The loft has been insulated with a thick bed of fibre blanket. The walls are sandwiched with cavity wall insulation. Even the electricity supply is insulated.
Insulation acts as a barrier. It conserves and protects.
Domestic water pipes require insulation for a variety of reasons. The most common reason for installing water pipe insulation is as a protection from frost. Water Regulations require that all external domestic water service pipes and fittings are protected against the possibility of frost damage. This can be achieved by the addition of suitable insulation material and by giving careful consideration to the location and the competent installation of pipe-work.
Although external overflow pipes do not normally require insulation, condensate outlet pipes from condensing boilers certainly do. A frozen condensate pipe may prevent a condensing boiler from operating.
Where the installation of conventional insulation products may be problematic, possibly because of limited space, an alternative product is usually available. Many plumbers merchants can supply self-regulating trace heating tape. This tape is wrapped around the pipe and automatically senses a drop in temperature. This causes the tape to operate producing a gentle heat, which prevents the pipe from freezing.
Although not an insulation material, it is effective at UK winter temperatures. However, it does require an electricity supply.
Water pipe insulation has a number of uses within the home.
Pipe insulation can reduce the risk of frost damage in winter where a property might be vacant for long periods. It should also be installed on exposed pipe-work that has been located above the insulation layer in a loft.
Exposed water pipes in garages, cellars and in unheated conservatories should also be insulated against frost.
It is worth bearing in mind that insulation does not totally protect pipe-work from frost. It only delays the penetrative qualities of freezing air from affecting the water in the pipe. Depending on the quality and thickness of the insulation layer, and the professionalism of the installation, frost will eventually freeze pipes.
The periodic flow of water through domestic pipe-work will help to prevent ice formation in insulated pipes. However, if the property is to remain unoccupied during the winter months, total drainage of the domestic water system should be considered.
Insulation can also be used within the property to prevent condensation forming on cold water pipes. Cold pipes attract moisture in the air. This condenses on the pipe-work and trickles downwards, where it collects on floorings and carpets causing staining and damp. It can also cause pipe-work corrosion and the formation of undesirable moulds and microbes. When purchasing insulation material to combat condensation on cold water pipes it is important to choose a type with a water vapour barrier coating.
Another important pipe network that will benefit from insulation is the hot water and central heating pipe-work. Where a combi boiler or a hot water storage cylinder is located some distance from the hot water outlets, a substantial amount of heat can be lost. Hot water remaining in pipes after a demand will dissipate heat into their surroundings. When a new demand is initiated, the now cooled water will have to exit the pipe-work before hot water from the source reaches the outlet. Insulating these pipes can help to address the problem and reduce boiler gas usage.
Central heating pipes running from the boiler to service radiator and other space heating appliances can lose considerable amounts of heat into their surroundings prior to reaching the appliances. As these heat-carrying pipes are located within the property, it has sometimes been thought that the lost heat was actually conserved within a well-insulated property. However, with the introduction of room thermostats and zone control systems, this is no longer a practical viewpoint.
Where hot water central heating pipes are not adequately insulated, the extra heat escaping from the pipes into the domestic environment cannot be controlled. Consequently, expensive domestic environment control systems become ineffective and subsequently the boiler fuel running costs are increased.
Insulation has an additional practical use as a safety device. Hot pipes can cause serious burns to children and vulnerable adults who may accidentally come into contact with them. Insulating hot pipes in locations where injury could occur is an important consideration.
Pipe insulation can also act as a protective layer to prevent pipe damage from crushing and as an effective sound insulator to prevent noise being carried and distributed along pipes.
When it comes to choosing a suitable pipe insulating material there are a plethora of different manufacturers and their products on the market. Generically they can be classified as either fibre or foam products.
Most fibre materials are specifically designed to be used in industrial environments. However, fibreglass and certain other mineral fibre products are suitable for use in domestic settings. When installed on cold water supply pipes, they may require the addition of a plastic coating to prevent condensation accumulating and dripping from the material.
There are also a number of spray foam materials that can be applied. These products have adhesive properties and harden to form a protective coating. They can be difficult to remove if the need arises. If a leak develops underneath these products, the source can be difficult to locate and access.
For domestic use, tubular sleeve foam materials are ideal. These often come pre-slit horizontally and are easy to install by slipping them over the pipes. They can be cut to size and manipulated to accommodate bends and junctions.
Flexible, closed cell, foam rubber sleeves are probably the best type available. Because they are of a closed cell formation, they prevent condensation from forming through capillary attraction and are highly efficient insulators. Some branded products also incorporate mould inhibiting compounds and are generally regarded as the most reliable, environmentally stable and durable products available. A two-metre length of such a product should cost around £5 – £6.
The effectiveness of insulation materials is influenced by the external environment and the circulating fluids in the pipe-work. The diameter of the pipe is an important factor when choosing the appropriate insulation material. The smaller the pipe diameter, the greater the required insulation value of the insulation material. This is often referred to as the R-value. An R-value of at least four is considered an acceptable standard for most domestic requirements.
When installing pipe insulation it is important to ensure that the pipe is clean. The insulating material must be in direct contact with the pipe and once in place, the split tubes section joints should be glued with proprietary products or securely taped with duct tape. No gaps should be apparent. Cutting and manipulating the material should ensure that even the most complicated pipe layouts can be effectively insulated.
A well-insulated property with adequately insulated pipe-work will improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. Protection of pipe-work against frost will reduce the chances of frozen pipes in winter, helping to prevent an interruption to supply and the consequences of water damage from burst pipes. It is also important to consider the insurance implications of unsatisfactory water pipe insulation in respect of a subsequent water damage related claim.