We often hear from clients facing a similar problem: condensation (or sweat) forming on their cold pipe or component. One may think it’s something that can be overlooked, but water can cause serious damage to sensitive piping or equipment if left untreated. Corrosion (the gradual destruction of materials, usually metals, by chemical and/or electrochemical reaction with their environment) can occur on the sweating pipe, and the equipment around it leading to messy leaks and equipment failure. Moisture buildup can also cause mold or mildew to form, or create a slippery workspace. In this article, we will discuss the problem in depth and present our solution.
Why Do Pipes “Sweat”?
Pipes do not literally sweat, although it appears that way. The condensation that forms on the outside of a cold pipe or component is actually moisture from the air, not the pipe. Like a cold bottle of soda on a hot day, when humid air comes in contact with a chilled pipe or component the air loses its capacity to hold water vapor, as a result excess water forms into liquid water droplets on or near the cold surface. The condensation process affects piping and components year-round, as furnaces heat the air during winter months.
Risks & Dangers of Condensation Caused Corrosion
Components that drip condensation onto the floor cause a serious safety hazard to employees because a fall hazard or slip hazard is created. We all know that an employee getting hurt on the job is the last thing an employer wants to see. Abating this severe safety hazard is of utmost importance. Equipment that sweats and condensates poses a serious corrosion risk to the integrity and safety of your equipment and facility as well. The risks begin when moisture comes into contact with your equipment, particularly if it’s made of metal, iron, or steel. The thickness of your metals can be reduced by corrosion, which could lead to structural failure. Even minor cracks in piping and equipment can pose a contamination risk to processes occurring beneath the piping, and to the fluids inside.
The corrosion process is not a pretty one. When metals like Iron come into contact with water and oxygen, a familiar bright red-orange color indicates the oxidation process has begun. Unsightly, rusted equipment reduces the value and safety of your workplace. Rusted piping is also more difficult to replace as corrosion stiffens the metal joints.
Finally, a building owner’s life-cycle costs can be senselessly increased when not taking the necessary steps to prevent such damage. In a worst-case scenario, rusted piping without condensation prevention can lead to a full system failure. This could cause harm to the building or its occupants.
Why Traditional Insulation Methods Won’t Help
The most effective way to protect your piping and equipment from condensation damage is to properly insulate it. According to insulation.org, “Incorrect product selection or using untrained installers can cause a building owner’s life-cycle costs to increase by millions of dollars compared to the minor cost premium of correctly insulating the pipe.”
Traditional stay in place insulation, such as spray foam insulation, may seem like the best economical choice but it has quite a few downfalls. When repairs need to be made to piping or equipment the insulation is removed often without being replaced. This can leave large gaps in your insulation coverage, and allow condensation to affect the remaining insulation.
When spray foam insulation consistently gets wet from a sweating pipe, it loses its insulation value and shape. The spray foam insulation will need to be replaced much earlier than expected, and the component it was meant to protect could need replaced as well. This is why installing the proper insulation the first time can save building managers millions of dollars in life-cycle costs.
The Best Way to Stop Sweating Pipes
The best way to stop condensation from forming on pipes is to prevent the warm, humid air from coming into contact with the chilled pipe’s outer surface. Removable reusable insulation blankets, like Thermaxx Cold Insulation Jackets, are designed to fit snugly and keep the ambient air temperature and humidity from affecting your pipe.
If traditional pipe insulation gets wet from pipe sweating or water spillage, it can trap the water and cause CUI (Corrosion Under Insulation). This is a problem that often goes undetected, as it is hidden beneath the insulation. It is discovered only during inspections, or when a leak occurs due to corrosion. Thermaxx Cold Jackets are built with hydrophobic aerogel insulation and drainage vents that allow for moisture to escape. They are also easily removed, allowing for faster and more regular inspections of your pipes and equipment.