Pipe Insulation Specifications

Updated April 17, 2017

Pipe insulation is used in both commercial and residential applications to prevent heat from dissipating, which reduces energy costs. In residential applications, pipes that tend to be insulated are those that are exposed to the elements and are subject to freezing and breaking during expansion and contraction. Water pipes buried under ground are only insulated if the building code requires it, or if soil testing indicates potential corrosion due to mineral composition and reaction with copper pipes and fittings. Mineral water content, improper installation or acid-based flux are also contributors to copper pipe degradation.

In commercial applications, pipe insulation must fit the additional category of addressing human safety, since exposed pipes can reach a temperature of 538 degrees Celsius or higher. The various types of materials used are meant to conform to industry standards and the building codes of municipalities.

Commercial Insulation

Exposed pipes in power plants are typically insulated with materials made of hydrous calcium silicate that meet or exceed government standards for fire retardation from 100 to 0-11.111 degrees Celsius, low heat conductivity and vapour retardation (low smoke properties).

Fibreglass pipe insulation is designed for commercial applications, such as power and processing plants. It is fire rated to withstand 454 degrees Celsius and meets most building codes for vapour and smoke ratings.

Residential Water Insulation

The primary reason to insulate pipes in residential homes is to prevent energy loss and pipes from freezing due to expansion and contraction. Residential home water pipes are buried well below the frost line; however, a home built on a slab rather than a raised foundation may be subject to additional considerations based on its location and climate.

Depending on the area's building codes, slab-on-grade homes may be required to have underground water pipes insulated with foam, rubber or fibreglass material to protect pipes from corrosive elements.

The most commonly used materials to insulate exposed pipes in residential homes are neoprene and polythene foam sleeves. Foam insulation is not only affordable but easy to cut to custom lengths with a utility knife.

The specifications for installation include that the diameter of the foam's interior must match the exterior diameter of the pipe to ensure a tight fit. Plastic ties or gaskets should be used every 1 to 2 feet to secure them in place.

Neoprene and polythene insulation sleeves can be found in widths ranging from 3/8 inch to 2 inches at most home improvement stores.

Polythene insulation covers are made with a closed-cell construction that helps prevent heat loss and are rated for a temperature range of 0 to 180 degrees. They are also mould and fire resistant. Neoprene insulation sleeves prevent condensation on pipes and can be used on both hot and cold water pipes. They are designed to save energy and are not fire rated.

Residencial Gas Heater Insulation

The EPA estimates that the average household wastes more than 3,500 gallons of water every year waiting for hot water to reach the faucets.

Fibreglass insulation that is at least 1 inch thick is recommended for gas water heaters whose pipes are 6 to 8 inches away from the flue. Wire ties or tape made of aluminium foil is the preferred method to secure fibreglass insulation that is close to a continuously burning flame.

Additional Information

In some areas, the soil's mineral composition reacts with copper pipes and fittings, causing the pipes to be pitted and degraded at an accelerated rate. When corrosion of this magnitude occurs on pipes buried under slab, it is possible to fix one section of the pipe by boring into the concrete slab. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that several similar brakes won't occur within feet or inches of each other and it is impossible to insulate these pipes post-construction in a cost-effective manner.

The most cost-effective solution is to abandon the original set-up and have a professional plumber re-route the pipes through walls and attic, using appropriate insulation to prevent moisture build-up.

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About the Author

Olivia Emisar has been writing online articles since 2008. She graduated with her associate degree in liberal arts from the University of Hawai'i and pursued two additional years in the field of psychology. Her studies also include a year at the University of Reno with an emphasis in communication and women's studies.