Adding Some Insulation
We’ve covered how weather proofing is a necessary step to protect your facility through harsh winters. A good chill will cause pipes to burst everywhere, as the Russian Navy now knows so well. Preventing disaster isn’t the only reason to start weather proofing: it saves you money too.
The Laws of Thermodynamics
We have one big problem when it comes to comfort: the air and everything touches it wants to reach an equal temperature. We mean that heat will flow from places of high concentration to low concentration (things cool down) and consequently coolness will flow from places of high concentration to low concentration (things heat up). This is something self evident of course, it’s something we experience every day. What’s not so apparent is that every hot object that cools down costs you money.
We’ve just put heat into water, which has heated the pipe. The pipe cools down, the water cools down, and slowly we have these losses. Every time we send hot water through those pipes, the water cools down until it’s heated the pipe to the same temperature. The pipe is cooled by the air, and we get this slow, parasitic loss of heat. Every bit of heat we lose is more fuel we burn to heat more water.
At scale, such as in a warehouse, school, or hotel, this is going to add up to a lot of money. Let’s imagine it costs you $10 to heat up all the water for your facility. You want to keep the water above 120 degrees fahrenheit. The pipes cool down at maybe 5 degrees per hour. If you heat the water to 130 degrees, it’s going to cost you $10 every 2 hours or $120/day. You can spend more fuel, maybe $20 per cycle and get yourself another few hours, but you’ll never stem the tide of those losses. You’re going to be throwing money away until you block the heat from escaping.
We use insulation in our houses, businesses, and everywhere else of importance to trap heat in. We can do the same thing for piping. There are multiple products out there, pre-insulated pipes and supplies to insulate them after installation. For most facilities, the after-installation supplies are perhaps most useful (otherwise, you’ll be replacing every pipe in the building).
Most insulating products are based around foam and fiberglass. They’re either pipe wraps, which you just wrap around the pipe like tape or a sleeve that slides over the pipe. In most commercial facilities, you’ll see the sleeve style being used. There is still thermal contact between the foam and the pipe, but the foam will heat up faster and it won’t leech heat into the surrounding air anywhere near as fast.
You can arrange for your HVAC contractor to install the insulation for probably a few hundred dollars. It’s a slightly labor intensive job, in that there are a lot of pipes to work on in any facility, but the supplies are cheap and it really only needs to be done once. Your only real obstacle is trying to insulate pipes in hard to reach places. Piping inside your walls is probably better left alone. There’s no quick way to get to them without destroying other bits of the property around them first.
This will save you money over time in reduced heating and maintenance costs. Your furnace will have to run that much less, which means less wear on parts and fewer cycles in a year. This could add months or years to a system’s useful lifespan. That means you can go that much longer without a system replacement, that much longer without a burner failure or failed motor at an inconvenient time. At the same time you’ll spend that much less money on fuel for your furnace. If it costs you $20,000 to heat your facility normally and insulation saves you even a mere five percent, five percent of that isn’t chump change. Five percent is a boost to your advertising budget, a new workstation, or even a good year of hosting your company’s website. It’s money you can spend better than heating your crawl space under the office.