Is there Value in Value-Engineering?

Engineers and contractors are under constant pressure to optimize system performance as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible. Often times, this is easier said than done, and in an effort to accommodate external pressure to meet financial goals and project deliverables, many engineers and contractors attempt to value-engineer the insulation materials in the system.

Value-engineering refers to strategically replacing a component of a system with a more economical solution to reduce cost or save time. In an ideal world, this replacement would offer the same performance at a lower cost, and often times, when implemented properly, value-engineering can be a useful tool to maximize system performance while saving time or money.

However, this all hinges onproperly appliedvalue-engineering techniques, and this is where value-engineering can get a little dicey. When value-engineering is done without the necessary research or attention to detail, it can easily have negative ramifications on system optimization, longevity, and long-term cost.

However, there are three very major benefits that make value-engineering worth the time and effort – as long as it’s done properly.  

  1. Delivering equal performance at a lower cost:When designers interchange two products with comparable performance but different price points, they are able to provide a cost-effective solution that accommodates both system requirements and budget constraints. In order to select an interchangeable material, the designer must understand the physical and performance characteristics of the insulation, as well as the unique needs of the application.
    • THE RISK: If we look solely at “first cost” (the price of the installation and material), it can be very tempting to sacrifice seemingly “unnecessary” performance features to save money. While this strategy may seem appealing from a short-term perspective, it can be an incredibly costly mistake in the long-run when we consider “full cost” (the price of first cost, plus maintenance and repair over the life of the system).
      For example, calcium silicate is a more expensive material than mineral wool; however it typically has a substantially longer lifespan (20+ years (calcium silicate when properly maintained) vs 3-5 years (mineral wool)), offers corrosion protection, and has substantially greater compressive strength. As such, over the course of 20 years, the full cost of well-maintained calcium silicate is potentially considerably lower than the full cost of mineral wool – despite any price disparity between the initial material-cost of the two insulations.
  2. Opportunity to improve lead-times:Lead-times are critical to getting the job done on time, and extended lead-times can cause the project timelines to slip significantly. This is when utilizing a more readily available product may not only be appealing, but also necessary.
    • THE RISK: This benefit can become tricky to navigate as the responsibility for finding a competitive product with better lead times generally falls to the contractor. In order to select a proper alternative, the contractor must understand the intent behind why the original material was specified. Was it thermal performance? Acoustical control? Space-saving benefits? All three? Without this crucial information, it’s difficult to know whether or not the alternative product selected will actually meet the performance requirements of the system.
  3. Improved installation quality and efficiency by selecting a material that is easier to install or more common in the industry:Insulations like mineral wool are very common and have a long history in the insulation industry. The popularity of mineral wool means that many contractors know how to install it properly and efficiently, making for a high-quality, rapid installation that may not be as viable with products that have a more involved installation process.
    • THE RISK: While some types of insulation may be easier to install than others, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best insulation choice for the application. A high-quality installation is often critical to ensuring system optimization and longevity, and short installation times/ease of use should typically be coupled with product performance rather than replace it.

Successful value-engineering relies on engineers and contractors to useproperly appliedtechniques, and this is where experience and attention to detail can be instrumental. When done improperly, value-engineering can easily have negative ramifications that impact system optimization, longevity, and long-term cost. In order to value-engineer a system correctly, designers and contractors must know and understand the critical design criteria for the application. This means they need to account for the performance characteristics of the insulation, as well as the environment of the application, and the physical demands of the system itself.

Since there isn’t any one-size-fits-all insulation, we encourage you to use the Product Application Rating Tool (P.A.R.T)  to determine which insulations will best meet the requirements of your application. The PART is a calculator that helps you quantify which performance characteristics are the most critical to your application, and then helps you establish which insulations can offer the performance you need.

If you have any questions about whether or not two insulations are interchangeable, or which insulation may be the best choice for the application, we encourage you to contact us. Our technical experts can provide useful input to help you evaluate your specifications and to better understand what materials you can use to cost-effectively optimize system performance.