Ask a friend or family member to name a benefit of insulation, and odds are good they’ll make a reference to staying warm. Then, ask them to name seven more benefits insulation offers and they’ll look at you like you’ve just spent seven minutes too long soaking in the hot tub. Those of us in the insulation sector appreciate that thermal performance is just the tip of the proverbial benefit iceberg. The true value of insulation is a sum of energy savings, personnel and equipment safety, process control, condensation prevention, freeze protection, fire safety, noise reduction, and greenhouse gas reduction. The magnificent seven.
Among this long list of insulation’s virtues, reducing greenhouse gas presents a powerhouse of potential — particularly when we’re talking about mechanical insulation’s ability to curb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Insulation plays a critical role in reducing operational carbon — the amount of CO2 equivalents emitted during the operational or in-use phase of a building. The large savings in operational carbon typically means a short payback for the embodied carbon — the carbon footprint of an insulation material from cradle to grave as documented by an environmental product declaration (EPD).
Stricter Emission Regulations Are Coming
Architecture 2030 reports the built environment generates nearly 50% of annual global CO2 emissions and that building materials and construction represent 10% of annual CO2 emissions.
Given the amount of embodied carbon generated by buildings, local governments are making plans to curb emissions. Passed by the city council in 2019, New York City Local Law 97 sets forth a plan for dramatically reducing emissions. The law applies to most buildings larger than 25,000 square feet and requires these structures to meet new energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions limits by 2024. Even more stringent limits will become effective in 2030. The goal of this law is to reduce emissions produced by the city’s largest buildings 40% by 2030 and 80% as we hit the mid-century milestone in 2050.
How are buildings going to lower their emissions to achieve such ambitious goals? By planting trees? Switching lightbulbs? How about insulating? Mechanical insulation provides a smart solution. A 1-foot section of 2-inch-thick fiberglass pipe insulation installed on an uninsulated 4-inch pipe at 350°F pipe saves 2,309 pounds of CO2 each and every year of its installed life.
A Fair Appraisal
Don’t trust the math? Independent resources can calculate the savings potential for your own project. 3E Plus software is available for download at www.3eplus.org. In addition, DOE Industrial Assessment offers 37 locations to assess and offer strategies for reducing waste and energy for your facility. And, finally, NIA maintains a list of Insulation Energy Appraisers. Different than an energy audit, an insulation appraisal quantifies the amount of energy and dollars a facility is losing due to its current insulation system and demonstrates how a more efficient system can save energy, improve process control, reduce fuel costs, and curb emissions.
Fruit for the Picking
Back in September, I joined Jake Jordan of Fit Tight Covers in Indiana, for an NIA webinar, where Jake showed mechanical insulation isn’t just low-hanging fruit but fruit on the ground. Fit Tight Covers worked with a pharmaceutical company that aims to be carbon neutral by 2025. The results of an appraisal revealed the annual cost to operate identified items from the survey was $101,651 per year and demonstrated that upgrades would reduce operational costs to $7,890 per year — a 78% reduction in costs. The appraisal further showed the improvements would reduce CO2 emissions by 4,492,880 pounds per year. What other investment delivers such a return?
Beyond the reduction in carbon, upgrading insulation is an investment in an upgraded facility and its people. Mechanical insulation can improve process control as better insulated piping results in more easily controlled process systems.
Upgrading insulation also can reduce the workload for the boiler, lowering the need for chemical treatment, reducing maintenance, and potentially extending the longevity of the system. And, let’s not forget about working conditions. Insulation has a big role to play in creating a more comfortable environment by right-sizing temperature and noise load in the workplace.
The start of a new year is a time for reflection and planning. What efforts will your business take to curb emissions and conserve funds in 2023? These are interesting times. An era of rising energy prices and federal investments in energy security and climate change make now an opportune time to invest in the future of our buildings and our planet.