What role does R-Value play in your energy-saving strategy?

If you’re trying to conserve energy through insulation, then choosing insulation material with a high R-Value is a critical component for your strategy. But what is R-Value? According to Meriam-Webster’s online dictionary, R-Value is “a measure of resistance to the flow of heat through a given thickness of a material (such as insulation) with higher numbers indicating better insulating properties.” R-Values add up, too, because a material with an R-Value of, say, R-10 sandwiched against one with a value of R-5 would equal R-15. The equation for R-Value is:


  • F represents the difference in temperature between a component’s surface and the exterior of whatever material is insulating it.
  • Ft2 is the insulation area measured in square feet.
  • Hr represents the duration (in seconds) over which the measurement was taken.
  • BTU indicates the amount of heat loss.

Insulation materials range from fiberglass to mineral wool and foam glass to aerogel. Facility managers will encounter some of these materials when they buy an insulation blanket for a component or piece of equipment on their system. It’s important to ask about the insulation material inside a removable, reusable insulation blanket. A buyer should look for a high R-Value; they should also seek material with a low K-Factor, which is the rate that heat flows through insulation material. InspectAPedia.com offers a chart, which you can find here, of various materials and each one’s ability to resist heat flow.

Randy Haines, energy manager at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, says the primary reason he invested in reusable thermal insulation was for the payback. The university’s four million square feet of property, which includes one of the nation’s top healthcare learning institutions, buys its steam power from Veolia Energy. The university reduces that to 60 lbs., 30 lbs. and even 15 lbs. for tasks ranging from sterilizing medical tools and red bag waste to cooking and cleaning.

“Buying steam can be pricier than making it yourself, so we’re always looking to reduce costs,” says Haines. “We hired an ESCO, an energy service company, to look at what kind of energy efficiency we could get; part of their recommendation was to install reusable insulation blankets.”

Aerogel 10.3
Concrete block, 4-inch hollow core 1.11
Cotton Batts 3.7
Fiberboard 2.8
Fiberglass, including high-density materials 3.6 to 5.0
Fiberglass, rigid 4.0
Insulating board, polyisocyanurate foam 7.2
Mineral Wool 3.7

Energy managers like Haines achieve a payback with removable, reusable thermal insulation, in part, because the insulation core has an R-Value ranging from around 5 and higher. But even with a high R-Value, a reusable insulation blanket isn’t a solution unless its maker designs it specifically for the intended application and manufactures the insulation blanket according to standards and specifications tested by organizations like ASTM, ISO and UL. A manufacturer who uses a CAD/CNC approach to design and manufacturing also delivers quality and performance to meet the mark on savings. A quality fit and finish impacts, among other things, energy efficiency.


Saving energy and more

According to Haines, other benefits to fully insulating his system with properly designed and tested blankets include prolonging the life of equipment that’s no longer subject to high temperature radiant heat and improved safety for workers who don’t risk burns working near pipes and valves (OSHA 1910.261(k)(11)).

Removable and reusable insulation blankets are also a green concept because maintenance workers will throw out insulation if it’s damaged or difficult to reinstall. Some energy and facility manager have kept reusable insulation blankets in place for 30 years. Think of the energy saved from a $350 blanket over 20 years.

That $350 investment to insulate a single component generates energy savings yearly, from $175.00 to $250.00. Multiply that performance by hundreds of fittings and 20 years, which is a typical lifespan for a Shannon insulation blanket, and one gets a compelling measure of energy savings (i.e., $175.00 x 350 fittings x 20 years = $1,225,000 saved).

The benefit is short-term (i.e., simple payback period of between 18 to 24 months) and long-term (i.e., 20-year lifecycle). So, capturing radiant heat and applying a quality insulation solution, while achieving a high R-Value, delivers the performance that energy managers need.

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