Mechanical Insulation has long been overlooked as the premier energy saving opportunity in both new construction and plant and building maintenance. For decades, architects, mechanical engineers, andMechanical insulation can help California be more environmentally-friendly. building owners have pulled old outdated mechanical insulation specifications from the shelf and applied them to todays buildings. New materials and finishes are available today that render old, outdated material almost useless. Newer materials have been developed to help save energy taking into account the geographical location of the facility and the atmospheric conditions in a given area. It is our belief that mechanical insulation should be engineered for the specific facility and area of the continent the system will be used on. The worst case scenario in which the system will function should be a primary consideration when installing mechanical insulation. Mechanical system insulation that is not properly designed and installed by professionals can fail and cause extensive damage to the facility and/or increased costs to the owner. The main considerations should be ambient conditions, relative humidity, operating temperature of the system, the need for vapor retarder, and system insulation protection if necessary as well as a professional installer like the ISAVE Team.

The State of California is as diverse a geographical area as any in the United States and Canada. The state has coastlines, deserts, lush fertile valleys, mountains, and extreme temperatures from the south to the north. The climate in California varies significantly from one area of the state to the other. The southern part of the state is semi-tropical along the coast but arid desert in the south and east extremities. The north boasts cold alpine climates at the higher elevations of the mountains on the east side of the state. The north part of the state will have temperatures in the 80s in the summer with 60s during the winter. The central valley can have temperatures as high as 110 degrees F with relatively low humidity. The south, however, can have temperatures of 120 F in the summer and the 70s in the winter. The mountains can have as much as 40 feet of snow. For these reasons, it is imperative that a properly engineered mechanical insulation system be specified for the area in California it is serving.

California's Diverse Climate Creates Mechanical Insulation Challenges

California is as diverse in its mechanical insulation needs as it is in its climate. California boasts large industrial facilities such as refineries, ship yards, steel mills, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and chemical plants in all sectors of the state. It also has hospitals, universities, food processing plants, high tech facilities, high rise offices, and residential buildings.

Specifications pulled off the shelf by an architect in the mid-west may not serve the customer in California. It is extremely important to understand that the material and thickness used in one market may not be adequate for the market you are working or building in. One should also understand the application techniques in one area may not be the same in another. The ISAVE Team contractors understand the markets they are working in and insure high quality installations using safe, quality, workers.

Proper material and thickness with proper vapor retarder should be used on chilled water and cold water systems. The specification should consider the ambient air condition, relative humidity, and temperature of the system when developing an insulation specification for any market. It will do little good to develop a specification around average temperatures if local extreme temperature or relative humidity is achieved. That is to say, if you design a system for the average temperature of 100 degrees F with relative humidity of 40% but today the temperature reaches 120 degrees F with relative humidity of 60% the the system may fail causing condensation on the outside of the material and a fertile area for mold growth. Rain leader pipe systems will vary a great deal from the valley to the mountains. Snow melt from the mountain snows can cause very cold water to cascade down the rain leader system and cause insulation system failure if not designed properly. Design for the worst case scenario. Most cold and chilled water insulation failure is due to design conditions being exceeded. Lower than expected system temperature with higher than expected ambient and relative humidity can cause insulation failure. Proper vapor retarder is critical even if the proper material is specified and extreme temperature conditions are taken into consideration. In California, many different conditions exist from the north to the south, and from the coast to the mountains, when installing mechanical insulation on below ambient systems.

Ambient temperature and system temperature should be considered on the hot systems as well. While not as critical from a failure standpoint, heat loss can be very expensive for the building owner over time. When the delta T (difference between the operating temperature of the system and the ambient air) becomes extreme the cost to operate the system goes up. The larger the delta T the more energy is necessary to operate the system, the more fuel is used, and the more greenhouse gasses are emitted. A system operating a 250 degrees F in 100-degree F ambient condition costs less than operating a 250-degree F system in a 15-degree F ambient condition. A properly designed mechanical insulation system can mitigate these costs. Again, from the north to the south, and coast to the mountains in California the ambient and relative humidity conditions will vary. What may work in one area may not work in another. A ISAVE Team contractor can help solve these problems.

Insulation systems for ventilation may also vary depending on the location within the state. Portions of the state that have extreme conditions would likely have a different specification requirement than another area. For instance, in the mountain areas, fresh air intake ducts may be drawing below zero outside air into the building so the insulation material and thickness would be different than in the milder climate along the coast. Improperly installed mechanical insulation on duct systems can cause condensation issues as well as higher costs to operate.

The future of Mechanical Insulation in California

The State of California has a very unique blend of mechanical insulation needs, geographical variations, and ambient weather conditions that require considerable thought when it comes to specifying and installing mechanical insulation. The mechanical engineer and/or architect should insist on an engineered mechanical insulation system supplied and installed by professionals when developing a project in California.