3 Challenges with Mechanical Insulation for Commercial Buildings

Posted by |Industry News|November 13, 2015


Planning, selecting, and installing mechanical insulation for commercial buildings presents a unique set of challenges. A separate category from industrial jobs, buildings in the commercial category include schools, hotels, hospitals, office buildings, government buildings, supermarkets, condominiums, and more. These types of buildings require insulation on a variety of mechanical applications:

  • Low-pressure steam/condensate
  • Hot water, cold water, and air conditioning lines
  • Heating hot water
  • Supplying and returning chilled water
  • Refrigerant lines
  • Supply and return outside air and exhaust air systems

How Commercial Projects are Different

Other than the nature and purpose of the building being constructed, there are several factors that differentiate a commercial project from an industrial project when it comes to insulating for new construction. First, one major difference is the physical structure of the building’s mechanical systems. In commercial buildings, the temperature range tends to be narrower (usually between 40°F and 300°F), meaning that a smaller range of insulation materials is available for consideration. The scope and size of the pipes is also typically much smaller in a commercial structure than in an industrial one.

Another difference between commercial and industrial jobs is the expected maintenance after installation. Insulation in industrial environments is naturally exposed to more damaging factors throughout its lifecycle, while commercial insulation generally requires minimal maintenance.

All of these factors affect which insulation materials and installation methods the insulation contractor will specify during the project.

Challenges with mechanical Insulation for Commercial Buildings

Taking the factors from the previous section into consideration, there are three big challenges an insulation contractor has when working on a new commercial building project. Interestingly, these challenges all stem from the fact that the construction is typically still in progress while the insulator is completing his work.

1. Exposing Insulation to the Elements

With many different stages of a commercial building coming together at the same time, insulation is sometimes installed before the building is fully enclosed. Whether the roof has yet to be added or the building isn’t yet water tight, sometimes insulation must go in while it still has the risk of being exposed to the weather. While the insulation contractor may know that this is not a best practice, sometimes he may not have a choice in order to stick to a projected timeline. Exposing the insulation to moisture or other damaging weather conditions could have negative effects and cause the insulation to need expensive maintenance down the line.

2. Ensuring System Requirements are Met

Insulation contractors specify materials and thicknesses in order to meet certain compliance and performance requirements. It’s important that the mechanical systems be able to accommodate these specifications, and it may be up to the insulation contractor to ensure that the design engineer and other trades (pipe/duct mechanical contractors) provide the proper clearance between pipes and walls for the insulation thickness specified. Insulation is an important part of the overall mechanical system and needs to be treated that way.

3. Working with Conflicting Schedules

Like any other business, an insulation company schedules their workload for optimum efficiency. But unforeseen issues can arise in any new construction project—jobs can be delayed or moved up at any time. It can sometimes be a challenge working around the schedules of other mechanical and plumbing contractors to complete all of the work that needs to be done. It requires communication and cooperation from all sides to complete each project as proficiently as possible.

Despite the occasional challenge, insulating mechanical systems for new commercial buildings is also exciting. It’s an opportunity to help create an optimized building that will be energy efficient and cost effective for years to come.

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