Applying Insulation To HVAC Equipment

The University of Maryland Medical Center garners operational benefits by installing reusable HVAC insulation in its central plant facilities.

By Richie Stever
From the October 2018 Issue

The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) is a sprawling healthcare campus in Baltimore, and it operates four central plants delivering steam to a 2.1 million square foot teaching hospital, which includes the 294,000 square foot. Homer Gudelsky Building erected in 1994 and the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, opened in 1989. Within these facilities that my department operates and maintains, the HVAC system consists of 56 air handling units, 14 chillers, 13 cooling towers, three ice storage tanks, and district steam (provided by Veolia North America) for heating. UMMC also uses district steam for hot water and sterilization.

Reusable insulation blanket on a chilled water pump in an equipment room at University of Maryland Medical Center (Photo: University of Maryland Medical Center)

In the summer of 2017 at the U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Summit, we met Shannon Enterprises, a company that designs and makes reusable thermal and acoustic insulation blankets.

We never gave insulation much thought, and when we did, our view was “set it and forget it.” However, we learned that maintenance workers can remove reusable insulation in a few minutes, inspect or repair a valve or steam trap, and replace the insulation with ease. Many assume insulation is fiberglass with a cover; they don’t think of it as an item that can be removed and replaced to make equipment accessible.

Fred Weiler, president of CVA Energy & Industrial Products, Inc., is a NIA Certified Insulation energy appraiser who often hears customers say, “We’ve looked at our insulation and are in good shape,” or “We don’t have the funds.” Weiler tells maintenance and energy managers to request an energy survey to explore the payback from insulation. “The surveys are often free, “he says. “And if they’re done correctly, the result is ‘found money’.”

As we delved further to learn about how reusable insulation works and how it could benefit the UMMC campus, Shannon Enterprises shared the experiences of a few other healthcare campuses. According to Kevin Kanoff, the campus energy engineer for the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, PA, an audit identified energy savings opportunities for nearly 80 steam components and calculated a payback within 15 months. Kanoff’s annual energy savings from reusable insulation is $250,000 and rising.

Randy Haines, energy manager at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA, says the primary reason he invested in reusable thermal insulation was the two-year payback. Haines hired an energy service company (ESCO) to look at what kind of energy efficiency he could get; part of their recommendation was to install reusable insulation blankets.

UMMC Energy Survey Spurred HVAC Insulation Project

Later in 2017, we asked a sound and vibration control specialist to survey UMMC’s system. The results showed reusable insulation would reduce by 80% the annual steam costs for the portion of the system surveyed and decrease ambient room temperature by as much as 25°F. We moved forward with the first phase in the fall of 2017. Phase one began with contractors taking field measurements for approximately 100 components over three days. We didn’t think we could insulate a chilled water pump because of its shape and configuration, but the measurements and audit of each component provided us with a product that has a snug, efficient fit. The reusable insulation project took place in three phases, ending during the first quarter of 2018.

“We tackled some P-K Compact semi-instantaneous indirect water heaters in phase two as well as pumps,” says Adam Adelsberger of AAC Independent, the sound and vibration control specialist hired by UMMC. “Nothing is out of the question with a properly measured survey; insulating valve bonnets and smaller steam stations are opportunities, too.”

We will continue recouping money from the parts of the system we have insulated and put that savings toward insulating more components of the steam system. The energy survey shows that over the life of the reusable blankets, we can expect to save $436,000 in steam costs for the nearly 100 components insulated. With the blankets in place, we figure to see a heat-loss savings of 1.5 billion BTUs per year. The project team estimates annual emissions savings attributable to the reusable blankets will exceed 152 pounds of nitrogen pollutants (NOx) and more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The calculated payback period for phase one and two of our insulation project is approximately 10 months. Along with energy savings from the reusable blankets comes improved safety, since ambient temperature around UMMC’s steam stations was close to 100°F, and the surface temperature reached 280°F. The mechanical rooms are now at a comfortable working temperature, and surface temperature of the blankets covering the steam components are safe to touch.

“The list of items to insulate adds up,” says Adelsberger. “You see a steam station and you say, ‘Yeah, that’s something we can definitely insulate. And here’s a globe valve, a strainer, a bonnet, and the calculations include surface area and heat loss that add up.”

The project’s third phase involved Veolia North America. We work with this firm to provide UMMC with energy solutions, such as steam power generated at several locations in Baltimore including a waste-to-energy plant. UMMC sends trash to the energy plant, which produces steam the university buys.

As phase one and two progressed in the fall of 2017, Mike Kempske, a Veolia distribution manager, visited the UMMC campus. As part of his visit to make improvements to Veolia’s portion of the medical center steam system, Kempske learned about our insulation project. “We discussed improvements for the steam lines into the medical center,” says Kempske, “and [the] insulation project came up; we thought it was good to partner with [Richie] to improve the temperature of the mechanical rooms.”

Maintenance workers removed some of the legacy, non-reusable insulation in the mechanical rooms, some of which had come loose over the years. Veolia purchased reusable insulation to cover components that were the utility’s responsibility and reduce the ambient temperature in the mechanical rooms. Veolia contracted with Shannon Enterprises for the work, which it completed in the first quarter of 2018.

In closing, an unexpected benefit to how reusable insulation improved safety at UMMC involved the domestic water supply in our Gudelsky Building. There, the incoming steam and water lines are inside a small mechanical room, nine feet apart and at the same elevation. Before insulating with reusable blankets, the ambient temperature hovered near 100°F, which unintentionally warmed the domestic water supply line. Although the medical center treats its water with a copper-silver ionization system, we felt the elevated temperature posed a potential risk for bacteria growth in the water line. By decreasing the room temperature with reusable blankets on steam components, we reduced potential for bacteria growth.

InsulationStever is director of operations and maintenance for the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. He received his master’s degree from the University of Maryland and his bachelor of science from the University of Baltimore. His professional honors include awards for lighting conservation and collaboration with nursing on special projects. Stever is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, American Society of Healthcare Engineering, and a co-chair of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Alliance.

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