Insulation: An Easy Opportunity to Improve Energy Efficiency

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Pipe insulation 1Pipe insulation 2

This photo was taken with a thermal imaging camera that utilizes infrared technology (thermography) to measure the temperatures of surfaces on subjects in the photograph. The colors in the image enhance the viewer’s ability to distinguish cool and warm areas of the surfaces in the image. The warmest areas are white or yellow and the coolest are deep blue or purple.

The photograph shows two steam lines in a mechanical room serving an outpatient facility with a surgery center and sterilizer. The pipe on the left has an un-insulated check valve and the pipe on the right has insulation covering a similar valve. As you can see from the scale in the photo, the exterior surface of the left side steam pipe is approaching 156 degrees Fahrenheit. This heat is wasted and lost to the interior of the building and must then be cooled by the buildings air conditioning systems which wastes more energy and money for patients. Mechanical rooms are often hot because of pipes, connections, pumps, and valves like these are un-insulated. Sometimes the insulation is skipped as a cost savings measure in a construction project. Other times, maintenance staff may remove insulation to conduct necessary work. If the insulation is difficult to remove or replace, they will often leave it off so that they can conduct their work more easily the next time.

Insulation continues to be one of the best opportunities for improving energy efficiency which will improve health, improve the environment, and save money. Insulation is usually out of sight and out of mind. People are often numb or indifferent to wasteful use of energy and even in the case of heat, which we can feel, we don’t usually question why it is hot inside a space. When we can see energy being used we are much more likely to question why and take action to prevent or remove waste. Insulation will often have paybacks approaching three years. It is a good investment and can be tailored to fit your capital improvement budget. Do what you can when you can.

Recently, new styles of easily removable insulation have been developed to make it easier for maintenance staff to conduct their work without compromising the insulation and its energy benefits. An example of this is shown in the photo on the right. Walk through you facility and mechanical rooms and look for un-insulated pumps, valves, connections, pipes, etc. and pay attention to the temperature in your mechanical rooms…you may have an easy opportunity for improvement.


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