Nurture, Not Neglect

Scott Miller

December 1, 2012

Changing Conceptions About Insulation System Maintenance

Insulation must first be properly designed and installed
by a professional or the consequences can be costly. Even then, insulation is
often seen as an “install-and-forget” item in both commercial and industrial
facilities. However, that apathy could become expensive if a lack of
maintenance results in an energy-inefficient process, the need for new
mechanical components, or a safety hazard. By monitoring the integrity of an
insulation system, facility managers and engineers help ensure desired system
performance, reduced energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, and a safe
environment for personnel.

Making the Rounds

simple yet under utilized measure that goes a long way toward preserving
insulation system health is a regular inspection schedule. It is critically
important that insulated systems are inspected. Beyond visual inspections,
infrared technology can be used to spot compromised locations along an
insulated system. Dents or other significant impressions along the surface of
an insulated line?from foot traffic, dropped tools, or some other
factor?threaten the integrity of the insulation, especially at crucial
circumferential and longitudinal joints.

A compromised joint can enable
condensation or allow penetration of outside contaminants like chlorides. The
result is corrosion and safety risk due to contents under pressure. Any ingress
of fresh or salt water fosters corrosive conditions, which requires thinking
about process safety.

Any hole, compromising dent, or instance of corrosion should
be remediated immediately. Damaged or wet insulation reduces the thermal
efficiency of the insulation system.


understanding factors contributing to the health of the insulation system, you
can prevent damage to the system, extend its durability, and create value. This
is also where visual inspections come into play. System design factors should
reflect a focus on areas that may be exposed to more physical abuse, such as
the aforementioned dents or other damage resulting from foot traffic.

Foot Traffic

engineering process should designate these areas of high traffic or physical
abuse as suitable locations for installing a more reinforced insulation
assembly. Higher compression insulation/jacket solutions should be used for
areas visibly affected by or exposed to traffic, such as horizontal runs that
are walked on as workers access a process line.

Solutions here could range from high compressive strength
insulation materials such as calcium silicate and perlite to molded,
heavy-density products that have abuse-resistant jackets. Protective structures
can be erected over high-traffic locations to allow for access without standing
or walking on mechanical insulation systems.

Elsewhere in the system, vertical runs that do not share the
same prospect for potential physical abuse can be engineered with the
appropriate insulation application.

Ultraviolet (UV)
Light Damage

factor that can speed degradation of insulation is UV light. This is further
reason to inspect lines that have direct exposure to UV light. Even with
integrated UV resistance, any organically derived material will degrade under
the effects of direct UV ray exposure. Most people consider this for exterior
applications but forget about interior applications that can be exposed to
windows and UV light. If you are using one of the few products affected by UV
light, make sure that it is protected by coating or a jacket, and is regularly
examined and maintained.

Right Thought,
Wrong Habit

unfortunate scenario we have seen or heard about too many times is
unnecessarily stapling a self-sealing lap, even with today’s most advanced
insulation jacketing systems. While the intention may be to ensure integrity,
the opposite effect is created.

On a chilled water line, something as small as a few staple
holes can compromise the insulation vapor retarder and result in moisture
propagation, potential corrosion, and mold growth.

Maintenance Creates Sustainability Benefits

awareness is creating more opportunities to bring in sustainability at the
mechanical process level. With the trend toward viewing the building as a whole
system with respect to efficiency and economic opportunity, the drive for
energy savings means more awareness of the correct level of performance for
mechanical insulation.

This challenges traditional prevalent thought of mechanical
insulation as an install-and-forget building component. The NIA has estimated
that maintenance of industrial facility insulation could generate $3.7 billion
in energy savings annually. Research from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
Industrial Technologies Program also found that mechanical insulation
improvements resulted in an approximate 9- to 12-month payback period for
plants of varying sizes when it came to process heating and steam systems. The
DOE estimates that between 10 and 30 percent of all mechanical insulation is
missing or damaged. Mechanical insulation provides great opportunities in both
the commercial and industrial sectors for energy and financial savings.

Today’s insulation awareness brings a
clear opportunity with energy resources. Nearly a third of the energy consumed
in the United States is used for industry, compared to 40 percent for buildings
and 28 percent for transportation. While energy policy is often focused on
transportation, real energy savings gains can be made in the industrial and
building sectors.

Another sustainability aspect is the healthfulness of the
insulation products themselves. As more specifiers and property owners gain
interest in indoor air quality, products that are formaldehyde-free or
certified by Greenguard play a role in enhancing sustainability. If a
low-emitting environmental strategy is in place for a building, one should
consider the insulation in the mechanical area that is the heart of the
structure’s ventilation system.

With commercial and industrial insulation, energy and cost
savings are enjoying more consideration beyond the simple enablement of system
processes. In under-performing or compromised insulation scenarios, evolving to
an optimized insulation system will significantly reduce energy costs.

Bottom Line

Simply put, an insulation system that hasn’t been well
maintained isn’t working properly. It does not give the performance you believe
it to be delivering. If it’s an industrial process, you might be adding
significantly more “fuel to the fire” to transfer required energy from point A
to point B. The same problem exists in a commercial building when, for example,
moving conditioned air from the basement to the 50th floor. Poorly or
unmaintained insulation is a waste of money and energy.

While it may sound like common sense,
insulation system maintenance requires a conscious effort. A lack of inspection
and maintenance increases the potential for problems, either with performance
or corrosion. Mitigating corrosion risk should be a constant thought.
Everything from process delivery to physical safety correlates to ongoing,
optimized insulation performance.