Prioritizing Insulation: Protecting People, Systems, and Investments in All Seasons
Editorial: Think About Insulation First
Insulation is a simple and proven solution that works in every season and could have made a world of difference during the week of frigid weather in Texas, Louisiana, and the Midwest this winter. While this situation was catastrophic, it brought our nation’s attention to what happens when insulation is considered an option instead of being a priority. Rarely does such an inexpensive and available solution offer so many benefits…and, when properly maintained, continue to work for years into the future. In this special editorial section, NIA shares its reaction to the deep freeze and how future disasters can be mitigated. Plus, three NIA members who lived through the situation firsthand share their professional insights.
The devastating effects of extreme weather were recently experienced in Texas, Louisiana, and the Midwest. The loss of power and water to thousands of homes, hospitals, schools, energy generating facilities, and water treatment plants resulted in the loss of life and, reportedly, financial losses greater than those from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. In response, NIA volunteered its expertise to help legislators craft state and federal legislation to avoid future climate catastrophes and offered to assist any affected plant or facility with the design of its insulation systems.
“We are saddened by the enormous loss of life and the impact this devastating freeze has had on the commercial and industrial sectors, especially when preventive solutions like insulation were available,” said NIA Executive Vice President/CEO Michele M. Jones. “Properly installed mechanical insulation systems would have been a major asset in helping prevent the recent catastrophe. Insulation is a proven technology that saves enormous amounts of energy and helps protect equipment from freezing. It would have prevented the forced shutdowns of generating facilities and reduced the energy grid overload, all while offering the additional benefit of personnel protection. This event has proven that weatherization and freeze protection efforts should be made proactively in both the commercial and industrial sectors, even in ‘warm-weather’ states. We ask President Biden, Governor Greg Abbott (TX), and Governor John Bel Edwards (LA) to issue executive orders to mandate, at a minimum, proper insulation system installation on domestic cold/hot water; heating hot water; process and fire suppression piping; and equipment and other systems prone to freezing in all industrial, government, commercial, and residential facilities.”
Ron King, Past President of the Southwest Insulation Contractors Association and NIA noted, “The problem is centered around facility owners and engineering firms not appreciating the value of mechanical insulation systems until it is too late. The installation of insulation must be a priority—not merely an option—and they must allocate the resources to implement meaningful programs for installation, inspection, and maintenance of mechanical insulation systems. Now, they are forced to devote financial and human resources to correct the recent damage, but they are still not addressing the bigger problem.”
This weather event proves that plants and facilities in all states are vulnerable to freeze-ups from extreme weather; and the mechanical, electrical, process, and fire-suppression systems serving their populations must be properly protected to ensure reliable service and process efficiency. “It is not enough to just throw some insulation on before a storm; the piping and equipment must be properly insulated to avoid system failure in critical industries like power generation, water processing, and health care,” said NIA Immediate Past President John Lamberton. “By not properly designing, installing, and maintaining an insulation system, you are just creating bigger, more expensive problems.”
NIA estimates that between 10–30% of all installed insulation is now missing or damaged. Not replacing or maintaining an insulation system in a timely and proper manner means these systems will be damaged and fail. And, the results of installing insulation properly are easy to calculate. The return on investment is often more than 100%, and insulation is a green, sustainable technology that prevents greenhouse gas emissions, mold growth, and corrosion. It protects personnel, facilities, and equipment.
Insulation projects are an investment, and they should be prioritized as essential to avoid emergencies and to protect lives and equipment. The lack of knowledge about the power of insulation and its priority is no longer acceptable. NIA is committed to help improve state infrastructures with the goal of protecting people, systems, natural resources, and investments.
For assistance, contact NIA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial: Think About Insulation First
Pipes Freezing: When Will We Ever Learn?
By Ronald (Ron) L. King
This past winter’s stretch of subfreezing weather in the Southwest and Midwest clearly demonstrates the devasting effects of climate change. No matter what your view is on climate change, it is hard not to recognize that extreme weather events are happening more frequently. I live in the Houston, Texas area, where the recent impact of the cold weather was potentially greater than in other areas because of the failure of the state’s power grid and/or its management. (I will leave the discussion related to that problem, and the solution, to others.)
After watching multiple newscasts about businesses of all types and sizes—facilities including, but not limited to, manufacturing, power generation and natural gas production, schools, nursing homes, hotels/motels, and multi- and single-family housing—and seeing the damage sustained due to pipes freezing, or shutdowns due to the potential for freezing pipes, I could not help but ask myself, “When will we ever learn?”
There is no question that the loss of power in Texas contributed to the extent of weather-related financial losses and loss of life. Regardless of a state’s typical year-round climate, including those considered warm-weather states, proactively addressing weatherization and freeze protection by adding insulation to piping and equipment before another crippling event should not be optional.
One problem is that the value of mechanical insulation systems is not appreciated by facility owners and engineering firms until a problem occurs and it is too late. Instead of allocating the appropriate resources to make the installation and maintenance of insulation a priority, many businesses are forced to spend financial and human resources to correct problems that result from the lack of properly insulated or maintained mechanical insulation systems. Reacting to problems that could have been avoided or minimized with proper insulation is an ineffective use of a company’s resources and obviously does not address the root cause of the issue. The solution is simple: Prioritize and implement the installation, inspection, and maintenance of mechanical insulation systems.
Some say the challenge is in improving and enforcing building codes. Building codes are fundamental to the solution in the commercial building and residential industries, but what about the industrial and manufacturing sectors, which are not necessarily regulated by building codes? What is the solution in those segments?
“Temporary Insulation” Is Not the Solution
In the industrial, energy, process, and manufacturing sectors, and maybe even in some commercial and residential sectors, facility owners often implement “temporary insulation” measures when adverse conditions or natural weather disasters are forecast. Unfortunately, in response to these forecasts, many companies rush and install potentially incorrect materials, knowing that it may only be partially effective and that eventually it will need to be removed and disposed of, resulting in additional and unnecessary expenses. To make matters worse, some companies repeat this process every year, or multiple times within a year.
If “temporary insulation” is left in place, it can make matters worse and lead to other potential problems. Because it was meant to be temporary, in all likelihood the proper materials or sizes may not have been used and appropriate care not taken during installation. I wonder, does such “temporary insulation” installation comply with building codes or other standards? Would it not make more financial and operational sense to address the core problem correctly instead of repeating temporary measures or avoiding the problem, in many cases, for the wrong reason?
Insulation is a proven technology that has stood the test of time. The cost of installing and maintaining a mechanical insulation system is a prudent investment, especially when your business has previously been forced to incur substantial unplanned expenses because insulation was not used (or used improperly).
Regardless of building codes, company standards, or specifications, the ultimate solution is to insulate piping and equipment of all types, including domestic hot and cold water, wet fire-suppression systems, process piping, drain lines, and other systems that need to remain operational.
A Bit of Science
It is important to recognize the science behind insulation technologies. Insulation retards heat flow; it does not stop it completely. If the surrounding air temperature remains low enough for an extended period, insulation cannot prevent freezing of still water or of water flowing at a rate insufficient for the available heat content to offset heat loss.
Clean water in pipes usually supercools several degrees below freezing before any ice is formed. Then, upon nucleation, ice forms in the water, and the temperature rises to freezing. Ice can be formed from water only by the release of the latent heat of fusion through the pipe insulation. Well-insulated pipes may greatly retard this release of latent heat. Water pipes burst not because of ice crystal growth in the pipe, but because of elevated fluid pressure within a confined pipe section that is occluded by a growing ice blockage.
To avoid localized freezing, it is important to insulate all exposed surfaces, including valves, tees, and other fittings. If insulation that has been damaged is exposed to the environment, it will become wet from rainwater or some other source, which results in the possibility of water freezing in, or on, the insulation. Damaged insulation, and especially wet insulation, is less effective and therefore does not meet the objective for which the insulation was originally (even temporarily) installed. Common sense dictates that if there is water intrusion, it may freeze, making the problem worse. Ice itself is an insulator, but a very poor one.
Additionally, damaged wet insulation can lead to other concerns beyond frozen pipes, such as the development of corrosion of the substrate under the insulation, or mold, or increased energy consumption—all of which are potentially problematic.
Insulation can prolong the time required for freezing or prevent freezing if the flow of liquid is maintained at a sufficient rate.
Consider the Cost-Benefit Analysis
Mechanical systems are unique, as are their insulation requirements. One size does not fit all. In some cases, heat tracing may be required. Conditions vary in the northern and southern climates, and even in individual scenarios in each facility.
In the South, there is a mindset that freezing is not a problem. The perception is that temperatures only fall below freezing at night; and during the day, temperatures will rise and sufficient flow within the pipe is a given. But what if prolonged freezing temperatures occur? Power is lost not only in homes or businesses but also in crucial facilities, such as health care and water treatment facilities. This is the exact scenario that happened in Texas; yet only a few short weeks after the crisis, people have moved on. The mindset that what happened is unusual and not likely to occur again has set in. Realistically, that is like saying Texas will not be hit again by a hurricane, or Oklahoma will not have another tornado touch down.
Insulation is a valuable yet often underappreciated component of industrial, commercial, and residential facilities. It saves energy, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protects personnel and process safety, supports processes that ensure continued occupant comfort and quality manufacturing, and helps prevent pipes from freezing.
The best advice is, regardless of whether insulation is called for in building codes or engineering or company standards, piping or equipment that contains water or other liquids that are subject to freezing should be insulated; and that insulation should be properly installed, inspected, and regularly and properly maintained.
Taking that approach admittingly will result in up-front costs; however, in the long run, companies will realize the return on that initial investment in the form of energy savings, enhanced process performance and system efficiency, condensation prevention, and more. Insulation is an investment that yields a substantial return—even before you factor in the potential cost of not insulating, insulating incorrectly, or not performing proper maintenance. Residents and companies in Texas are now spending huge sums of money to repair the damage incurred due to frozen pipes. It is not just the cost of directly related repairs, but also the lost time and revenue from shutting down and restarting a plant, manufacturing facility, or business. All of this may have been avoided if only the owners had considered the expensive and tragic consequences of not properly insulating in the first place.
As an example, the recent winter storm knocked out operations at many refineries along the Gulf Coast. All have grappled with storm-related damage, including water leaks, burst pipes, cracked pumping equipment, and more. Regaining power at refineries, repairing damage, and returning to normal took several weeks, and additional damage emerged as units were heated and fluid reintroduced. This is not unique to refineries, as similar stories are being told across all types of businesses and facilities. The consequences can be severe, not only in dollars, but also in how the damage and loss impact our lives.
Mitigating the risk with more resilient construction and operational practices, including proper insulation, can reduce the harshest impacts of seasonal weather events, including related loss of power and water. It is imperative to look at the value and power of insulation to mitigate those risks as an inexpensive safety net to protect operations.
Insulation is a simple, relatively low-cost, proven technology that is readily available. When will we learn to think about the value of insulation in advance, instead of looking in the rear-view mirror and saying, “If only had I considered more insulation [and/or upgrading and maintaining the insulation I have] as a priority, or even a necessity, and not an option? I should have gone beyond the minimum requirements.”
Many tools and resources are available to calculate insulation thickness requirements to prevent freezing; to determine the correct insulation system, specification, and installation guides; etc. For more information, reach out to an insulation manufacturer, contractor, distributor, or fabricator; or contact the National Insulation Association, www.insulation.org/members.
A Call to Action
It is time that everyone in the decision chain think about mechanical and all other insulation technologies differently. As facility owners, engineering design firms, companies, code bodies and regulatory agencies, federal, state, and municipal governments, standard writing organizations, contractors, and homeowners throughout the United States face the reality that severe weather events are becoming more frequent and their impact on our communities and families more destructive, it is time to develop, adopt, and enforce increased stringent insulation requirements.
Do not wait until the next devasting climate change occurrence—act now. It is time to learn from recent events and prevent similar occurrences in the future. Now is the time to view insulation as a priority, not an option.
Ron King is a Past President, and honorary member, of NIA, the World Insulation and
Acoustic Organization, and the Southwest Insulation Contractors Association. He was awarded NIA’s President’s Award in 1986 and again in 2001. He is a 50-year veteran of the commercial and industrial insulation industry, during which time he held executive management positions at an accessory manufacturer and specialty insulation contractor. He retired (2004) as the Chairman, CEO, and President of a large national insulation distributor/fabricator. He currently serves as a full-time consultant to NIA (www.insulation.org) on a variety of educational, outreach, and governmental initiatives, including coordinating many association alliance-partnership activities. He is past Chairman of the National Institute of Building Sciences’ National Mechanical Insulation Committee and Consultative Council and is NIA’s liaison to the Federation of European Insulation Societies, which represents the European mechanical insulation market. He can be reached at 281-360-3438 or RonKingRLK@aol.com.
Editorial: Think About Insulation First
Insulation: An Easy Solution
By David B. Patrick
Everyone is dealing with the COVID-19 situation; and in Southwest Louisiana, thousands are also dealing with the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta. And just when you think things have settled down some, along comes prolonged below-freezing, record-breaking weather. Residential and commercial owners faced the additional damage and expense from broken water pipes, loss of power for several days, and food and supply shortages on top of the already short supplies of building materials and repair contractors.
But what about the electrical grid and the petrochemical industry? Every year, when temperatures dip below the freezing level, these facilities encounter problems with instrument failures; steam leaks and discharges that create ice buildups; and busted water lines that lead to safety hazards like ice on walkways, stairs, and platforms. Boilers are run to their capacity to keep required steam pressures that are critical to processes within the facility. Fire-protection systems become compromised. If the weather system lasts more than a couple of days, many petrochemical plants are forced to shut down their operations, as in the recent case. When shutdown occurs, the products that are left in the lines, bypass reliefs, and other systems that are too crucial or costly to shut down and restart cause products to be flared off. For safety reasons, when shutdown occurs, the products and gases that are left in the lines, bypass reliefs, and other vital systems are burned or flared off, wasting that energy and releasing that pollution. This is the best example of money going up in flames that I can give. All neighboring facilities, businesses, and homes are affected by the release of that energy and pollution into the atmosphere. My residence is a couple of miles from a large petrochemical facility, and the noise and actual shaking of the ground went on day and night for 3 weeks, as it usually does after one of these occurrences. Driving through the area at night looks like one of those Mad Max cities, with flares lit up and smoke billowing out.
It would be great if those plant owners and everyone else really understood what role insulation could play in avoiding most of these problems. Correctly designed and installed insulation systems are actually made for the purpose of mitigating thermal-related inefficiency. Mechanical insulation, as a partner to other processes, can provide solutions to all of these problems:
- Process control,
- Efficient energy use and storage,
- Mechanical systems’ longevity, and
- Protection from severe weather events.
In our southern location, during normal operations, many owners may neglect to give insulation its proper respect. But because of all the attributes I just mentioned, it should be part of any plan. Insulation is normally an afterthought until it becomes a critical need. As noted earlier, facilities do scramble to insulate at the last moment, and usually on a temporary basis. Why? This can lead to many other problems, providing only a temporary solution; but with planning, it could be a permanent fix.
There needs to be more public awareness of the benefits of insulation. Homeowners, especially those in older homes, do not even think about it as it is “out of sight, out of mind.” In the commercial and industrial sectors, engineers commonly give owners the bare minimum to cut costs, creating the illusion of savings for maintenance and new projects. That only leads to the problematic breakdown of the insulation’s effectiveness and money-saving attributes over time. There needs to be a nationwide campaign by national and local governments to educate themselves and the public on the positive energy and environmental impacts insulation has.
A common mentality promotes lowering thermostats in the winter and raising them in the summer as the answer. Why be uncomfortable when you can apply insulation to use the same, if not less, energy? Ask anyone about the efficiency of LED lighting and they will exclaim what a wonderful thing it is, yet the energy saved is small in comparison to what insulation can achieve. LED lighting should be second on the list behind insulation. Think about it.
Isn’t it about time we all put a little more thought into how we can use insulation to make all our lives better? Check with any insulation manufacturer, distributor, contractor, or association to get your questions answered. Find out how great the return on investment is for insulation when done right. You may be surprised to find out how much your operations, electric bill, noise levels, and comfort range can benefit.
David B. Patrick serves as Corporate Insulation Manager at Apache Industrial Services
(www.apacheip.com), a position he has held since 2014. Prior to Apache, he was the
Insulation Construction Manager at Brand Energy & Infrastructure Services, and a District Manager at Protherm Services Group.
Patrick has more than 42 years’ experience in the industrial insulation field, with a focused goal to develop qualified individuals into productive, interactive teams for their professional and personal growth in order to benefit the company’s growth and profitability. His specialties include product and installation subject matter expertise, contract negotiations, estimate preparation, contract pricing formatting, safety execution, productivity, and employee development.
He serves on the SWICA Board of Directors and has held the office of President twice, and he is Apache’s representative to NIA. He also is a member of the Houston IDS Chamber for Career Readiness. He is a Certified Thermal Insulation Inspector through NIA’s Thermal Insulation Inspector Program.
Editorial: Think About Insulation First
Mechanical Insulation: “The Rodney Dangerfield of Construction”
By Kent D. Revard
The late Rodney Dangerfield was known for his sharp wit and self-deprecating humor. He was enjoyed by his entertainment peers and fans alike, and he is best known for the catchphrase “I don’t get no respect…” routinely used in his stand-up comedy. Over the course of my more than 31 years in the insulation industry, I have often thought mechanical insulation gets “no respect.” Unfortunately, it takes a devastating event, such as the recent winter storm that impacted Texas and other states, to reveal the true value of insulation, which could have mitigated some of the losses experienced.
The 2021 Texas winter storm impacted homes in my northwest Houston neighborhood, which was developed in the late 1990s by a very reputable regional homebuilder. We have approximately a dozen different home floor plans and styles in this 300-home neighborhood. In a couple of the floor plans, there is an uninsulated water line running to an exterior faucet on a garage wall. This plumbing line runs across the attic over the ceiling in the garage. The same line froze and broke, causing damage to five of the eight homes on my street. The builder did not insulate the attic area, and there was no pipe insulation installed on the cold plumbing lines in any of the homes. The cost to insulate this pipe, including material and labor, would have been less than $50.00 when these homes were originally constructed. The water damage occurred throughout our neighborhood and similarly in thousands of homes throughout the region. The repair cost will be in the thousands of dollars for each of these homeowners, and it could have been avoided.
Insulation, it gets no respect.
There is an often-misused concept in construction design called “value engineering,” or VE, which is a method to improve the value of goods, products, or services by an examination of function. Value, in this case, is the ratio of function to cost. This concept can result in true cost savings, improved system function, longevity, etc. However, VE has been misused and misapplied to mechanical insulation for numerous reasons, but primarily to reduce cost. This issue was described in another article in Insulation Outlook in June 2018.1
For large-scale industrial projects and commercial building construction, pipe and equipment insulation are commonly the last systems to be subcontracted and installed prior to facility startup. Quite often these projects are pushed over budget by other trades and circumstances in earlier phases of work. Legitimate issues like unforeseen escalating steel prices for structures or piping, increased labor cost due to poor production, weather delays, engineering design changes, etc., are often the culprit. By the time the insulation contracts are being executed, there is pressure from the general contractor or the engineering, procurement, and construction firm to reduce expenses on the remaining aspects of the project, including the insulation contract. VE is a common method employed to rationalize savings by way of lowering the quality of material, manipulating design criteria, and/or reducing insulation thickness, with unintended consequences.
Insulation, it gets no respect.
Mechanical insulation is a mature industry that continues to evolve, both technically and commercially. There is no “silver bullet” product that meets the needs of every insulation application, but it is not an insurmountable challenge either. A wide range of product and technical experts who are experienced in sensible applications of the various items are available to assist. You only need to ask. (Editor’s note: Visit www.insulation.org/directory to find one near you.)
It is incumbent upon the insulation industry to make concerted efforts to keep highlighting the benefits of insulation, including one of the highest returns on investment, in the value proposition of construction. Insulation is an investment that can return dividends every year by way of saving energy, protecting life and property, and helping our environment.
Whether it is in a home, commercial building, or industrial facility, we hope people remember: Insulation…it deserves respect.
Kent D. Revard is the Sales Manger of International and Projects at Specialty Products & Insulation (www.spi-co.com). He can be reached at email@example.com.