Hot and Cold Thermal Insulation for Piping

Thermal Insulation is very important for saving energy costs and maintaining the process fluid temperature at the required level. In case, thermal Insulation is appropriately chosen and used so that it is:

  • Non-complaining
  • Maintenance-free
  • Patient workhouse

It looks after the economy with tremendous savings in energy costs, the safety of personnel and smoother process control. On the other hand, insufficient or poor insulation can be a cause of huge energy loss. So most of the time, thermal Insulation is defined as, “A major tool in improving energy availability”.

The basic objective of thermal insulation is to retard the flow of heat:

  • From a hot surface to a cold environment or
  • From a warm environment to a cold surface
Insulated Pipes
Insulated Pipes

Energy Loss from Hot Surface Without Thermal Insulation:

Example showing Heat Loss from Hot Surfaces
Fig. 1: Example showing Heat Loss from Hot Surfaces

Economic Reasons for Thermal Insulation:

  • Reduces fuel consumption, and hence overall operational cost so day to day economic benefits.
  • Reduces capacity requirements for heating/cooling systems (boiler, refrigeration unit, etc)
  • Savings in Capital costs

Even though the basic requirement for providing thermal insulation is Economic, still it is not the sole criterion. The process requirement controls the usage of thermal insulation.

Process Reasons for using thermal Insulation:

  • Reduces temperature a drop of fluid in a heated system
  • Reduces temperature gain of fluid in the refrigerated system.
  • Reduces boil-off rate in a volatile liquid storage system
  • Assist in maintaining thermal balance in the reaction system
  • In the heated system, it lowers temp. of exposed surfaces-protects workmen from burn hazard
  • Provides fire protection for plant, equipment & piping
  • Reduces capacity requirements for heating/cooling systems (boiler, refrigeration unit, etc)

Economic Thickness for Thermal Insulation (Fig.2):

Economic Thermal Insulation Thickness
Fig. 2: Determination of Economic Thickness

By virtue, Insulation shall resist heat transfer by:

  • Radiation
  • Convection
  • Conduction

Types of Thermal Insulation:

  1. Mass type insulation: Based on interposing a mass of material with a built-in capacity to retard heat flow
  2. Reflective Insulation: Based on providing a series of the reflective surface with the intervening space s evacuated
  3. Microporous Insulation: Based on a combination of Mass & Reflective technologies.

Physical Properties of Thermal Insulation Materials:

Significant physical parameters of thermal insulating materials can be divided into:

  • Thermal Properties
  • Chemical Properties
  • Commercial Factors

Thermal Properties:

Basic thermal parameters that thermal insulation materials should possess are:

  • Temperature resistance
  • Thermal conductivity
  • Thermal diffusivity, and
  • Thermal shock resistance

Chemical Properties of Insulating Material:

Major Chemical properties of insulating materials are:

  • Compatibility with the metal surface
  • Compatibility with environmental media
  • Deterioration arising out of the chemical action
  • Life of insulation material

Points to remember while selecting thermal insulating materials:

  • Alkalinity (pH) or acidity
  • Chemical Reactivity / passivity
  • Coefficient of Expansion / Contraction
  • Compressive Strength & Breaking Load
  • Abrasion Resistance
  • Combustibility
  • Most importantly, THERMAL CONDUCTIVITY

Thermal Conductivity Vs Density (Fig. 3):

Thermal Conductivity and Density
Fig. 3: A curve showing the relation between Thermal Conductivity and Density

Widely used Hot Insulating Material:

  • Mineral Wool: e.g Rockloyd by Llyod Insulation
  • Ceramic Fibre: e,g Supercera range by Llyod Insulation
  • Calcium Silicate

Widely used Cold Insulating Materials:

  • Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS)
  • Extruded Polystyrene Foam (XPS)
  • Polyurethane Foam (PUF)
  • Poly-isocyanurate Foam (PIR)
  • Foam glass
  • Phenolic Foam

Among the above-listed materials, Polyurethane and Polyisocyanurate have assumed the highest importance because these possess many superiorities as compared to others. Both of these materials can be used as Preformed shapes or installed in-situ-by Pouring or by spray.

Insulation Finishes:

The outer part of insulation is normally provided with:

  • Weather barriers-claddings
  • Weather and Vapor retarder, Indoor coverings, and finishes

All of these have only one basic function that is to protect the insulation material from the severe external exposure media.

Insulating System Design:

Insulation system should perform to the expected level, undiminished over its life.

  • This needs full data on material behavior under all conditions of exposure.
  • In particular, we need to know what would make a material lose its properties.

Thermal calculations need a representative value of Thermal Conductivity for design

  • Standard materials like Rockwool and Calcium Silicate have well-established Design ‘k’ values.
  • Limiting Service Temperature of use
  • In pipe applications, weight becomes critical. Abrasion is also a major problem with some materials.

Some more resouces for you:

Piping insulation: Important Considerations for Piping EngineerOpens in a new tab.
Corrosion under insulation: A PresentationOpens in a new tab.


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Anup Kumar Dey

I am a Mechanical Engineer turned into a Piping Engineer. Currently, I work in a reputed MNC as a Senior Piping Stress Engineer. I am very much passionate about blogging and always tried to do unique things. This website is my first venture into the world of blogging with the aim of connecting with other piping engineers around the world.

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