Commercial Applications

Roger Schmidt

Roger Schmidt had a B.S. in Chemistry and an MBA from Indiana University and had retired in 2009 from K-FLEX USA after working in research and development and marketing. He worked in the rubber/plastics industry for over 40 years, including work as a chemist, product development manager, Director and Man of the Year for Southern Rubber Group, and President of Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers, among many other roles. He was active in ASTM and NIA through various committees, including as Chair of the NIA Technical Information Committee. He was also a frequent contributor to Insulation Outlook.

June 1, 2007

Insulation application types can be divided into many categories. One way to define them is by market: residential, commercial, or industrial. For the purposes of this article, the comparison will be limited to commercial versus industrial. How would a contractor approach these applications differently from a materials, quote, or labor standpoint? Focusing specifically on cold applications, this article will zero in on below-ambient-temperature applications.

How Are Commercial and Industrial Applications Defined?

First, what are some examples of commercial and industrial applications? Typical commercial applications include strip malls, office buildings, hospitals, schools, churches, hotels, condominiums, supermarkets, ice rinks, and maybe even light manufacturers. Common industrial applications include manufacturing, food processing or storage, chemical, petrochemical, and power plants. Contractors tend to classify themselves as either commercial or industrial based on the type of projects they work on most. Industrial contractors may bid on commercial work when the industrial sector slows down, but most commercial contractors stay predominately within their main area of expertise. Commercial work tends to track the economy and be fairly stable, while industrial projects tend to be based on longer-term economic projections and needs, and tend to be more cyclical (feast or famine). Once allocated, they progress regardless of current conditions.

The distinction between commercial and industrial contractors is fairly clear. However, as contracting firms become larger and their need for business grows, the distinction may blur.

Often, the perception of industrial applications is that they represent mostly “hot” insulation work. Although industrial applications may have more hot work (it is estimated that 75 percent of industrial work is hot), there are certainly plenty of industrial applications that involve cold water, chilled water, refrigeration, and cryogenic applications, too. From a temperature standpoint, industrial applications cover a wider range than commercial: Below-ambient industrial applications can go from 50° to -300°F or below, while commercial work stops around -10°F. With more extreme temperatures, industrial work often involves multilayer insulation because of the thickness requirements and additional vapor barriers needed to prevent condensation or ice formation. Industrial applications also may exhibit much greater temperature cycling, which can create issues with both the insulation and jacketing.

From a performance standpoint, industrial and commercial applications attempt to accomplish the same goals:

  • Reduce heat gain
  • Save energy
  • Reduce emissions
  • Prevent condensation
  • Improve equipment performance
  • Improve process performance
  • Reduce water consumption
  • Improve personnel protection
  • Control sound
  • Provide freeze protection

The thermal dynamics are the same for commercial and industrial applications.

Besides temperature range, other distinctions between commercial and industrial applications include the expectations or requirements for weather resistance, chemical resistance, corrosion resistance, pipe sizes, and longevity. Commercial jobs are probably new construction and predominately indoor applications, whereas industrial projects are often retrofit or plant expansion work, with an approximate outdoor-to-indoor ratio of 60-to-40. These factors tend to make industrial jobs much more complicated. Labor and jacketing selection are key factors as well. As Ray Stuckenschmidt of Systems Undercover, Inc., notes, “When you are dealing with industrial jobs, you have to really know what you are doing.”

Commercial jobs are easier to access, the work is not as congested, and there is less need for secondary jacketing, which allows the insulation to be applied more efficiently. On the other hand, commercial work often is released in stages as a job progresses. For example, condominium projects may be released as floors are finished, so the total time to complete the work may be much longer than that of an industrial job where the time frame is tighter because the job must be completed during a shutdown period. Some industrial jobs are bid on a time-and-materials or a cost-plus basis, which would not typically be the case on the commercial side. Industrial jobs must be bid with more contingency factors built in because of the variables that may be associated with the job. The safety record of a company is also very important when bidding for an industrial job, whereas that might not be a key component for a commercial job.

Unfortunately, many commercial jobs are submitted for bid with drawings that may be as little as 60-percent complete. “Commercial applications require a high degree of knowledge of the systems involved to ensure that the estimate is complete,” says W. Paul Stonebraker of TRA Thermatech.

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