Proving Mechanical Insulation’s Worth

By Brian Glynn

“Are you sure this enhancement is going to make a difference?”

If you work in green building design and/or construction, no doubt this is a question that you have had to answer at some point in your career. This is particularly true for those who work in the mechanical insulation industry. Even though the proper insulation of heating and cooling systems can have a significant effect on energy costs and emissions reduction, certain skepticism still exists. That’s why Chicagoland union insulators and contractors have armed themselves with a set of resources that speak volumes.

The central tool in spelling out the benefits of insulation in a commercial or industrial facility is a comprehensive insulation energy appraisal. This practice is not new; in fact, the first analytical software was created in 1980. The National Insulation Association (NIA), in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE), developed that original program and have continued to perfect it over the decades. 3E Plus software (energy, economics, environment) evaluates and calculates the energy and money a facility can save through mechanical insulation upgrades. In just a matter of days, you can see real data that outlines the potential return on investment specific to the conditions in your facility.

Facility-specific data is possible because a certified appraiser takes the time to understand a building’s energy priorities, personally inspect heating and cooling systems and offer various options based on a facility’s needs. The findings of these appraisals are often staggering and eye-opening. At a recent appraiser certification session in Chicago, sponsored by the Heat & Frost Insulators/Local 17, the training facilitator highlighted the 3E Plus findings from a small refinery that contained several un-insulated steam valves.

He pointed out that the added operating cost of fifty un-insulated valves equaled more than $22,000 a year. Even worse, the energy lost by the valves equaled more than 49 million BTUs annually. In contrast, properly insulated valve would save more than $20,000 a year. The facilitator was also quick to add that the new insulation would start to pay for itself the minute it is installed.

During the October training session, 28 new certified appraisers completed an extensive two-day education on how to conduct a proper appraisal and produce 3E Plus findings. In addition to the formal training, participants also discussed how to best market and promote this relatively little-known appraisal program.
The region’s insulators and contractors are also shining a light on ongoing national research that strengthens the message that mechanical insulation is vital to addressing energy loss, carbon emissions and job creation. Last year, the NIA released the results of analysis compiled by the USDOE’s Save Energy Now initiative in relation to mechanical insulation. Working with a team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, NIA showed that a moderate increase in the use of mechanical insulation could generate nearly $4.8 billion in energy savings, save 43 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and create 89,000 jobs.

Equipped with such persuasive evidence and state-of-the-art technology, the Heat & Frost Insulators, in partnership with the Illinois Regional Insulation Contractors Association, are eager to get to work in Chicagoland. In the coming weeks, the twenty-eight new 3E Plus appraisers will start to coordinate and conduct energy audits. Local 17 leadership is also engaging key green building stakeholders in the hopes of fostering new collaborations that increase our regions sustainability.

About Heat and Frost Insulators/Local 17

For over 100 years, the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators/Local 17 have worked on the front line in building a safer, healthier, greener and more energy-efficient world. In partnership with the Illinois Regional Insulation Contractors Association, Local 17 professionals are saving energy, saving money and saving lives. Whether it’s installing energy-saving mechanical insulation or providing expert firestopping, Local 17 can meet your needs. For more information, visit


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