5 Insulation Fails That Waste Energy

Avoid Wasted Energy!

If you’re not thinking about energy consumption at your facility, then you may be missing enormous opportunities to decrease costs in your facility, minimize your environmental impact, and reduce the amount of wasted energy through inefficient process control. The global industrial sector accounts for approximately 1/3 of the total global energy consumption, and it is also responsible for 1/3 of fossil-fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions. (1) In our energy-conscientious world today, the energy use in the industrial sector is staggering, and can be directly quantified in dollar amounts. A European study found that the industrial sector in the EU could save $3.8 billion annually if they simply used properly installed insulation (2).

With the right application and maintenance, you can make your insulation work for you to save money, reduce greenhouse emissions and increase process efficiencies.  In order to do that, it is crucial to figure out where the insulation in your system is not performing up to par. Johns Manville’s Certified Insulation Energy Appraisers regularly encounter these top 5 insulation oversights that can be a source of wasted energy in industrial facilities.

  1. UNINSULATED PIPES: While it may seem obvious, uninsulated pipes are one of the largest drains on energy efficiency. That said, this is a fairly common mistake in many industrial facilities, and while it may be tempting to ignore it on an infrequently used pipe or a pipe that isn’t operating at high temperatures, overlooking these pipes adds up…big time. In a 2009 report released by the National Insulation Association (NIA), the Department of Energy, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), they found that the improved use of mechanical insulation could save the U.S. $4.8 billion annually(3). While insulating uninsulated pipes may seem like an unnecessary venture at first, the ROI can often manifest within the first year, making it a worthwhile investment.
  2. INSUFFICIENT INSULATION: Insufficient insulation can be an Achilles’ heel for heat loss. This can stem from two different sources: 1) a thermal issue with the insulation and 2) an installation issue. In the case of a thermal issue, the insulation may not be performing as intended, or it may have been under-engineered from the start. If it was under-engineered, the insulation system design simply didn’t accurately account for the actual field-application or performance of the insulation. In the case of installation issues, the causes can be more subtle. They can be everything from not staggering the joints, to poorly field-fabricated insulation, to poorly detailed systems. Performing a detailed inspection can reveal inefficiencies associated with under-insulated systems and provide a roadmap for corrective action.
  3. DAMAGED INSULATION: Insulation that has been damaged or abused will not perform as expected. This can range from impact abuse from foot-traffic, vehicles, and maintenance, to water and weather damage, to insulation that has gone missing entirely. Unfortunately, damaged insulation can often be neglected for a period of time until maintenance catches the damage and repairs can be made. In the meantime, the system bleeds energy and processes and personnel safety can be compromised. Regular inspections and maintenance are crucial to catching damaged insulation.
  4. UPGRADED INSULATION: Sometimes systems have been designed solely to meet specification requirements and code standards without considering the need to optimize energy efficiency. Unfortunately, this single-minded approach neglects potential energy-saving steps that could quickly and easily recoup their cost if implemented correctly. This can include something as simple as adding an extra layer of insulation, which frequently has a very short payback period in terms of energy savings, making it a financially justifiable decision.
  5. WRONG INSULATION: Simply put, you need to use the right tool for the job, and a key component to having an energy efficient system is to use the appropriate insulation for the application. For example, utilizing mineral wool to insulate pipes or vessels in an area with excessive vibration and operating temperatures above the binder burnout threshold sets the insulation up to fail. Once the binder has dissipated, the mineral wool insulation will lose some of its structural integrity, causing fibers to migrate from the vibration to the bottom of the pipe or vessel, compromising the performance of the insulation. This failure could also affect process temperature control and personnel protection requirements. In this circumstance, replacing mineral wool with a non-fibrous insulation such as calcium silicate or perlite will ensure that the system remains properly insulated and operating at maximum efficiency even in a harsh environment.

While there are many variables that play into designing an energy efficient insulation system, the first step is to ensure that you’re already getting the most mileage out of the current insulation that you have. Johns Manville Industrial offers the opportunity for a free, certified insulation energy appraisal to qualified facilities. These mechanical insulation system appraisals can help you determine whether or not your system is operating at maximum efficiency and locate where you can make informed improvements to save money and energy in your operation. In addition to an insulation energy appraisal, performing regular inspections and proper maintenance on your insulation system can help protect your investment, protect the environment and improve your system’s performance.


  1. https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/tracking_emissions.pdf
  2. http://www.euractiv.com/section/science-policymaking/news/study-insulation-could-save-industry-3-5-billion-a-year/
  3. http://www.insulation.org/articles/article.cfm?id=PR090701