Comparing Traditional and Advanced Steam Pipe Insulation

Share on:

The best steam distribution systems have high-temperature insulation, mold prevention, and safe materials for workers and the environment. Ideally, steam pipes should be insulated with long-lasting, corrosion-resistant materials that offer easy installation and maintenance. This article compares three insulation solutions for steam pipes: fiberglass, removable insulation jackets, and vacuum insulated piping.

Are you looking for the best type of insulation for your steam tubes, pipes, and hoses? Thermal insulation is a crucial consideration due to the high operating temperature of steam distribution systems. Adding insulation to steam line components inhibits heat transfer and can help reduce energy losses by up to 90%. In addition to thermal requirements, steam piping must also maintain the proper pressure for optimal safety and effectiveness.

Traditional Steam Pipe Insulation

Fiberglass Pipe Insulation

Fiberglass has traditionally been the material of choice for most sections of pipe insulation in steam distribution systems. This well-known solution, typically combined with an all-service jacket (ASJ), is very popular.

Piece of fiberglass pipe insulation
Fiberglass is often used to provide thermal insulation for piping systems

The main advantages of “stay-in-place” fiberglass insulation are lightweight materials and relatively low cost. However, it does have several disadvantages worth considering, such as:

  • Inspecting fiberglass insulation can be time-consuming because it is difficult to reach the pipe’s surface. Often, a section must be cut out of the material, which ultimately compromises the insulation.
  • Moisture can enter the system through openings cut for inspection. Condensation can reduce insulation performance (R-value) and increase the risks of corrosion under insulation (CUI) and potential process leakage.
  • Mold growth can settle into the fibers, causing allergic reactions or other harmful side effects — especially if black mold is present.
  • Lifecycle decreases as fiberglass settles or is compacted over time, decreasing insulation thickness and performance.
  • Environmental effects can be negative because it is nearly impossible to recycle fiberglass.
  • Negative health effects may occur. Loose fibers and dust inhaled during installation and maintenance are known to cause respiratory irritation. Regular, long-term exposure can eventually lead to more serious lung problems. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) includes fiberglass in its 15th Report on Carcinogens (2021).

Removable Steam Pipe Insulation Jackets

Removable steam pipe insulation jackets typically consist of a silicone casing that encloses the insulation material. The internal material is usually fiberglass, ceramic paper, mineral wool, or pyrogel. Removable insulation jackets come in a range of standard nominal pipe sizes (NPS), from 2 inches to 24 inches.

The main downside to this solution is with regard to routine inspection difficulties. It requires removal and re-installation of the jacket every time the piping system needs to be inspected and/or maintained. This repetitive handling will likely cause the fiberglass inside the jacket to become compressed. Once the fiberglass is compressed, insulation performance begins to suffer, and heat loss increases.

Advanced Steam Pipe Insulation

Vacuum Jacketed Piping

Insulon® vacuum jacketed tubing offers an innovative, ultra-high-performance alternative to traditional steam pipe insulation products. It is available in a wide range of diameters from millimeters to 12 inches.

Stainless steel vacuum insulated pipes
Stainless steel vacuum insulated tubing is an excellent choice for industrial steam pipe insulation

Ultra-thin construction makes Insulon tubing uniquely well-suited to small-bore, micro-bore, and fractional-inch diameters. This type of insulation technology is ideal for steam line insulation due to the following advantages:

  • Installation is easy and secure
  • Ultra-high performance, energy-saving insulation
  • Stainless steel construction resists compression
  • Durable design for long-term performance
  • Non-carcinogenic, non-toxic materials for health and safety
  • Non-fibrous materials are suitable for cleanroom and controlled environments
  • Long service life — proven to withstand high-temperature thermal cycling
  • Corrosion-resistant metals reduce the risk of CUI
  • Recyclable stainless steel for environmental protection
  • Available as rigid piping, flexible hoses, and bend-to-shape tubing

Vacuum insulated piping outperforms traditional steam pipe insulation options from both an operational and environmental perspective. It often means spending more on the front end, but adopting superior technology delivers benefits and ROI in the long term.

Concept Group LLC

Concept Group LLC is a thermal engineering firm specializing in advanced insulation solutions for complex and demanding thermal challenges. We combine innovative engineering with expert manufacturing to develop proprietary solutions for clients across industries.

Learn more →