Plumbing systems, commonly known as domestic hot and cold water service systems, convey water to fixtures and equipment through piping for various purposes in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Medical gases transported through piping also fall under the plumbing system umbrella.
The most important contributions that plumbing insulation can deliver for domestic hot and cold water piping and equipment systems are energy conservation, condensation control, personnel, and freeze protection.
Plumbing insulation, available in preformed tubes (pipes) and sheets and rolls (large pipes and equipment), can deliver energy savings to building owners, help equipment to operate at optimum levels of performance and reduce demand for fossil fuels over the life of the mechanical system.
There are many different types of plumbing insulation that excel in various applications. Due to a closed-cell structure, built-in vapor retarder, low thermal conductivity, flexible nature, and ease of installation, closed-cell elastomeric foam plumbing insulation is an excellent choice for conserving energy, controlling condensation, and freeze protection.
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National model energy standards, such as ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 – Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings and the International Energy Conservation Code® (IECC®), actually require minimum insulation thicknesses for heating and hot water piping from 105°F [40°C] and above. The minimum insulation thickness is determined by the line (service or operating) temperature and nominal pipe or tube size. It’s been documented that pipe insulation can reduce heat loss by preserving hot water temperatures by 2°F – 4°F when compared to uninsulated hot water pipes.
National energy standards also require minimum pipe insulation thicknesses for cold water systems, such as domestic cold water piping, to prevent heat gain while controlling condensation. The minimum insulation thickness, again, is determined by the line temperature and nominal pipe or tube size.
The correct plumbing insulation thickness is critical to preventing condensation, or “sweating”, on the insulation surface and preventing corrosion under insulation (CUI). Choosing plumbing insulation with the proper thermal conductivity (k-value) and thickness can effectively control condensation throughout daily fluctuations in system operating temperatures and seasonal ambient temperature and relative humidity.
The cost of uncontrolled condensation on cold water plumbing systems and the surrounding environment can be significant. Condensation can potentially reduce a pipe insulation’s thermal efficiency, catalyze corrosion to metallic piping and equipment and cause water damage to equipment and building systems below. Choosing the right plumbing insulation and thickness to constantly manage condensation can pay for itself by preventing costly repairs and replacement of insulation and parts of the plumbing system itself.
When excessive condensation develops on the plumbing insulation surface, the potential for mold development is real. Whether the excess moisture or vapor drive, permeates into and beneath the insulation or travels to areas below, mold development can result if food (i.e. dust) and water for microbes are present. The good news is that most plumbing insulation offers antimicrobial protection so at least mold cannot grow on the plumbing insulation surface.
When freeze protection is required for plumbing systems in unconditioned (mechanical room, basement, attic) and exterior spaces, insulation with the proper thermal k-value and thickness can prevent heat loss. When installed in exterior environments, plumbing insulation should be protected from solar radiation, moisture, and mechanical damage.
Available in preformed tubes (unslit and pre-slit SSPT™) for small piping plus sheets & rolls for large piping and equipment, Aeroflex® USA’s Aerocel® brand of EPDM closed-cell elastomeric foam insulation effectively insulates plumbing systems with continuous service temperatures of -297°F – 257°F [-182°C – 125°C]. Available in ASTM E84 25/50-rated thicknesses up to 2” [50 mm] thick with inherent microbial resistance, Aerocel EPDM is engineered to perform as intended for the life of the plumbing mechanical system.
Why non-polar EPDM elevates insulation preformance
Aeroflex's Aerocel brand of insulation products are unique among other closed-cell elastomeric foams in that they are classified “non-polar.” EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) is a non-polar compound and the basis for all Aerocel insulation.
Polarity is a function of the electrical charge across a molecular structure. When a material is classified as “non-polar,” it means that the electrical charges are evenly distributed across each molecule. This makes the molecules more stable, especially when exposed to water. As a result, Aerocel insulation degrades at a slower rate than other closed-cell elastomeric brands, especially when exposed to moisture, sunlight, ozone and a wide range of temperatures.
Because Aerocel EPDM insulation is hydrophobic, meaning that it does not react with water, it is inherently microbial-resistant and lasts longer, providing owners with a more favorable product life-cycle assessment and cost than other closed-cell elastomeric foam insulations.