Why Leading Insulators Embrace Grooved Piping Systems
I was fortunate to begin my career working for Victaulic Company. I spent much of my time presenting the features and benefits of their grooved piping system to engineers and building owners.
Since then, I’ve been selling various mechanical insulation products. Some of which are specially designed for grooved piping applications. These experiences give me unique perspective on the costs associated with insulating grooved pipe.
Resistance to Change
In the early 2000’s, engineers or mechanical contractors would tell me about push-back from insulators on the grooved concept. They would say things like:
- Grooved piping adds lots of time to the insulation install.
- The labor cost savings from grooved piping will be a wash when you have to pay more for the insulation.
- Nobody makes insulation fittings to cover grooved fittings and components.
Any contractor’s mission is to do what they do best while reducing their risk exposure wherever possible. These statements are in line with that objective. New or different equals risk. Bidding a grooved project in those days for some insulators meant stepping out of their comfort zone and adding risk.
Friends of mine who are still in the world of grooved piping tell me that they continue to run into these hurdles from time to time. In case you ever experience this on a project, let’s look at the merit these arguments hold.
Insulation Labor Cost
Yep. A straight run of grooved pipe takes a little longer to insulate because it now has “bumps” as some would say. How much more time? Only a fraction of what you’re saving going grooved versus welded.
But what about the mechanical room? It’s the most labor intensive area for the insulator and the mechanical, right? It is, but it’s also where the most labor savings is realized by the grooved method.
Lastly, don’t forget that all the valves and accessories would be flanged if they weren’t grooved. So, there would be “bumps” to insulate in the mechanical room anyways. For those reasons, additional time and labor costs for the insulator is not a valid argument against the overall decision to specify grooved piping.
Insulation Material Cost
It’s also true that the insulation material cost on a grooved system will be higher than a welded one. However, it’s important to look at the big picture and keep things in perspective.
Consider a scenario where a mechanical can save 30-40% on the overall installed cost by grooving the pipe, but the insulator’s price increased by the same amount. The owner still comes out ahead because the installed cost of the insulation is much less than the pipe.
Availability of Insulation Fittings
Fiberglass is by far the most common insulation material to accompany grooved pipe. It is efficient and economical for the temperature range and pipe sizes commonly associated with grooved couplings and their gaskets.
Standard practice for fiberglass pipe installs is to wrap fittings, valves or accessories with a “fiberglass insert” and encapsulate it with a molded PVC fitting cover. The fiberglass insert is a section of fiberglass blanket insulation pre-cut and sized to properly pair with the PVC that is designed for a specific size coupling or fitting.
PVC fittings and inserts are readily available on the shelf of any stocking distributor of fiberglass pipe cover. Odd or large sizes may call for special order, but even they should be delivered in a few weeks max. PVC jacketing and fittings manufacturers can be found in our directory if you would like like to see what they offer.
Elastomeric insulation is not as common as fiberglass for sizes over 2” pipe diameter, but has grown in popularity for chilled water applications. The benefit to this product is that an insulator can field fabricate on demand for any size or shape. In the event your design calls for rigid foam insulation, there are insulation fabricators who can mass produce specialty fittings for a perfect fit over grooved components.
Embracing the Concept
The newness of grooved piping was initially a risk for bidding insulators. Every time an insulator performed another project with those dreaded “bumps”, the risk factor began to fade away. Their confidence tackling grooved projects grew stronger and stronger.
The most proficient of those contractors realized that the arguments they once had against grooved piping turned into advantages for their own bottom line. Greater costs for insulation material and labor actually creates a higher overall bid value.
To some degree, grooved joints also expanded the necessary skill set for insulators. When more skill is required in a trade, it becomes more specialized and decreases the chance of new competition showing up on bid day.
The leading insulators in the game know all of this, and that’s why they welcome the chance to insulate grooved piping systems.
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