1531 Application Requirements

Section 15.2.1 discussed the insulation properties that are of most significance. However, each application will have specific requirements that are used to weigh the importance of the various properties. There are three items that must always be considered to determine which insulations are suitable for service. They are operating temperature, location or ambient environment, and form required.

Operating Temperature

This parameter refers to the hot or cold service condition that the insulation will be exposed to. In the event of operating design temperatures that may be exceeded during overrun conditions, the potential temperature extremes should be used to assure the insulation's performance.

Cryogenic (-455 to -150°F). Cryogenic service conditions are very critical and require a well-designed insulation system. This is due to the fact that if the system allows water vapor to enter, it will not only condense to a liquid but will subsequently expand and destroy the insulation. Proper vapor barrier design is critical in this temperature range. Closed-cell products are often used since they provide additional vapor resistance in the event that the exterior barrier is damaged or inadequately sealed.

For the lowest temperatures where the maximum thermal resistance is required, vacuum insulations are often employed. These insulations are specially designed to reduce all the modes of heat transfer. Multiple foil sheets (reduced radiation) are separated by a thin mat filler of fiberglass (reduced solid conduction) and are then evacuated (reduced convection and gas conduction). These "super insulations" are very efficient as long as the vacuum is maintained, but if a vacuum failure occurs, the added gas conduction drastically reduces the efficiency.

Finely divided powders are also used for bulk, cavity-fill insulation around cryogenic equipment. With these materials, only a moderate vacuum is required, and in the event that the vacuum fails, the powder still acts as an insulation. It is, however, very important to keep moisture away from the powders, as they are highly absorbent and the ingress of moisture will destroy the system.

Some plastic foams are suitable for cryogenic service, whereas others become too brittle to use. They must all have additional vapor sealing since high vapor pressures can cause moisture penetration of the cell walls. Closed-cell foamed glass (cellular glass) is quite suitable for this service in all areas except those requiring great thermal efficiency. Since it is not evacuated and has solid structure, the thermal conductivity is relatively high.

Because of the critical nature of much cryogenic work, it is very common to have the insulation system specifically designed for the job. The increased use of liquefied gases (natural and propane) together with cryogenic fluids in manufacturing processes will require continued use and improvement of these systems.

Low Temperature (-150 to 212°F). This temperature range includes the plumbing, HVAC, and refrigeration systems used in all industries from residential to aerospace. There are many products available in this range, and the cost of the installed thermal efficiency is a large factor. Products typically used are glass fiber, plastic foams, phenolic foam, elastomeric materials, and cellular glass. In below-ambient conditions, a vapor barrier is still required, even though as the service approaches ambient temperature, the necessary vapor resistance becomes less. Above-ambient conditions require little special attention, with the exception of plastic foams, which approach their temperature limits around 200°F.

Because of the widespread requirement for the plumbing and HVAC services within residential and commercial buildings, the insulations are subject to a variety of fire codes. Many codes require a flame spread rating less than 25 for exposed material and smoke ratings from 50 to 400, depending on location. A composite rating of 25/50 FHC is suitable for virtually all applications, with a few applications requiring non-combustibility.

Intermediate Temperature (212 to 1000°F). The great majority of steam and hot process applications fall within this operating range. Refineries, power plants, chemical plants, and manufacturing operations all require insulation for piping and equipment at these temperatures. The products generally used are calcium silicate, glass fiber, mineral wool, and expanded perlite. Most of the fiberglass products reach their temperature limit somewhere in this range, with common breakpoints at 450, 650, 850, and 1000°F for various products.

There are two significant elements to insulation selection at these temperatures. First, the thermal conductivity values change dramatically over the range of mean temperatures, especially for light-density products under 18lb/cu.ft. This means, for example, that fiberglass pipe covering will be more efficient than calcium silicate for the lower temperatures, with the calcium silicate having an advantage at the higher temperatures. A thermal conductivity comparison is of value in making sure that the insulation mean temperature is used rather than the operating temperature.

The second item relates to products that use organic binders in their manufacture. All the organics will burn out somewhere within this temperature range, usually between 400 and 500°F. Many products are designed to be used above that temperature, whereas others are not. This is mentioned here only to call attention to the fact that some structural strength is usually lost with organic binder.

High Temperature (1000 to 1600°F). Superheated steam, boiler exhaust ducting, and some process operations deal with temperatures at this level. Calcium silicate, mineral wool, and expanded perlite products are commonly used together with the lower-limit ceramic fibers. Except for a few clay-bonded mineral wool materials, these products reach their temperature limits in this range. Thermal instability, as shown by excessive shrinkage and cracking, is usually the limiting factor.

Refractory (1600 to 3600°F). Furnaces and kilns in steel mills, heat treating and forging shops, as well as in brick and tile ceramic operations, operate in this range. Many types of ceramic fiber are used, with alumina-silica fibers being the most common. Insulating firebrick, castables, and bulk-fill materials are all necessary for meeting the wide variety of conditions that exist in refractory applications. Again, thermal instability is the controlling factor in determining the upper temperature limits of the many products employed.


The second item to consider in insulation selection is the location of the system. Location includes many factors that are critical to choosing the most cost-effective product for the life of the application. Material selection based on initial price only without regard to location can be not only inefficient, but dangerous under certain conditions.

Surrounding Environment. For an insulation to remain effective, it must maintain its thickness and ther mal conductivity over time. Therefore, the system must either be protected from or able to withstand the rigors of the environment. An outdoor system needs to keep water from entering the insulation, and in most areas, the jacketing must hold up under radiant solar load. Indoor applications are generally less demanding with regard to weather resistance, but there are washdown areas that see a great deal of moisture. Also, chemical fumes, atmospheres, or spillage may seriously affect certain jacketing materials and should be evaluated prior to specifications. Direct burial applications are normally severe, owing to soil loading, corrosiveness, and moisture. It is imperative that the barrier material be sealed from groundwater and resistant to corrosion. Also, the insulation must have a compressive strength sufficient to support the combined weight of the pipe, fluid, soil backfill, and potential wheel loads from ground traffic.

Another concern is insulation application on auste-netic stainless steel, a material subject to chloride stress-corrosion cracking. There are two specifications most frequently used to qualify insulations for use on these stainless steels: MIL-1-24244 and Nuclear Regulatory Commission NRC Reg. Guide 1.36. The specifications require, first, a stress-corrosion qualification test on actual steel samples; then, on each manufacturing lot to be certified, a chemical analysis must be performed to determine the amount of chlorides, fluorides, sodium, and silicates present in the product. The specific amounts of sodium and silicates required to neutralize the chlorides and fluorides are stated in the specifications.

There are many applications where vibration conditions are severe, such as in gas turbine exhaust stacks. In general, rigid insulations such as calcium silicate withstand this service better than do fibrous materials, especially at elevated temperatures. If the temperature is high enough to oxidize the organic binder, the fibrous products lose much of their compressive strength and resiliency. On horizontal piping, the result can be an oval-shaped pipe insulation which is reduced in thickness on the top of the pipe and sags below the underside of the pipe, thus reducing the thermal efficiency of the system. On vertical piping and equipment with pinnedon insulation, the problem of sag is reduced, but the vibration can still tend to degrade the integrity of the insulation.

Location in a fire-prone area can affect the insulation selection in two ways. First, the insulation system cannot be allowed to carry the fire to another area; this is fire hazard. Second, the insulation can be selected and designed to help protect the piping or equipment from the fire. There are many products available for just fireproofing such areas as structural steel columns, but in general they are not very efficient thermal insulations. When an application requires both insulation during operation and protection during a fire, calcium silicate is probably the best selection. This is due to the water of hydration in the product, which must be driven off before the system will rise above the steam temperature. other high-density, high-temperature products are used as well. With all the products it is important that the jacketing system be designed with stainless steel bands and/ or jacketing since the insulation must be maintained on the piping in order to protect it. Figure 15.2 shows fire test results for three materials per the ASTM E-119 fire curve and indicates the relative level of fire protection provided by each material.

A final concern deals with the transport of volatile fluids through piping systems. When leaks occur around flanges or valves, these fluids can seep into the insulation. Depending on the internal insulation structure, the surface area may be increased significantly, thus reducing the fluid's flash point. If this critical temperature drops below the operating temperature of the system, autoignition can occur, thus creating a fire hazard. In areas where leaks are a problem, either a leakage drain must be provided to remove the fluid or else a closed-cell material such as cellular glass should be used, since it will not absorb the fluid.

The previous discussion is intended to draw attention to specific application requirements, not necessarily to determine the correct insulation to be used. Each situation should be evaluated for its own requirements, and in areas of special concern (auto-ignition, fire, etc.) the manufacturer's representative should be called upon to answer questions specific to the product.

Resistance to Physical Abuse. Although this issue is related to location, it is so important that it needs its own discussion. In commercial construction and many light industrial facilities, the pipe and equipment insulation is either hidden or isolated from any significant abuse. In such cases, little attention need be given to this issue. However, in most heavy industrial applications, physical abuse and the problems caused by it are matters of great concern.

Perhaps by definition, physical abuse differs from physical loading in that loading is planned and designed for, whereas abuse is not. For example, with cold piping, pipe support saddles are often located external to the insulation and vapor barrier. This puts the combined weight of the pipe and fluid onto the lower portion of the insulation. This is a designed situation, and a rigid material is inserted between the pipe and the saddle

Fig. 15.2 Fire resistance test data for pipe insulation. (Used by permission from Ref. 6.)

to carry the load. However, if a worker decides to use the insulated pipe as a scaffold support, a walkway, or a hoist support, the insulation may not be designed to support such a load and damage will occur. A quick walk-through of any industrial facility will show much evidence of "unusual" or "unanticipated" abuse. In point of fact, many users have seen so much of this that they now design for the abuse, having determined that it is "usual" for their facility.

The effects of abuse are threefold. First, dented and creased aluminum jacketing is unsightly and lowers the overall appearance of the plant. Nonmetal jackets may become punctured and torn. The second point is that wherever the jacketing is deformed, the material under it is compressed and as a result is a much poorer insulation since the thickness has been reduced. Finally, on outside lines some deformation will undoubtedly occur at the jacketing overlap. This allows for water to enter the system, further degrading the insulation and reducing the thermal efficiency.

In an effort to deal with the physical abuse problem, some specifications call for all horizontal piping to be insulated with rigid material while allowing a fibrous option on the vertical lines. others modify this specification by requiring rigid insulation to a height of 6 to 10 ft on vertical lines to protect against lateral abuse. still, in facilities that have a history of a rough environment, it is most common to specify the rigid material for all piping and equipment except that which is totally enclosed or isolated.

As previously mentioned, the primary insulation material choice is between rigid and nonrigid materials. Calcium silicate, cellular glass, and expanded perlite products fit the rigid category, whereas most mineral wool and fiberglass products are nonrigid. Over the years, the calcium silicate products have become the standard for rigorous services, combining good thermal efficiency with exceptional compressive strength and abuse resistance. The maintenance activities associated with rigid insulations are significantly less than the maintenance and replacement needs of the softer insulations in abuse areas. The costs associated with this are discussed in a later section. However, it is also recognized that often, maintenance activities are lacking, which results in a deteriorated insulation system operating at reduced efficiency for a long period of time.

Form Required

The third general category to consider is the insulation form required for the application. Obviously, pipe insulation and flat sheets are manufactured for specific purposes, and the lack of a specific form eliminates that product from consideration. However, there are subtle differences between form that can make a significant difference in installation costs and system efficiency.

On flat panels, the two significant factors are panel size and the single-layer thickness available. A fibrous 4 x 8 ft sheet is applied much more rapidly than four 2 x 4 ft sheets, and it is possible that the number of pins required might be reduced. In regard to thickness, if one material can be supplied 4 in. thick as a single layer as opposed to two 2-in.-thick layers, the first option will result in significant labor savings. The same holds true for 18-in.- vs. 12-in.-wide rigid block installation.

Fibrous pipe insulations have three typical forms: one-piece hinged snap-on, two piece halfsections, and flexible blanket wraparound. For most pipe sizes, the one-piece material is the fastest to install and may not require banding if the jacket is attached to the insulation and secured to itself. Two-piece products must be wired in place and then subsequently jacketed in a separate operation. Wrap-around blankets are becoming more popular, especially for large-diameter pipe and small vessels. They come in standard roll lengths and are cut to length on the job site.

Rigid insulations also have different forms, which vary with the manufacturer. The two-piece half-section pipe insulation is standard. However, these sections can be supplied prejacketed with aluminum, which in effect gives a one-piece hinged section that does not need a separate application of insulation and jacket. Also, thicknesses up to 6 in. are available, eliminating the need for double-layer applications where they are not required for expansion reasons. The greatest diversity comes in the large-diameter pipe sizes. Quads (quarter sections)

are available and are both quicker to install and thermally more efficient than is scored block bent around the pipe. Similarly, curved radius blocks are available for sizes above quads and provide a better fit than does flat beveled block or scored block.

The important point is that the available forms of insulation may well affect the decision as to which material to select and which manufacturer to purchase that material from. It is unwise to assume that all manufacturers offer the same sizes and forms or that the cost to install the product is not affected by its form.

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