Choosing Insulation: Is Removable Insulation Right for You?

Before we can talk about whether removable insulation is the correct solution for anyone, it’s worth taking a minute to define it: Removable insulation is a blanket or jacket that can be put on and taken off easily. Often, the blankets use Velcro™, and are as easy to affix as putting on sneakers that have Velcro ties.  In contrast, regular insulation can be put on by professionals, but to take it off, you have to rip it out.  It cannot be reused, and the process of ripping out the regular insulation creates quite a mess of fiberglass (I’ll bet your itching right just reading that).

So for whom is removable insulation the appropriate solution?

Organizations (factories, schools, etc) that have to have routine maintenance on their pipes or other fixtures requiring insulation. Often, the manager of the facility orders standard insulation, but when it comes to having that routine maintenance, the insulation must be ripped off so that the maintenance people can see the valves. The result is usually a pile of broken insulation on the floor, and a bare pipe or valve. With removable – they unstrap the insulation, do their work, and strap it back on.

Organizations that need to measure the output of their pipes and other fixtures. For example, maintenance people often have to measure if there is excess heat coming out of a steam trap. If there is, they know that the steam trap is not working correctly, and needs some maintenance. In order to get at the trap, the “standard” insulation may need to be ripped off (resulting in a costly replacement and fiberglass everywhere.) Other organizations may be involved in energy savings performance contracts that require measurement of energy saved from certain components. Insulation covers with built-in temperature monitoring may be appropriate for such situations.

Some organizations that need to implement noise control use insulation to dampen the noise that pipes produce, but are required to measure the vibration that creates the noise. Again, the measurement results in ripping off old insulation, but just a quick open and close if the company had the foresight to purchase removable insulation.

Organizations that need to manage “metal fatigue.” When a pipe is subjected to frequent changes in temperature (hot then cold, hot then cold), the pipe expands and contracts so much that the metal gets “tired” of holding its shape. Stress fractures begin to propagate, and a dangerous situation develops. This is a problem for most energy plants. In order to evaluate the fatigue, the insulation must be removed to x-ray the pipe.

Very hot pipes bring a secondary and tertiary problem with them: it may take a while to get a re-installer for the insulation, resulting in a) being out of OSHA requirements and b) danger to the workers from being burnt by an exposed pipe. The latter not only hurts workman’s comp rates, but is also bad for productivity and employee morale.

Removable insulation alleviates most of the insulation problems that come with metal fatigue.  It can be easily removed and reused on the same pipe. However, removable has an added advantage here: just like your Velcro™ sneakers can be made a little looser if you have a swollen foot, removable insulation can be adjusted. As the hot-then-cold pipes expand and contract, the regular (non-removable insulation) will gradually break, since it is built for a specific size; the removable, however can be loosened and tightened.

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