Why should we insulate – and why we do not insulate anyhow?

Insulation would have huge potential to have significant effects on energy savings and on emissions. There is a reason why insulation is not done: insulation costs, insulation isn’t compulsory, and lack of competence in insulation.

According to a study commissioned by the European Industrial Insulation Federation (EiiF), the right kind of insulation could save up to 14 Mtoe of energy in the EU by 2030 and correspondingly reduce CO2 emissions by up to 40 Mt per year. One toe corresponds to the amount of energy set by a ton of crude oil, so the potential for savings is huge. This is about 10% of the EU’s total 2030 climate target. Why on earth we do not insulate then more? Because it requires money, because it is not compulsory, and because of lack of know-how.


Insulation costs, but also pays for itself back

The owner and investor want to get the highest possible return on their investment. The lower the construction and maintenance costs, the better the return on investment. But when it comes to insulation, it’s not that simple. By insulating one can achieve huge savings. In many cases, planning the insulation is last on the to-do list and becomes relevant when the equipment or factory begins to be ready. At this point, one ends up in a compromise – insulation is done according to the minimum requirements, and difficult points such as connections, valves, and flanges are left uninsulated. With insulation such as the one mentioned above, energy consumption remains high and heat loss is generated, while in the long run, proper insulation would bring significant cost savings.


The pressure to keep expenses under control

Persons who plan the insulation might not be capable of calculating the savings that insulation brings along or they don’t even realize the possibility of savings. For this reason, insulation planning and experts should be involved in the project at an early stage. Experts take into account the standards and the special requirements of insulated objects. In addition, they know through experience the functionality of different insulation solutions and what kind of requirements insulation has regarding space and insulation properties.

Another big problem in energy consumption is incomplete and broken insulation as well as uninsulated objects. Up to two-thirds of waste heat could be avoided if the insulation were proper and intact. In addition, the payback period for repairs is very short. In the Eiif report, you can find an excellent example of a large oil tank with no insulation and with insulation in two different insulation strengths. The report presents the results through CO2 emissions, energy consumption, and energy costs. The differences are significant and indisputable: insulation reduces emissions and energy consumption and saves money in the long run. You should read the full report, a link can be found at the end of this article.


Insulation is not compulsory

There is no universal insulation guide that can be used to insulate well enough. Each insulations project has its own special features and requirements. Insulation planning is based on standards and the companies’ own guidelines. However, companies’ own guidelines may be outdated because there are fewer in the company who would be responsible for updating them. As the insulation work becomes topical, the standards are not updated, and the insulation will be made to meet old requirements and old standards. Not all countries even have standards for insulation, so in the worst case, insulation is not done at all because it is not mandatory.


Lack of competence in insulation

Another big problem with insulation is that one can’t do it. The matter has been investigated by the EiiF and the problem is not only in Finland but affects the whole of Europe. The problem is related to outdated working methods and old guidelines, which do not take into account e.g. insulation development and heat loss. For this reason, professionals in the field should be involved already in the planning phase. Lifecycle thinking considers the entire lifecycle of a plant and how the chosen insulation solution works in different conditions throughout the lifecycle. Professionals know how to make solutions that take into account standards, the company’s own requirements and, advanced insulation with coatings.


Common rules would have a significant economic and environmental impact

Insufficient and poor condition insulation has a huge impact on costs. The poorer the insulation, the more heat loss, and the wallet empties because the cost is high. Earlier in this article was referred to Eiif report and to an example where the difference in energy costs between a well-insulated and an uninsulated oil tank is more than € 200,000 per year. According to the same Eiif study, improving insulation standards could reduce the European Union’s CO2 emissions by 40 million tons every year. This would require the involvement of all major industries. Further referring to the Eiif report, the annual differences in CO2 emissions in the oil tank example are 1,825 tonnes per year. For these reasons, there should be mandatory energy efficiency requirements in the industry – just like electrical appliances have.


After all, we can come to the conclusion that insulation saves money and nature. It also has an impact on work safety and well-being. Uninsulated hot or cold equipment and pipes cause occupational accidents that could be prevented with proper insulation. Good insulation also prevents heat or cold from transferring to the working space, which improves work comfort at a constant temperature. Functional technical insulation ensures a constant temperature, which ensures the functionality of the processes.


Long story short: do not insulate until you know how to do it. When insulating or repairing insulation, insulate and repair adequately as it pays for itself back and the payback period is short. If you are not quite sure that you can insulate, involve an expert right at the beginning of the project.


You can find Eiif’s material here.

If you want to talk more about this, contact Pekka Asikainen

Pekka Asikainen
+358 400 273 193

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