatible products is always something that is a challenge for us.”
Darrell Peil and Jerry Maratea are at Ideal Tape Co., Inc. (headquartered in Lowell, Massachusetts) Peil has been national sales manager for Ideal Tape for two years and has been involved in mechanical insulation for 23. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maratea, vice president of sales and marketing, has been at the company for 13 years, specializing in HVAC and insulation industries. He has 38 years of experience in the pressure-sensitive tape industry. Jerry Maratea can be reached at email@example.com.
Ed Sore has been a member of the insulation industry since 1968. He has worked with Venture Tape Corporation for the past 23 years, including 11 as insulation sales manager. He can be reached at 800-343-1076 (U.S.) or (0)800-962-957 (U.K.).
Ben Wong is vice president of sales and marketing at Compac Corporation, a position he has held for the past year. He can be reached at 800-631-9350.