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New Pipe Insulation Thicknesses

What are the new pipe and duct insulation thickness requirements in Standard 90.1-
2010? Pipe insulation thicknesses are greater than or equal to those in the 2007
standard, but duct insulation thicknesses have not changed. Overall, this is good
news, giving mechanical insulation an opportunity to contribute to greater building
energy efficiency.

Standard 90.1-2010 contains two tables of minimum pipe insulation thicknesses: one
for above-ambient and one for below-ambient systems. In each table, minimum
insulation thicknesses are referenced for both pipe size and for operating
temperature. The minimum pipe insulation thicknesses are given in two tables,
6.8.3A and 6.8.3B, in the standard; the values are in Figures 1 and 2, complete with
the footnotes. In the new standard, these tables are also reproduced in metric units.

For above-ambient service, the pipe insulation thicknesses in Figure 1 are


significantly greater than those normally installed (as they have been in previous
versions of Standard 90.1, but to a greater degree in the 2010 version). For many of
the steam heating distribution pipes in buildings, with an operating temperature
greater than 350°F, 5 in. of insulation (such as mineral wool, fiberglass, or calcium
silicate) will be required on all pipes except those with a size less than 1 in. NPS.
This will probably require double layering and hence greater labor to install.
Mechanical designers will need to allow a pipe clearance greater than 10 in., which
is often neglected. Even hot water pipes used for hydronic heating will require 2 in. of
insulation on all pipe sizes equal to or greater than 1-1/2 in. NPS.

For below-ambient service, by contrast, the new pipe insulation thicknesses are not
particularly noteworthy. For example, 1 in. is sufficient thickness for all sizes on
chilled water lines (with an assumed operating temperature in the 40°F to 60°F
range). This is because these thicknesses were determined for energy conservation,
not for condensation control, which often requires thicknesses greater than 1 in.,
particularly on pipes running through unconditioned spaces.

It is also worth noting the equation for insulation materials with thermal conductivity
values outside the stated range. For example, cellular glass has a thermal
conductivity value, at 55°F mean, of about 0.32 Btu-in./hr-ft2-°F, which is greater than
the given range. If the material of comparison is fiberglass, with a thermal
conductivity value of about 0.23 Btu-in./hr-ft22-°F at 55° F mean, and 1 in. of
fiberglass is required by the table for a 4 in. NPS pipe, then using the equation given
in footnote a for both tables, we would need about 1-1/2 in. thick cellular glass for the
same chilled water pipe. However, since 1-1/2 in. thick cellular glass would probably
be used on a 4 in. NPS chilled water pipe anyway, this is not a major issue.

It is difficult to imagine 5-in.-thick removable/reusable insulation blankets installed on


valves, pressure regulators, strainers, and other difficult-to-insulate fittings. A major
challenge for the mechanical insulation industry is that these components are
frequently left either uninsulated or partially insulated in steam and hot water heat
distribution systems.

Removable/reusable blankets 1 to 2 in. thick are often removed by maintenance


personnel and not reinstalled. Removable/reusable blankets 5 in. thick would be
even less likely to be reinstalled, since they would probably be heavy and not very
flexible. The solution may be for the designer to show that the overall system heat
loss is equivalent to having 5 in. of insulation overall and use thinner, more practical
thicknesses for the removable/reusable blankets.

Summary
When ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2010 takes effect later this year, compliance will
require greater pipe insulation thicknesses. On steam distribution pipes in buildings,
those thicknesses will increase from 4 in. to 5 in. on most pipe sizes when using
materials such as mineral wool, fiberglass, and calcium silicate. Lower-temperature,
above-ambient pipes likewise will require greater thicknesses than those required in
the previous Standard 90.1-2007. On below-ambient pipes, minimum insulation
thicknesses will be only 1 in. for most insulation materials.

New buildings designed and constructed in compliance with Standard 90.1-2010 will
be designed to use 30 percent less energy than those in compliance with Standard
90.1-2007. These new minimum design requirements, when followed, will result in
significant energy savings in new buildings. However, it will take time for the states to
adopt this revised standard.
Figure 1

Figure