Menu Close

How to Navigate Building Codes and Industrial Insulation Standards

Industrial insulation is essential in numerous applications to protect equipment and maintain a comfortable working environment. It prevents heated and cooled air from escaping, saving energy costs and extending the life of equipment.

It’s important for insulation contractors to understand the standards that govern the installation of their product. Various organizations offer guidelines, resources and best practices recommendations.

Choosing the Right Material

According to the dictionary, a specification is a detailed and exact statement of particulars. Whether you’re designing your own insulation systems or buying from the manufacturer, a proper specification is critical. It communicates the details of the project to the installation contractor and materials supplier. This includes information like the piping and equipment to be insulated, insulation type and thickness, and what the insulation is supposed to do, including heat conservation, process stability, personnel protection, prevention from freezing and condensation.

The choice of insulation material is also important. It should be suitable for the intended application, comply with all relevant codes and regulations, and be durable and easy to maintain. It should resist moisture, fungus, mildew and vermin. It should not be combustible or emit toxic fumes. In addition, it should be easy to install, not require specialized equipment or a lengthy training program.

For high-voltage applications, the insulation material should have a safe contact rating. The NIA’s Insulation Materials Specification Chart is an excellent resource that outlines the physical and material properties of various insulation types as per the applicable ASTM standards. It’s a great tool for insulation contractors, engineers, manufacturers and other industry professionals.

Identifying the Application

The dictionary defines a specification as “a detailed exact statement of particulars.” A good industrial insulation specification will describe the work to be performed, the materials and how they should be installed. It will also describe the inspection requirements. An effective specification is an essential tool for the designer, the installation contractor and the material suppliers.

The first thing a design engineer must do is choose the type code that best fits the project. There are a variety of choice available, each with its own unique characteristics and benefits. The selection of the code will affect how much insulation is required to meet the primary design criteria. For example, the thickness required to protect workers may be different from that required for heat conservation.

Other important considerations include the environmental conditions in which the insulation will operate. An outdoor insulation system will require a different jacket material than an indoor system. It’s also important to identify areas where the insulation could be subjected to physical abuse. The insulation should be designed to provide protection in those areas.

Insulation systems in chemical plants often require special start-up precautions. This may involve heat-up schedules for high temperature applications or the need to prevent out-gassing in sensitive areas. The installation contractor should be made aware of these conditions so he can take the appropriate steps to ensure that the insulation performs as designed.

Identifying the Location

The insulation products chosen for a project must be suitable for its location. In some cases, the code requirements vary from state to state and by climate zone. In other cases, the insulation must be suitable for a particular type of construction. This is important because the performance of an insulation system changes depending on its location.

Often, mechanical insulation is installed in confined spaces and elevated heights. These environments can present significant safety risks that need to be addressed. The primary risk involves the potential exposure to hazardous materials that may be inhaled or come into contact with the skin. Prioritizing safety compliance ensures that the health and well-being of insulation installers is protected, which is vital to project success.

In addition to addressing safety concerns, it is important that the mechanical insulation design engineer selects the ambient design conditions for which the insulation and jacketing will be designed. This will allow the designer to calculate required insulation thickness as a function of temperature and the pipe surface temperature, and it will also determine the insulation requirements for controlling condensation.

Once the design has been completed, a comprehensive insulation specification must be prepared and sent to all involved parties, including the mechanical contractor, insulation subcontractors, and the material suppliers. A good specification will communicate the design intent to everyone involved, which can reduce confusion and avoid costly mistakes.

Identifying the Code Requirements

The code requirements for insulation are different all across the country because building codes change and new standards are set. Understanding these requirements can save a lot of time and money in the long run. The insulation industry has a wealth of literature to help navigate the codes and standards. The North American Commercial and Industrial Insulation Practices manual, formerly the MICA manual, is a valuable resource. This guide includes design guides, product specification information, FAQs and energy code compliance guidelines.

Other resources are available for specific projects. For example, there are a number of tables that are used to help determine the extent of mechanical insulation. These tables use the designer to choose a type code and then record the operating temperature of the system, the pipe size, the thermal conductivity range and the insulation thickness.

Another important consideration is access for inspection. In many cases, inspectors need to be able to see and reach the equipment that is being insulated. In these situations, removable insulation covers or inspection ports are specified. This is a critical part of the design process and needs to be considered before the work starts.

Lastly, it is also important to make sure that the insulation contractor has adequate access to the project for installation and maintenance. This may require providing lifts or a safe means to maneuver materials and equipment. In addition, some products such as adhesives, tapes, mastics and coatings require that they be applied above a certain application temperature or in a particular temperature range. These limitations need to be understood and communicated with the general or mechanical contractors.