What’s Bugging You These Days?

Regular stuff, I’m sure: traffic, taxes, clients who don’t pay, teenagers, the list could go on indefinitely. What about when it comes to the job site? The first contact on job sites for “buggable” issues is with insulation contractors. If these issues are not resolved, distributors and manufacturers are the next in line to be impacted.

This article will look at three issues insulation contractors face. We will take into consideration how these issues impact the intent of the energy codes ASHRAE 90.1-2010 and NECB-2015.

Let’s start with the conceptual phase of any project. This is the initial design part of a project where the owner and architect begin to scope out what the building could/should look like. Keep in mind this phase is sometimes several years away from when the insulation contractor walks on site. There is a huge amount of work going on moving forward, finalization of drawings and specifications, municipal approvals, bidding, and eventual construction. Design elements begin to see the light of day and as these reach maturity, where we begin to notice what affects the mechanical insulation aspect of the project. By the time the insulation contractor begins work, it is often too late to make corrections.

The latest energy codes now require in many instances increased pipe insulation thicknesses. NECB-2015 stipulates that the manufactured thickness is the installed thickness. In other words, the manufactured thickness cannot be reduced and the specified thickness is the installed thickness. We have two major energy code requirements: increased insulation thicknesses and that the insulation be installed without any reduction in thickness.

Too often, these important code requirements are at odds with design considerations and jobsite conditions. Let’s have a look.


The owner and/or architect wants to maximize the rentable floor space while providing an energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing building. “The devil is in the details” because how does one achieve these essential requirements while providing a comfortable work environment? I suggest it is the mechanical systems that allow this to happen. How many glass-clad buildings are in place exposed to a range of outdoor temperatures from -30 degrees C to 30 degrees C?

The time to address space requirements for mechanical systems is during the project’s conceptual design phase. Every consideration has to be taken so that the intent of the energy code is not compromised once the building is under construction. When we look at pipe and duct insulation, there has to be enough space available so that not only the required insulation thickness can be installed, but also that the insulation contractor has enough room to move in. Once the piping is in place without the space planning to accommodate insulation thicknesses and working space, it is too late to comply with the energy code.

If the consultant wants piping to run within stud spaces, once again sufficient space has to be incorporated for the insulation thickness. In the photo below, this is exactly what happened. The drainpipe was to be insulated, but the space within the stud wouldn’t allow this. The insulation contractor had no choice but to leave it as is. The drywall contractor went to work and the energy code was compromised.

Lever Ball Valves

There must be millions of these valves in use, and millions more will be installed in future projects. The problem relating to energy code compliance is that the handle is located at a point where there is insufficient space for the pipe insulation to be properly installed. What the insulation contractor is forced to do is cut the insulation short of the valve, leaving a section of exposed pipe as well as the valve. Alternatively, the insulation contractor will cut out a conical shape into the pipe insulation to allow for clearance of the valve handle. In both cases the energy code has been compromised.

The solution is a ball valve stem extension. By raising the height of the ball valve handle (see Photo 5) there is sufficient clearance for the pipe insulation.

Mechanical Insulation Specifications

Some do, most don’t. That is, mechanical engineers are often guilty of producing outdated specifications and/or specifications lacking clarification. When this happens, interpretation of whatever specifications are provided is left up to any number of people. Too often there isn’t enough time during the bidding process to determine from the engineer what he or she had in mind, and too often this leads to conflict on the jobsite. The end result, from an energy code perspective, is non-compliance.

What else is there that requires attention? If we can develop an inventory of “buggable” jobsite situations, we can address these. Let us know what should be on the list.

We, within TIAC, have to have a conversation with all members. We are the only advocates for how mechanical insulation should be specified and installed. We are the ones who are (or should be) in regular contact with mechanical engineers, mechanical contractors, and sometimes architects and owners. We can’t count on these groups to do our work for us. We have to develop an outreach strategy and help them see what we see. The energy codes can only go so far.