Independent Study Confirms Insulation Upgrades Save Energy and Emissions in Existing Buildings

November 1, 2023

ICF, an international consulting firm with expertise in the energy and energy efficiency
sectors, conducted the Insulation Industry Opportunity Study, which found that upgrading building envelope insulation leads to substantial energy savings and carbon emission
reductions. ICF researched the lifetime energy savings, economic benefits, and carbon
emission reductions that can be achieved with insulation improvements to industrial
facilities, commercial buildings, and existing single-family homes. The study’s findings underscore insulation’s enormous potential to help all parts of the country meet building performance standards and carbon reduction goals.

NIA and a coalition of trade associations, including the North American Insulation
Manufacturers Association (NAIMA), the Insulation Contractors Association of America (ICAA), the American Chemistry Council (Plastics Division), and the Polyisocyanurate
Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA), commissioned ICF in 2022 to study and
quantify the benefits of completing insulation retrofit projects across residential, commercial, and industrial buildings and underlines the potential impact forward-thinking policies can have on decarbonizing the built environment.

As a result of the Insulation Industry Opportunity Study, we learned the opportunity
associated with simple insulation measures is immense and can significantly contribute to lowering emissions attributed to buildings. The impact is the equivalent of increasing current wind production by 135% or offsetting the emissions associated with 40% of all natural gas-fired generation in the United States.

“This study illustrates that by implementing simple, cost-effective insulation upgrades in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, policymakers can make significant strides towards reducing energy use and the building industry’s carbon footprint,” said Michael Kwart, ICAA Executive Director.

The Study’s Scope

Included: It is important to note the types of buildings and facilities that were included in this independent study. For commercial and residential, the study focused on primary and secondary schools; federal medium and small offices; and private medium and small offices, stand-alone retail, and midrise retail, and midrise apartments. For industrial facilities, the study examined eight sectors, including Chemical, Food, Paper, Petroleum and Coal Products, Primary Meals, Nonmetallic Mineral Product, Transportation Equipment, and Plastics and Rubber Products.

Not Included: Hospitals and other health-care facilities, high-rise buildings, universities and colleges, to name a few, were not included. In addition, heating and cooling ducts and processing piping and equipment were not included. The study notes that inclusion would dramatically increase the total impacts and benefits available from code-compliant insulation in the existing building stock.

When looking at all the areas—commercial, industrial, and residential—making common sense improvements can yield enormous energy cost savings to consumers and drives tremendous greenhouse gas emission reductions. Plus, insulation improvements can be implemented immediately with off-the-shelf technology while allowing longer-term investments and electrification technologies to be planned and deployed.

Key findings from the independent study include the following.

Industrial Facilities

The study assessed the state- and national-level energy and emissions impacts as well as the economic benefits that could accrue over a 20-year horizon from the installation of code-compliant steam pipe insulation in a select number of manufacturing sectors.

Key Findings:

  • Making pipe and mechanical insulation improvements to industrial facilities in eight major industrial sectors (Chemical, Food, Paper, Petroleum and Coal Products, Primary Meals, Nonmetallic Mineral Product, Transportation Equipment, and Plastics
    and Rubber Products) would save these sectors more than $126 billion in energy costs, based on an average capital cost of $3.77 billion. The average payback on this investment is about 1 year. For many industrial sectors, the payback is as little as 6 months.
  • Energy savings from insulation upgrades can reduce natural gas use by 118 billion therms across the U.S. industrial sector and help reduce demand on the electric grid as electrification technologies roll out.

“Our time is now—the power of the data is undeniable. These incredible payback numbers—in as little as 6 months—along with the enormous energy and carbon savings surely make the business case to think insulation first when industrial facilities assess their priorities for energy efficiency technologies,” said Michele M. Jones, EVP/CEO of NIA. “Our industry is well positioned to help the Department of Energy (DOE) and industry meet these aggressive emission reduction goals.”

Commercial Buildings

The study assessed the impact commercial roof and pipe insulation retrofits would have on state-and national-level energy use, energy costs, and carbon emissions on an annual basis and over a projected 30-year service life. ICF analyzed a range of commercial buildings, including schools, small to midsize office buildings, midrise apartments, and stand-alone retail.

Key Findings:

  • Insulation upgrades reduce energy use in primary schools by an average of nearly 9%, and secondary schools would save an average of more than 7%.
  • Upgrading roof and pipe insulation in just 25% of existing commercial building floor
    space in the United States would save more than 700 therms of natural gas each year, or the equivalent of having 800,000 fewer gasoline-powered passenger vehicles on the road.
  • Over a 30-year service life of these insulation upgrades, cumulative CO2 equivalent emissions savings reach nearly 360 million metric tons. This is equivalent to the annual energy use of more than 45 million American households.

“With building operations accounting for approximately 30% of annual, economy-wide
greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, installing air sealing and insulation products is the first, best step toward decarbonizing our built environment,” said Justin Koscher, President of PIMA. “The study is a call to action for federal, state, and local leaders to focus on policies that drive improvements in building insulation levels; in turn, enhancing the performance of the buildings we live, work, and learn in each day.”

Residential Buildings

The study assessed the state- and national-level energy and emissions savings benefits, as well as the economic benefits, that could accrue over 50 years as a result of the implementation of code-compliant insulation retrofits.

Key Findings:

  • Energy savings ranging from 10 to 45% can be achieved in existing homes that are air sealed and have insulation added in the ceiling and floors (and walls in very limited circumstances) to levels prescribed by the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code.
  • Nationally, this retrofit activity could yield roughly 10 billion tons of carbon emission reductions over a 50-year period—the assumed useful life of building insulation. This is equivalent to eliminating over 25,000 natural gas-fired electrical generation power plants for a year, the annual energy use of over 1 billion homes, or operating almost 3 million wind turbines over a year.

“Both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act…allocate
billions of dollars in investments to improve the energy efficiency of our existing building stock,” said Curt Rich, President and CEO of NAIMA. “As government and business begin to tap into this transformational level of funding, they should pay close attention to the showstopping carbon reductions and consumer savings that can be realized by focusing on upgrading tried-and-true measures like insulation and air sealing.”

The full Insulation Industry Opportunities Study and a link to the Executive Summary can be found on NIA’s website at