Mechanical Insulation: Conduit towards Zero Carbon Emissions

Mechanical Insulation: Conduit towards Zero Carbon Emissions


The importance of reducing the carbon footprint has become a priority for the people of Illinois. The need to reduce the use of fossil fuels is an ever-increasing reality.  This is an achievable goal we should strive for, not just for the citizens of Illinois today, but for generations going forward.  Solar and wind are viable sources that can make these goals possible, however, what can we do presently to achieve the goal of a zero-carbon footprint for Illinois with our present infrastructure while also ensuring that new technology savings are optimized.

There is a long-term cost savings system used in construction that is sometimes over- looked/underutilized in new and retrofitting projects that can greatly reduce CO2 emissions. Upgrading and/or insulating uninsulated mechanical systems can be that conduit to zero-carbon emissions.  Below are some issues that may be hurdles to overcome to avoid hindering the utilization of mechanical insulation.  Also described below are some audit results that further illustrate the potential savings yielded with an upgraded insulated mechanical system.

  • The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) minimally covers what a builder can do to utilize mechanical insulation. The stakeholder is guided by the architect and engineer in specifics of mechanical insulation on its construction specifications. This discussion may never address long-term energy savings.
  • Building inspectors deal with the quality of the construction per the code. Energy savings is at the engineering level.
  • Priority may be given to other parts of building development over mechanical insulation due to short-term or aesthetic considerations.
  • Mechanical Insulation helps the system to perform its function of heating or cooling using as little energy necessary. The less insulation on the mechanical system, the more energy needed for the system to perform at its optimal functions.
  • Mechanical Insulation may be reduced in a project as “value engineering” to save a customer money on the initial construction costs. This may be a short-term saving to the customer; However, long-term energy costs may negate those initial savings.  This factor may not be explained to the stakeholder.
  • Rules already in place, may not be in use in the marketplace. The Local Government Energy Conservation Act (50 ILCS 515) states:

means any improvement, repair, alteration, or betterment of any building or facility owned or operated by a unit of local government or any equipment, fixture, or furnishing to be added to or used in any such building or facility, subject to all applicable building codes, that is designed to reduce energy consumption or operating costs, and may include, without limitation, one or more of the following: Heating, ventilating, or air conditioning system modifications or replacements.” (50 ILCS 515/5 (4)).

“Qualified provider” means a person or business whose employees are experienced and trained in the design, implementation, or installation of energy conservation measures. The minimum training required for any person or employee under this paragraph shall be the satisfactory completion of at least 40 hours of course instruction dealing with energy conservation measures. A qualified provider to whom the contract is awarded shall give a sufficient bond to the unit of local government for its faithful performance. (50 ILCS 515/5).

Guarantee. The guaranteed energy savings contract shall include a written guarantee of the qualified provider that either the energy or operational cost savings, or both, will meet or exceed within 20 years the costs of the energy conservation measures. The qualified provider shall reimburse the unit of local government for any shortfall of guaranteed energy savings projected in the contract. A qualified provider shall provide a sufficient bond to the unit of local government for the installation and the faithful performance of all the measures included in the contract. The guaranteed energy savings contract may provide for payments over a period of time, not to exceed 20 years from the date of the final installation of the measures. (50 ILCS 515/20).

  • Contractors may be using employees to insulate these systems that are untrained or undertrained that reduce the optimal energy savings due to undercutting project with labor costs. The best way to alleviate any shortcomings is to have an independent engineering firm check the quality on completion of taxpayer funded projections (1% of the cost of the mechanical insulation project to use for post-insulation inspection/commissioning).  This would ensure the stakeholder gets the best quality job and long-term performance.


Examples of Energy Savings with Mechanical Insulation*


  • An audit was performed at a facility in the Chicago. These findings determined the initial energy heat loss was 218,244 BTU/hour or a CO2 emission of 120.8 MT/yr. Adding two inches of insulation to the uninsulated mechanical system reduce the CO2 emissions to 7.62 MT/yr.


  • A similar audit was performed at an education facility in the southern suburb just outside Chicago. The findings determined that there was a heat loss of 233,201 BTU/hour or a CO2 emission of 87.57 Metric Tons per year (MT/yr).  Adding one inch of insulation to the uninsulated mechanical system would reduce the CO2 emissions to 9.44 MT/yr.  This would reduce the fuel costs from $7582.73 to a mere $842.75 per year.


*Calculations were performed using the Whole Building Design Guide.

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