1. Economic Performance Analysis
Construction costs and capital cost reduction are common drivers of mechanical insulation practices. However, it is important to note that this approach does not consider the operations and maintenance costs. Economic performance should include both capital, operating and maintenance costs over the life of the equipment.
Overall economic performance will be determined primarily by:
- Capital costs of insulation materials and labour
- Energy consumption costs, which are related to thermal performance of the insulation
- System maintenance costs, which are related to the mechanical insulation materials and installation
- Costs associated with space requirements of mechanical insulation.
The greatest energy benefits from mechanical insulation are found in systems that have the highest rates of heat transfer; this occurs where temperature difference is the greatest. The following table shows typical levels of heat loss based on system type, insulation thickness, and surface temperature, assuming a constant ambient temperature.
All cases above (where insulation thickness is greater than 0) assume jacketed mineral fibre insulation.
 Note heat transfer units shown are different for ducts and pipes (per unit area vs. unit length respectively); similarly, energy losses and energy costs are referenced to the same units – i.e., per m2 or per m.
2. Key Design Objectives
In addition to minimum Code and regulatory requirements (e.g., fire, smoke & safety), insulation in commercial and institutional buildings such as schools, shopping centers, warehouses, hospitals, hotels and other public buildings is designed primarily to reduce energy consumption and/or prevent condensation. Appearance is another objective that is typically most important in mechanical rooms. The types of mechanical systems commonly insulated in commercial buildings vary only slightly from project to project, and involve a relatively narrow temperature range. The following table provides guidance on the primary mechanical insulation design objectives that apply to a range of system types*.
*All fire, smoke and safety objectives for any system types must conform to the BC Building Code and any other applicable regulations and standards; the above table does not supersede requirements of the BC Building Code or other regulations.
3. Green Building Rating Frameworks
There are opportunities to support achievement of green building rating system points and meet minimum requirements through increased mechanical insulation thickness and material selection. This includes:
- Improving thermal performance can help meet energy performance objectives within green building rating systems. For example, “Optimize Energy Performance” credits within LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Canada – NC 1.0, or NC/CS 2009. Note that there are different pathways to validate energy performance within LEED; for example, if a whole building energy modelling path is chosen, the modelling method would need to recognize the energy gains provided by mechanical insulation, in order to benefit the LEED performance.
- Materials chosen for mechanical insulation may need to meet specific requirements. For example, the Living Building Challenge  includes a “Red List” of prohibited materials and chemicals , which will restrict the acceptable mechanical insulation materials. In this case, suppliers and manufacturers product specifications will need to be consulted to confirm compliance.
4. Applicable Systems and Components
The following table provides a list of system elements that should be considered for mechanical insulation in a commercial or institutional project, organized by system type (across columns), to help practitioners in identifying all elements that may require mechanical insulation.
NOTE: If any of the above items are factory insulated, it should be so noted in the project insulation specification.
5. Analysis Tools
Software analytical tools can help designers to determine the appropriate amount of insulation in order to optimize thermal performance and cost.
The 3E Plus® Insulation Thickness Computer Program is an industrial energy management tool developed by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) to simplify the task of determining how much insulation is necessary to use less energy, reduce plant emissions and improve system process efficiency. The 3E Plus program can:
- Calculate the thermal performance of both insulated and uninsulated piping, ducts and equipment
- Translate BTU losses into actual dollars
- Calculate greenhouse gas emission and reductions
The online Mechanical Insulation Design Guide, part of the WBDG, provides several tools related to economic and financial performance.
These two tools provide a simple to use calculation of energy savings and payback for different design options:
- Energy Calculator for Equipment (Vertical Flat Surfaces)
- Energy Calculator for Horizontal Piping
This tool provides project cash flows, return on investment, and NPV, from energy savings and other inputs:
- Mechanical Insulation Financial Calculator
The WBDG also provides a “time to freezing” calculator, which estimates the time for a long, water-filled pipe or tube (with no flow) to reach the freezing temperature.