Water Droplets

Installing Insulation in Adverse Weather Conditions: An Interview with Ed Anderson of X-Cell Insulation

We are seeing more and more extreme weather patterns across the world, and not surprisingly, this can impact how insulation installers respond on the jobsite. Recently, we caught up with Ed Anderson at X-Cell Insulation in Bohemia, New York to discuss how he has addressed extremely high heat and humidity in the northeast. Adverse weather conditions and antiquated building designs required Ed and his team to develop new best practices to achieve a successful insulation installation. Read our interview with Ed below to learn more about his team’s creative approach to tackling adverse installation conditions.
DISCLAIMER: The information included in this interview is for informational purposes only. Each environment, installation, and application is unique, and installers should consult with the design engineer, architect, and local code bodies before employing any solution. The views expressed in this interview are those of X-Cell insulation; Johs Manville does not endorse or condemn the installation practices described below.
Can you describe your background and tell us a little bit about X-Cell Insulation?
My name is Edward Anderson, Head of Field Ops at X-Cell Insulation. I have 32 years of insulation experience. Twenty-four of those years are on jobsites executing installation of all types of insulation on various systems. X-Cell Insulation is a firestopping and HVAC/Plumbing and spray foam contractor that was started in 2008 by our President Jeniffer Anderson. We are currently headquartered out of Bohemia, New York on Long Island. X-Cell has three locations and work as far into NY as Buffalo.
You recently experienced a highly unique installation as a result of adverse weather conditions and building design. Can you describe the application and weather conditions that proved to be problematic?
The last three summers (i.e., 2017-2019) we have faced extreme humidification issues on Long Island. Humidity and heat have caused condensation issues in a variety of different types of facilities - hospitals and schools to name a few. The older building systems are failing and cannot meet the level of heat and humidity we have been encountering during the last few summers. I have visually experienced condensation forming right through the insulation on piping and ductwork. The entire environment becomes even more problematic once the moisture from the condensation is in the environment above an unconditioned ceiling or chase. It essentially becomes the equivalent of a rain forest, causing the metal decking and the sprinkler piping to sweat, and further compounding the problem.
What happened when you first did the install that made you realize you had a larger problem to address?
We first started just simply removing the wet insulation and quickly installing matching new dry insulation. But with the moisture in the environment, the new insulation failed quickly, and condensation began to form. Once I realized what was happening, we couldn’t just update the insulation, we had to address the humidity as well. This basically meant we had to start from scratch.
What was that problem?
The humidity was penetrating the building at the perimeter, essentially nullifying any work we did on the insulation systems. To put it simply, the heat and humidity was simply winning the battle. It was so powerful it would infiltrate at least 30 feet off the perimeter walls and cause insulated utilities to sweat through the insulation. Naturally, the condensation and sweating were enormously problematic because of the increased risk for mold growth and damage to the insulation and the surrounding structural areas.
How did you address it?
This took a multi-faceted approach. Our top priority had to be decreasing the humidity that was infiltrating the building. So, we broke it down into a step-by-step strategy:
Step 1: We had to install closed cell spray foam along the perimeter of the building to shut down the warm air infiltration and eliminate the humidity that was penetrating the building envelope.
Step 2: Strip all wet insulation and remove it from the space.
Step 3: Open up the ceiling in the area and run the HVAC system to dry out and cool off the utilities above the ceiling. Basically – we had to get everything dry, and we used the HVAC system to accomplish this.
Step 4: Dry off any excess condensation on everything.
Step 5: Install 2” thick pipe insulation on everything above the space. Seal everything with mastic. Then install 2 layers of 2” thick blanket on the ducts. All ceiling registers had to have duct wrap on the metal pan so there is no exposed metallic surface. Once we had everything dry, we had to make sure that the condensation would not crop up a second time. Making sure we had sealed all the insulation jacketing with mastic was crucial.
Step 6: Close the ceiling
What would you have done differently from the start had you known you were facing such extreme humidity?
Obviously, we would have addressed the humidity first so we didn’t have to go through the exercise of removing insulation we had just installed. Stopping the humidity was the key for the most important step towards the solution. After that, dealing with removal of all the wet insulation and drying out the space. Knowing what I know now, we have to address our installation environment first and foremost to ensure a successful install.
Did the second installation hold?
Yes. We went back on a few projects as a team at summer’s end this year in 2019 and found that there was no issue whatsoever. One of our clients even noticed that their HVAC system was performing much better now that it was no longer battling with heat and humidity.
How did you come up with a strategy to address the humidity?
Our design team worked together on this with case studies from other projects. The spray foam was an important step in several of the cases, because we had limited access to some of the areas that we needed to insulate in order to shut down the heat infiltration. Then increasing the density and thickness of the insulation on the re-insulation is crucial.
How did the humidity become a problem inside the building in the first place?
We found that older buildings that had architectural design with soffits on the exterior was one major problem. All of the facilities we had this same issue with were over 30 years old. As the humidity and heat in the northeast has intensified, the building design has failed because was not built to withstand such extreme conditions. The uninsulated vented soffits were acting like open windows, allowing that hot, warm, humid air to eventually get into the space and wreak havoc the HVAC systems.
Have you consulted with engineering firms since then to help them develop strategies to address adverse installation conditions?
Yes, we spoke with a few. On the last few projects we have noticed a systemic change in the design and specification of the HVAC Insulation. Thickness and density demand have almost doubled on projects. The industry standard expectation of what is to be installed is no longer acceptable for many real-world applications.
Last summer humidity was a major problem. Was that the case this summer as well?
The last three summers has been a problem. We had equal scope in 2019 that we did in 2018. This will be an ongoing issue in the northeast on older facilities for years to come in my opinion. Which will lead to market share growth for insulation contractors that perform repair work direct for engineering depts within facility networks.
Given the high humidity in the summer, what could have happened in the winter if you hadn’t discovered the condensation issue?
The issue in the winter would be impossible to diagnose. It would be easier to perform this task in problem locations in the fall or winter. Unfortunately, a hospital or school needs the issue addressed on the spot, and usually problems are only discovered during the thick of summer. Which is what makes the task so daunting.
If you would like more information about how X-Cell insulation has approached insulation system design and installation in the northeast, please contact Ed Anderson at 631-780-6601. You can find information about how to install JM products on the product data sheets and on the product master specification pages. These can be found on our website.