Steam Piping Insulation 101

Uninsulated piping is constantly wasting energy. While no one tries to waste money, not fixing damaged or removed insulation can be the same as washing money down the drain. In this article we cover the basics of steam piping insulation and how you can make an informed decision.

Why Insulate Pipes?Boiler piping insulation in progress at a facility

According to the US Department of Energy: “Insulation can typically reduce energy losses by 90% and help ensure proper steam pressure at plant equipment. Any surface over 120 °F should be insulated, including boiler surfaces, steam and condensate return piping, and fittings.”

Insulating steam piping is a good place to start but is just the beginning. With energy losses upwards of 90%, you should also insulate valves, traps, heat-transfer components and anywhere else you can. This may involve using removable insulation, so you can test traps and inspect components as necessary.

Couple that with the fact that insulated pipes and traps create a safer work environment and insulation becomes a no-brainer.

Types Of Steam Piping Insulation

Outdoor piping with sheet metal insulation

The most common type of insulation is calcium silicate and mineral fibers. Fiber glass (or cellular glass)is another common choice for steam pipe insulation. Both can handle high temperatures and provide a good insulation value.

Other types of pipe insulation include, polyurethane, polystyrene, mineral wool or polyisocyanurate.

It is also important to note that piping that will be exposed to outdoor conditions will require additional shielding. This generally includes aluminum, painted canvas, plastic or sheet metal coverings to protect the piping from sunlight, wind, and weather.

Choosing The Right Steam Piping Insulation

Engineers will specify insulation thickness when designing a system. However, during renovations or remodels you should follow ASHRAE 90.1 and the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) which will tell you basic requirements. The steam, steam condensate, hot water heating and domestic system insulation chart below explains these requirements. 

Steam, steam condensate, hot water heating and domestic system insulation chart.

Table Courtesy Of US Department of Energy

a. For insulation outside the stated conductivity range, the minimum thickness (T) shall be determined as follows: T = r {(1 + t/r)K/k – 1} where: T = minimum insulation thickness (in.), r = actual outside radius of pipe (in.), t = insulation thickness listed in this table for applicable fluid temperature and pipe size, K = conductivity of alternate material at mean rating temperature indicated for the applicable fluid temperature (Btu•in./h•ft2• °F) and k = the upper value of the conductivity range listed in this table for the applicable fluid temperature. b. These thicknesses are based on energy efficiency considerations only. Additional insulation is sometimes required relative to safety issues/surface temperature. c. For piping smaller than 1-1/2” and located in partitions within conditioned spaces, reduction of these thicknesses by 1” shall be permitted (before thickness adjustment required in footnote a) but not to thicknesses below 1”. d. For direct-buried heating and hot water system piping, reduction of these thicknesses by 1.5” shall be permitted (before thickness adjustment required in footnote a) but not to thicknesses below 1”

Even with these standards, It can be hard to determine which insulation is correct for your specific application. Luckily the NAIMA (North American Insulation Manufacturers Association) has a free tool you can use to help.

3E Plus is a free tool which you can use to find the optimum type and thickness of insulation for your piping system. It can also help you calculate payback periods to ensure you can make an informed decision.

Work With The Experts

For over 50 years we have been consulting, designing, and building mechanical projects for commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities. Due to the corrosive nature of many process fluids, we maintain a strict adherence to the testing and verification of materials and components. From steam piping insulation to new installs, we can do it all. Our piping solutions include:

  • Steam Piping Installation And Design
  • Industrial and Commercial Natural Gas Piping
  • Process Piping Design And Installation
  • Hot and Chilled Water Piping 
  • Pipe Welding
  • All Other Mechanical Piping

Our experts can install piping systems in highly congested areas and commonly install the following:

  • Carbon Steel Piping
  • Stainless Steel Piping
  • Copper Piping
  • Galvanized Piping
  • PVC Piping
  • Ductile Iron Piping
  • Inconel Piping
  • Aluminum Piping

Contact The Piping Experts At Rasmussen Mechanical Today!