Published onAugust 25th, 2022
Should Boiler Pipes Be Insulated? Save Energy with the Right Insulation
If you’re new to property ownership or management in New York City, you may have wondered, “Should boiler pipes be insulated?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Here are four top reasons why you need to protect those pipes, along with information about different types of insulation available for various needs.
Four Important Reasons to Insulate Boiler Pipes
Reduce heat loss
The biggest reason to insulate your property’s boiler pipes is to reduce heat loss. It’s a simple equation:
Lack of insulation = lost heat = extra energy to heat water = wasted money.
How do you know if your building is likely experiencing heat loss due to uninsulated pipes?
- Tenants complain about not enough steam heat or hot water.
- Pipes are “sweating” (see below).
- Your boiler fires more than you think it should, perhaps almost constantly in cold weather.
- Your gas bills are sky high and not commensurate with properties of that size or city-wide rises in fuel costs.
- The boiler is experiencing more wear and tear or failures than it should for its age because of increased use to make up for heat loss.
Insulating vulnerable pipes (see more below) also prevents them from freezing. This typically isn’t an issue with pipes emanating from the boiler, as the water leaving the tank rarely gets cold enough to solidify. But it’s possible that some pipes leading back to the boiler or in particularly cold areas of the building could freeze, resulting in burst pipes and water damage.
Sweating is the term for evaporation that accumulates on the outside surface of pipes as steam cools and water returns to its liquid state. Why is this an issue? Sweating can result in microscopic corrosion of pipes that gets bigger over time. Eventually, these pipes can leak, causing water loss, damage, and expensive repairs.
If your maintenance staff works around pipes in the boiler room, the pipes need to be covered. This prevents burns, which can in turn result in employee injury, lost work time, workers compensation claims, and even lawsuits.
What Types of Boiler Pipe Insulation Should You Use?
Although this type of insulation, which you can cut to the desired length and slip over pipes, is ubiquitous, it’s not usually preferred for the boiler area. It’s not meant to withstand the high temperatures generated there. Foam insulation is best for protecting pipes in other areas of the building, such as those along cold walls or under sinks.
Nitrile foam rubber insulation
This kind of insulation provides multiple advantages:
- You can use it to prevent both heat loss and condensation (sweating).
- It comes in many forms, such as tubes, coils, and sheets.
- Some models are self-sealing for ease of application.
- It can be applied for plumbing, as well as HVAC uses.
- It’s good for pipes up to 221 degrees Fahrenheit (105 Celsius).
- With the right UV finish, it can be applied outside as well as inside.
Mineral fiber insulation
You’ll recognize this insulation by its foil coating. You may already be familiar with it, as it’s commonly used in commercial boiler rooms due to its high temperature capacity: up to 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit or 700 degrees Celsius.
There are a few other benefits to mineral fiber insulation:
- It can be used outdoors with the appropriate sheet covering.
- It’s more eco-friendly than its cousin, rigid fiberglass insulation.
- It provides superior insulation in large buildings, like condo, co-op, and apartment buildings, as well as commercial properties.
EPDM foam rubber insulation
This insulation is made for outdoor use over medium-high temperature pipes that reach up to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius). Because it’s intended to be used outside, it has built-in UV protection. Users like it because it is available in multiple formats for different applications.
Phenolic foam insulation
Although this insulation is typically more expensive, as it must be professionally applied and sealed, it does provide excellent protection. This is another kind of insulation we see used in industrial and large-scale residential settings.
Phenolic foam insulation can handle temperatures up to 248 degrees Fahrenheit, or 120 degrees Celsius. It can also be used when temperatures go as low as -58 degrees Fahrenheit (-50 Celsius). It’s available in sheets, slabs, and tubes of various diameters, so you buy or create insulation in the shape you need for your unique boiler area.
Which Pipes Need Insulation?
The hottest and most vulnerable pipes
How do you know where insulation should be applied in your building? First, pipes in your boiler and mechanical rooms must be insulated to protect workers. This also reduces immediate heat loss.
Additionally, pipes used for heat and hot water should be insulated. This prevents both energy loss and sweating. Insulating pipes that run through humid areas will also stop the sweating phenomenon.
Finally, any pipes that travel through cold areas of the building, even if they aren’t associated with your boiler, should be insulated. This includes:
- North-facing walls
- Walls exposed to constant wind
- Areas that never receive sunlight
- Walls in attics
- Crawl spaces
- Anywhere you’ve had a problem with freezing pipes before
Choosing the right insulation for your boiler pipes can be overwhelming when you look at all the options today. Plus, some insulation should only be applied by a professional. When you need help insulating around your boiler, Calray Boilers should be your experts of choice. Call us at 212-722-5506 today to schedule a service call to discuss your boiler pipe insulation needs.