Not So Frequently Asked Questions About Insulation and Mechanical Systems

June 1, 2018

At the National Insulation Association’s (NIA’s) recent 63rd Annual Convention in Orlando, Florida, representatives from the Technical Information Committee hosted a panel discussion where panelists had the opportunity to answer live questions from the audience, anonymous questions submitted in advance, as well as sharing a variety of questions that they have heard over their many years of combined industry experience. Panelists included:

Jack Bittner, Senior Product Manager, Johns Manville/IIG
Dave Cox, Business Development Leader, Owens Corning
Darrell Peil, Vice President, Marketing/Technical Sales, Aeroflex USA, Inc.
Todd Price, Founder and President, Price Manufacturing

 The variety of amusing and frequently cited scenarios will help everyone learn how to appreciate technical literature, explore the resources available, and understand issues faced when properly designing a system—while also providing a little comic relief.

Some Memorable Questions

Question: Is your fiber glass made out of cellulose?

Answer: It could never happen. Fiber glass and cellulose are 2 very different materials and 2 totally different processes. Cellulose is an organic material, and fiber glass is not.

Question: Can I put wet insulation on pipe? Can I install insulation under water?

Answer: You should not install wet insulation as it is then a very poor insulator, since water is a very good conductor of heat. Until the insulation is dried out, there will be significant heat energy consumed (wasted) to dry the insulation out. In addition, whatever contaminants that were contained in the water don’t evaporate with the water—they remain in or on the insulation. All materials should be dry and undamaged before using. Every guideline manufacturers create indicates that insulation must
be kept clean and dry before it’s installed.

Question: I installed sound-proof insulation, but it’s not working because I can still hear stuff. What’s going on?

Answer: There are full courses on acoustics and sound wave transmissions, but the short answer is to take a look at the product’s data sheet. No manufacturer advertises its insulation as sound-proofing insulation, but rather, as sound reducing.

Question: I’ve got a specification that requires 85% mag; what’s the other 15%?

That’s an example of a specification that is probably 45+ years old on a product that has not been manufactured since the early 1970s. When specifications are cut and pasted for years and years, you end up with outdated specifications like this one.

Question: I received an outdated spec. What should I do?

Answer: Contact an insulation manufacturer as they have technical experts to work with engineers to update the spec language.

An Unusual Request

Question: An audience member had a customer with an indoor elastomeric application and wanted jacketing too. The contractor explained to the customer that jacketing wasn’t necessary, but the customer insisted upon it and asked for color-coded jacketing to indicate hot and cold piping. What should the contractor do other than explain that it
isn’t necessary?

The contractor presented the solutions that were needed for the job, and the customer wanted more. Normally customers are trying to reduce costs instead of increase them. In addition to the jacketing providing color coding for hot and cold piping that the customer was seeking, it provides durable protection. The insulation is only as good as you can keep it and the jacketing protects the vapor barrier on the insulation. That customer will probably be very happy with the longevity of the system.

Most-Frequently Asked Questions

Variations of 2 of the most frequently asked questions involve the lack of space for the specified insulation and design condition changes. In general, if you have technical question, if you see discrepancies, or you’re in a hole because you’ve got a situation that’s changing, contact the manufacturer’s technical experts before moving on or completing the work. They can offer advice and write technical letters, but it has to happen before the job is done. That’s when manufacturers can be the most helpful.

Here are a few examples of questions that our panel has experienced over and over:

Question: I don’t have enough insulation in my pipe rack because I don’t have enough clearance. Also: I don’t have enough room for the thickness specified, or the thickness in the code, or the practical performance requirement, or the engineer’s design. What can I do?

Answer: There’s no stock answer to these scenarios. The best course of action is to stop the project and coordinate with the mechanical contractor, the mechanical engineer, and all influencers to decide the course of action that satisfies the technical and customer requirements of the job. And that’s when a well-crafted letter from the manufacturer’s technical experts can back up your position. Insulation is an investment and when an engineer designs a system for the correct thickness, that investment will pay for itself and make the building owner and operations team happy for many years.

Question: Design conditions, such as humidity, ambient temperature, change in chilled water temperature, etc., are different than what was used to develop the final design or specification. How do I get to the system performance required?

Answer: Either you have to get the operating conditions within the design conditions or you have to change the insulation system to meet the needs of the true operating conditions.

Resources From Manufacturers and NIA

Question: What resources are available to help us select materials and systems?

Answer: NIA’s Technical Information Committee has 3 documents (updated quarterly) on the Specs & Codes section of NIA’s website, including: Insulation Materials Specification Chart, Guide to Insulation Product Specifications, and the Insulation Science Glossary. Another helpful article, “Considerations for Insulation Specifications” by Gordon Hart, appeared in Insulation Outlook magazine and addresses of these issues with questions that should be answered about the system goals, design, and usage. The article is available on the article archive at

For training, NIA has worked with the Department of Energy to create an online class educating users on the basics of insulation. It is available for free at To learn how to design an insulation system step by step, visit the Mechanical Insulation Design Guide at Calculators to simplify common insulation design considerations are also available for free. NIA also has its Educational Center under the Resources sections of its website,, which lists all available educational tools for system design, insulation installation, general business, and understanding the value of insulation.

The Last Laugh

When the panelists were asked if any of the questions were surprising after so many years in the industry, they replied that nothing really surprises them, except perhaps Dave Cox’s mom still thinking that she’s going to get some Corning Ware® dishes from her son, since he works for Owens Corning.

More Questions?

All manufacturers have technical representatives who can answer product-specific questions and they welcome your questions. General technical questions can also be sent to NIA via email at

Copyright Statement

This article was published in the June 2018 issue of Insulation Outlook magazine. Copyright © 2018 National Insulation Association. All rights reserved. The contents of this website and Insulation Outlook magazine may not be reproduced in any means, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of the publisher and NIA. Any unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited and would violate NIA’s copyright and may violate other copyright agreements that NIA has with authors and partners. Contact to reprint or reproduce this content.

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