Standards Mean Business

Luis F. Ordonez

August 1, 2001

We have seen history and trends being forged every day by the shifting of enormous masses of economic power in short periods of time. Leaders in business establish themselves as the standard and pace-setters of a common language by being the most convenient, the most common, or the most available method depicting to be the most profitable way to achieve a purpose. Standards achieve this goal when they properly address the market in a relevant manner and so, relevant standards do mean business.

From my perspective, that is exactly where the National Insulation Association is leading the thermal insulation industry as a whole within the United States, by launching the Growing the Insulation Industry Program. And even though the insulation industry cannot be directly compared to the communications or other more powerful or dynamic industries, we do want to expand the potential of our businesses to its maximum, which obviously means thinking globally. My view in this paper, part of my international nature, is whether this effort can be expanded abroad, first and most significantly at this time, to the whole of the American continents.

Simply inviting peers from other countries and expecting them to jump on the NIA bandwagon, attend the meetings, participate and become enthused and involved, as if they were any other member coming from the United States or Canada, isn’t realistic. Language, culture, and economics are barriers that need to be overcome. In short, what I am saying is that the markets are not going to come to us on their own will. A forward-looking approach is needed. Let me mention the case of a private company in the United States that did a joint venture with certification bodies of Argentina and Italy, capable of certifying all electric and electronic manufacturers accessing the market of Argentina. Understandable standards are required.

It seems to me that an industrial thermal insulation manual of energy efficient practices, harmonized throughout the beautiful strip of land beginning from the Yukon and ending in the Patagonia, Argentina, including its areas of influence, may have exactly this effect in a significant part of the world. It will also serve to set a seeding ground for other commercial and residential construction markets. It would seem overly ambitious to hope for local codes or standards to be enacted or adopted based on this manual. It is not unreasonable to aim at placing one generally acceptable de facto document for reference in every engineer’s desk, library, bibliography and school table.

Truly, the ASTM Book of Standards is the most important reference for thermal insulation materials in a large portion of the world, including the Latin American countries. ASTM is continually and diligently aiming to become the most influential international standards organization worldwide.

Second, the North American Insulation Manufacturer’s Association’s 3Eplus Program is a unique by value tool that has had excellent acceptance and application when found in use south of the Rio Grande Valley.

The MICA National Commercial and Industrial Insulation Manual has great potential to be harmonized and referenced for use in the global markets.

And to top the pile of jewels, NIA’s Insulation Energy Appraisal Program can become a valuable tool in promoting north to south technical expertise exchange and south to north esteem and respect.

These highly integrated volumes of information, tools and manuals are jointly a value to our objectives, much greater than other industries have ever had to launch their influence abroad. Business will follow, invariably and naturally.

The Case of Mexico

Initially, a task group including delegates representing manufacturers, builders, design engineers, power plant owners and the chemical and petrochemical industries began to execute a well-supported effort to introduce ourselves as capable of putting together a common language for energy saving potential using thermal insulation.

We showed we had the value to support our claims, involving the following main steps:

  • Factual survey of the energy losses through insulation, of a significant number of facilities throughout the country,
  • Detailed evaluation of the savings potential (amount and value) with additional insulation,
  • An assessment of the value these savings will render in reductions of atmospheric emissions and,
  • Appraise the Economic Resistance value of the typical insulation (as compared to economic thickness of a specific material or system).

The Mexican Government, through its Energy Department’s Energy Savings Commission, published the 1995 edition of the Industrial Thermal Insulation Code.

It is an extremely comprehensive manual of practice of thermal insulation for industry. The core or compulsory table is composed of Maximum Heat Transfer values per unit (W/m) length of pipe or unit area (W/m2) of flat surface for hot (Figure 1) and cold surfaces, obtained following the principles as set forth in the Department of Energy’s Economic Thickness of Insulation Manual. Included are very complete voluntary installation guidelines, recommended engineering practices and minimum thickness of insulation tables based on standard values. These latter tables may be used as default for complying with the rule. The mandate makes reference to the following:

  • ASTM Standards,
  • MICA Manual (MICA actually approved the use of proprietary materials in the Mexican Code) and,
  • 3 E Plus Program (1994 version was used to validate some of the calculations in developing the data).

The most significant merit of this document lies in the fact that it reduced industry-wide acceptable Heat Loss/Gain values-losses of energy through installed industrial insulation- in more than half and increased insulation thickness for the entire market by an average factor of almost twice. This measure created an immediate increase in demand of our products.

This improvement is graphically shown here as Figure 2. The 100% red line represents the average maximum acceptable values of heat transfer per pipe size in the code, as a base for comparison in the graph.

The green curve (previous practice), represents calculated values of heat loss using the thickness and design considerations that were common and prevalent in Mexico before the enactment of the rule, shown as percentage values over the 100% base for comparison. Also shown on Figure 2 are recently calculated economic heat transfer values using the 3 E Plus program under current local conditions in Mexico, represented by a blue curve, also as a percentage over base values. Local conditions are marked by a continued high cost of money (15%-20%), a significant increase in cost of labor still at about 15% of that in the United States, materials costs similar or slightly higher than in the United States and energy cost at $4 per million BTU (a three year contractual price of natural gas agreed between PEMEX and private industry).

From this assessment we conclude that the limits set forth in the mandatory table are an average of 11% better than those calculated using the 3 E Plus program under current conditions. While economic conditions and energy prices are certainly not the same as those found in 1995, these consistently small differences are proof of the continued validity of the regulated values as realistic economic energy-saving figures. This also supports the applicability of the 3 E Plus program as an effective long-term energy saving software.

When it was published, a justification document went to market expressing that "If every plant in the country had energy efficient thickness installed on pipes and equipment, the total potential savings would be 8 million barrels of oil equivalent and 8 million tons of emissions to the atmosphere." For 1999 alone and referring only to new plants, the savings published in the Mexican Energy Department Web site were of 40 million m3 of natural gas alone (7% of fuel use equivalent to ~0.3 Mbboe; see These are strong and compelling messages to market that standards benefit the consumer and the producer as well. Balanced standards do mean business.

Latin America

Other Latin American countries have not made as much progress as Mexico in enacting regulations regarding the energy savings programs for use and manufacture of industrial and household goods. No other country in Latin America has the same combination of conditions, such as: being heavily industrialized in a wide range of industries, being a strong oil and petrochemical producer, growing fast in an extremely cost competitive market as a neighbor of the United States and being a strong exporter of basic and manufactured goods into the global markets.

However, some countries have excellent potential and may eventually gain a strong interest in developing their own guidelines. Others that will never be as active and concerned in writing energy saving documents in industry or buildings or don’t have the resources to do so, may select to connect with others in acquiring technology at a low cost with less effort and in a shorter time.

Meanwhile, the Mexican rule has had influence outside of the country, such as the case of the Power Company of Costa Rica that has used it as a valuable reference for design of their projects. Other companies and other countries have done the same for individual projects in Ecuador and Colombia.

It is common knowledge that significant projects in Latin America are normally designed outside of their borders. These are specified by engineering and construction firms competing in a tight market that drives total project cost down and reduces the relative value of energy efficiency throughout the life cycle of the project to a lower level of significance. Not all bidding companies have the same working ethics, and the level of competence is not always equal. I strongly believe and many others in our industry concur, that a harmonized set of standards for industrial thermal insulation is definitely required to defend the proper use of thermal insulating materials. This will mostly benefit the end customer, owner and operator of the facility, while improving the marketplace as well. Published and publicized standards do mean business.

The need for thermal insulation is a fact in every country. It is in our interest to show them how to do it, how much to use of it, the quality of the materials and systems they need to install and the benefits they will gather from a properly designed and constructed thermal insulation. Are these not the same elements behind the GIIP Program? Will this not benefit the market for the entire industry as a whole?

Recent Activity

In recent years, since we joined our efforts between NAIMA, the Canadian fellow CMMVFM and the Mexican fellow AMFATA, we have harmonized the use of ASTM standards throughout the region of NAFTA. This has been a success following hard work, a concentrated effort and a clear business perspective of the application of standards. This same representation has been active in world forums, sharing our perspective of the value of thermal insulation in debates covering subjects such as energy savings, global warming and others.

The Energy Savings Commission has continued its work and the Mexican Energy Department published the 1997 edition of a Building Thermal Insulation Definitions Code. This extremely simple four-page document is fundamental in that it defines thermal insulation in terms of resistance, referenced to ATSM definitions and methods. This ordinance may prevent bogus peddlers from misrepresenting the thermal insulation industry and also avoids misunderstanding between reflective materials and insulating materials. It is mostly applicable to the residential and commercial markets and is a strong defender of honest business, serving to benefit consumers and suppliers as well.

Furthermore, a non-residential building energy efficiency bill is underway for approval in 2001. This document establishes minimum R-values for the envelope of building systems. Though this is a starting point and as such, does not offer comparable values to current trade practices in the United States in similar climate zones, it will generate insulation business in a sector totally unaware of the use and existence of thermal insulation. It will also modify the level of ignorance on the subject in the building community and will gradually increase awareness as the benefits are attained and recognized.


A short but extremely meaningful corollary comes of essence at this time. It would be, "Every step in the way to increase and grow our thermal insulation market in Mexico has been associated to a step in the way of achieving greater acceptance of standards in our industry, in the engineering design community, to owners of producing facilities, commercial buildings, residential buildings and, to regulators from government energy related departments."

This should come as a surprise to no one. In performing our most honest effort, to candidly share our knowledge of the benefits from the use of thermal insulation, we have created a better and greater market for us all. Honest standards certainly do mean business.


I have presented the case of Mexico, where every effort devoted to developing standards has rendered market growth, offered profit potential to the owners of industrial facilities or buildings and left saved energy for the benefit of society. This is the case where most harmonizing has taken place with the United States and Canada in the context of NAFTA. A brief analysis has shown that the values in the code are valid and slightly better than those calculated by using the 3 E Plus Program for current conditions. Does this mean we are actually installing better insulating values in industrial applications in Mexico than in the United States? The answer’s probably yes, and there may be a lesson to be learned.

Can we answer the initial question; Is an industrial thermal insulation code for the Americas possible? I think we can answer that question positively if we can deem it is feasible for someone to produce an industrial thermal insulation manual of energy efficient practices with the following characteristics:

  • relevant to the industry and consumers
  • balanced in the benefits it provides to owners as well service providers
  • honest and accepted by the market
  • understandable to clients and every member of the supply chain
  • harmonized within the markets its serves
  • published and publicized throughout

The good news is that by putting together a careful selection of translated (and minimally adapted where applicable) ASTM Thermal Insulation Standards, NAIMA’s 3 E Plus Program, MICA’s Standards Manual and NIA’s Insulation Appraisal Program, the first four of the above conditions are immediately met. A complete book is ready to go to market with local individuals in harmonizing, publishing and publicizing the good work.

I trust we have potential leadership capabilities among us to do the required task, which by the way is not a matter of pride or record. We have all been confronted with the fact that substantial business has gone to markets beyond our usual boundaries and will continue to do so as a result of a globalizing world. Should we follow business, which is moving away from our customary territories?

If we at NIA and the NAFTA thermal insulation industry leaders don’t do it, someone else will, harmonizing elsewhere in the world.

Figure 1
Figure 2