Published onAugust 8th, 2022
What Are the Different Types of Pipe Insulation: Choosing the Right Materials to Protect Your Pipes from Freezing
We may be approaching the dog days of summer in New York City, but fall is closer than we think. Soon enough, it will be time to turn on the heat and think about winterizing properties. Before the autumn chill arrives, it’s the perfect time to think about pipes that are at risk of freezing. If you’ve wondered, “What are the different types of pipe insulation?” this post is for you. We review the most common kinds of pipe protection and why you want to use them to safeguard your plumbing system.
Why Insulation Is Essential for Vulnerable Pipes
Beyond protection from freezing
Of course, the most obvious reason to insulate pipes is to prevent them from freezing. Freezing can result in bursting, which not only causes extensive water damage but also leaves your building with broken pipes that need to be repaired.
Insulating pipes also protects them from heat loss. This has multiple benefits:
- There are fewer occupant complaints about not enough heat or hot water because water and steam aren’t cooling before they reach units.
- Your boiler won’t have to run as often to compensate for heat loss, so you save money on fuel and water, as well as on boiler wear and tear. Reducing excessive boiler use extends its lifespan and reduces unexpected service calls for repairs.
- Heat loss can cause pipes to “sweat,” which is water condensation on the pipe’s exterior. Sweating, which can also occur with cold pipes in humid environments, can eventually precipitate corrosion, which leads to leaks, water loss, and pipe failure.
Also, in some cases, insulating pipes protects building maintenance staff in their vicinity. Burns and other injuries can reduce your available manpower and even result in workers compensation claims.
Your most vulnerable pipes
We often speak about insulating the most vulnerable pipes in a building. Which ones do we mean?
- Pipes for heat and hot water distribution
- Any pipes in cold areas of the building, such as along the roof and north-facing walls, surfaces exposed to wind, and spots that never see sunshine
- Water lines that run through humid areas of the building
- Pipes near the boiler, usually anywhere in the boiler room
Types of Pipe Insulation
Most people are familiar with this type of insulation, as it’s also used in single-family homes and duplexes for DIY pipe protection. Usually, it looks like a swimming pool noodle. It’s ideal for use on pipes that are easy to access, such as those under bathroom and kitchen cabinets or exposed pipes in laundry rooms. However, visible pipes in your boiler room require more heavy-duty insulation (see below).
An opening runs lengthwise on each segment, so you can simply snap it around any pipes that need insulation, using a utility knife to cut it to the measurements you need. Some versions come with tape to seal it once the insulation has been applied. Otherwise, you should do this yourself to keep your pipes fully contained.
Nitrile foam rubber insulation
This is another type of insulation you can use for do-it-yourself application. You’ll find it in tubes, sheets, and coils, and many models are self-sealing.
Nitrile foam rubber insulation has many uses, and it prevents heat loss and sweating condensation. We use it for plumbing protection, and it’s also popular with HVAC professionals for heating and air conditioning components.
This kind of pipe insulation can be applied to pipes that get as hot as 105 degrees Celsius, or 221 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use it outdoors, provided you add a UV-resistant paint finish.
Mineral fiber insulation
This insulation is the foil-coated type you’ve probably seen in commercial boiler rooms. This is because it works with pipes that get as hot as 700 degrees Celsius (a whopping 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit!). Like nitrile foam rubber insulation, it can be used outside too if you utilize an additional protective sheet covering. Because this insulation is typically applied to boiler room piping, it should be installed by a professional like Sanitary Plumbing or our partners at Calray Boilers.
EPDM foam rubber insulation
Mostly used in conjunction with solar heating, EPDM foam rubber insulation is made to be used outdoors and comes with built-in UV protection. It can handle temperatures up to 150 degrees Celsius, or 302 degrees Fahrenheit.
Phenolic foam insulation
Another type of insulation that should be applied by experts, this insulation gives the best sealing for pipes. It is used in large-scale applications, including industrial piping, heating, and air conditioning. The range of temperatures this insulation accommodates makes it a go-to in these settings: up to 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit) and as low as -50 degrees Celsius (-58 degrees Fahrenheit).
Phenolic foam insulation is pre-formed and available in different diameters to suit a range of pipes. It can also be purchased in slabs or sheets for more customized use.
You may have noted that for all but the most simple pipe insulation jobs, a professional is your best choice to select the right materials and ensure the job is done properly. You may also have pipes inside a wall or in another inaccessible space that need insulation – this is quite common with some of the vulnerable piping described above. This is another scenario where a licensed plumber should apply the insulation for you, for a minimum of disruption and to make certain you aren’t missing any pipes at risk of freezing.
Don’t wait until fall to think about insulating pipes in your property! Take advantage of the summer lull before heat season begins, and call Sanitary Plumbing today at 212-734-5000 to schedule a service call.