20th Nov 2023 -

For construction professionals, pipe insulation (also known as pipe lagging) is specified primarily for its energy efficiency benefits. However, it can also provide major water conservation impacts that should not be overlooked. Insulation controls pipe temperatures in ways that minimise water loss from leaks. 

These savings can be substantial, especially for large-scale institutional and industrial systems. Below, we analyse how properly insulating pipes conserve water through leak and failure reduction. As green building codes emphasise water efficiency, pipe insulation provides value beyond energy savings.

Do you use any pipe insulation to save water?

When it comes to water conservation through pipe insulation, the choice of material plays a crucial role. Here is a breakdown of the main pipe insulation types and their relevance to water conservation.

Insulation typeAdvantagesDisadvantages
Fibreglass insulationFibreglass is particularly suitable for use as copper pipe insulation for hot water due to its thermal performance. It is resistant to mould and mildew and is an excellent choice for water conservation.Possible skin irritation during installation is a concern, potentially requiring additional protective measures. Also, certain applications may necessitate a protective coating.
Mineral wool insulationThis type provides excellent fire resistance and good thermal insulation properties. It is a resilient choice for water conservation. Plus, it is resistant to mould and pests.On the downside, mineral wool absorbs moisture, impacting its performance. It can also be heavier and less flexible compared to some alternatives.
Elastomeric foam insulationAlso known as rubber pipe insulation, it is flexible, easy to install, and offers excellent moisture resistance. These foam pipe covers also boast good thermal properties.It offers excellent fire resistance, as well as high-temperature resistance, and does not lead to corrosion.
Polyethylene foam insulationThis type of tube foam insulation is lightweight, flexible, and durable, with a waterproof and closed-cell structure.It has slightly lower thermal resistance compared to some materials and may not be as resistant to physical damage.
Calcium silicate insulationIt offers excellent fire resistance, as well as high temperature resistance, and does not lead to corrosion.Calcium silicate is brittle and may require careful handling during installation. Plus, it comes with a higher cost compared to other options.

Should you insulate cold water pipes?

Yes, insulation on cold water pipes provides several benefits that directly reduce water waste. While less obvious than insulating hot water pipes, wrapping cold water lines with insulation provides savings over the long term. 

  • Insulation prevents condensation from forming on the exterior of cold pipes. This condensation can drip and lead to mould growth, structural damage and potential water leaks. Preventing the dripping alone conserves a significant amount of water over time.
  • Keeping cold water pipes from sweating helps improve indoor air quality and humidity levels in a home or building. Excess moisture can encourage mould growth.
  • Insulated cold water pipes maintain the temperature of the water flowing through them. This allows water fixtures like faucets, showers and appliances to perform better with colder water.
  • In very cold conditions, such as winter, insulation helps keep cold water pipes from freezing. Pipes that freeze can lead to immense water losses and costly repairs.
  • Insulation reduces temperature fluctuations that can cause pipes to contract and expand over time. This expansion and contraction can lead to cracks that leak or burst.

7 benefits of insulating pipes for water conservation

Insulating pipes provides a range of benefits that promote water conservation, from reducing heat loss and lowering standby heating demands to minimising temperature drops and supporting broader conservation goals. Some key benefits of pipe insulation for water conservation include the following.

1. Reduces reheating demands

Hot water pipe insulation reduces heat loss, meaning less energy is required to reheat cooled water. Insulation creates a thermal barrier that prevents heat transfer to the surroundings. On average, it can reduce heat losses by 70-90% compared to uninsulated pipes. 

2. Minimises temperature loss

When you lag a pipe, it minimises temperature drop as hot water travels from a water heater to a tap. This reduces the amount of water wasted waiting for hot water. For example, with a boiler, condensate pipe insulation helps to maintain hot water as it travels.

It reduces the amount of cooled water purged from taps while waiting for hot.

3. Lowers standby losses

Pipe insulation helps lower standby losses from hot water sitting idle in pipes between uses. Heating pipe insulation retains warm water during periods of inactivity by limiting passive heat loss to the environment from pipes. It conserves water that would otherwise cool while stagnant.

4. Direct water savings

It potentially reduces water usage by up to 30% compared to uninsulated pipes. This comes from a combination of lower standby losses, reduced reheat energy and less purging of cooled water. It provides direct water savings at the point of use by delivering hotter water.

5. Lower energy bills

Proper pipe insulation can contribute to lower energy bills by reducing reheating demands. Less fuel is needed to reheat cooled water to a point temperature, which results in lower costs for gas or electricity used for water heating.

6. Simple retrofitting

Whether it's for PVC or metal pipes, insulation is easy to install and low maintenance. Insulation can slip or wrap over piping and can be secured with adhesive backing. Durable materials provide insulation benefits for an average of 10-15 years. 

7. Supports conservation goals

It supports sustainability initiatives and water conservation goals, such as Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) by reducing both energy and water waste. This helps to meet important environmental targets.

How to tackle pipe insulation challenges

While pipe insulation provides significant benefits for water conservation, proper implementation is key to realising its full potential. There are several common challenges faced when insulating pipes, but also effective solutions to overcome them.

Below, we detail key factors when insulating pipes to maximise water conservation.

Proper installation techniques

One challenge is an improper installation that leaves gaps or results in compressed insulation. The solution is proper training for installers on securely wrapping pipes without gaps or compression to ensure insulation fully contacts the pipe surface. Proper techniques like sealing seams and joints with lagging tape are crucial for optimal performance.

Using the right insulation thickness

Using insulation which is not thick enough for a given pipe size is another issue. Calculate the heat loss or gain based on factors like pipe material, temperature and intended insulation purpose. Matching the thickness of insulation to pipe size ensures proper thermal resistance.

Insulating the entire pipe length

Only insulating sections of pipe rather than the full length also diminishes conservation benefits. Insulating the entire run including straight segments, elbows, fittings and valves maximises heat retention. Skipping sections of the pipe allows heat loss even if the majority is insulated.

Selecting quality insulation materials

Low-quality insulation materials with poor R-value and durability negatively impact performance. Selecting high-performance insulations designed specifically for piping applications can improve longevity and efficiency. Quality materials maintain insulation capacity over time.

Regular inspection and maintenance

Lack of maintenance leading to damaged or water-logged insulation decreases insulation capacity over time. Be sure to carry out periodic inspections (between 2-4 times per year) and repairs to maintain insulation integrity. Catching issues early prevents further degradation.

Insulating both hot and cold lines

As outlined above, insulating only hot water lines while leaving cold water pipes uninsulated also misses potential savings. Encompassing both hot and cold plumbing maximises conservation benefits. Cold lines also lose heat which requires re-cooling.

What is the future of pipe insulation and water conservation?

The future of pipe insulation and water conservation looks promising, with ongoing advancements and increased awareness of the importance of sustainable practices. Below, we outline 5 predictions that could shape the future.

1. Technological innovations

Research and development efforts are likely to yield more construction-friendly and sustainable pipe insulation options. The integration of smart technologies, including sensors and monitoring systems, is poised to become a standard practice. These innovations optimise water usage and provide valuable tools to detect and address potential issues early. 

2. Emphasis on sustainable materials

With a growing emphasis on sustainability, there is a notable shift towards the adoption of sustainable and recyclable insulation materials. The industry will experience the development of bio-based insulation materials.

These materials align with broader environmental goals and contribute to the industry's commitment to minimising the carbon footprint associated with building projects.

3. Regulatory measures

Stricter regulations are set to significantly influence the demand for effective pipe insulation. Industry bodies may introduce incentives to encourage construction professionals to adopt water-saving practices.

As regulatory frameworks evolve, the construction industry will need to prioritise insulation choices. Also, proper installation methods should be maintained to meet these new requirements and ensure compliance. 

4. Further education for construction professionals

There will likely be a heightened awareness of the relationship between water conservation and pipe insulation. Initiatives tailored to construction professionals will be important in fostering a deeper understanding of how proper pipe insulation practices directly impact water usage.

Plus, informed decision-making regarding insulation choices and installation practices will be crucial to integrate water-efficient systems. 

5. Green building certifications

The role of effective pipe insulation is expected to be accentuated in achieving sustainability certifications. Builders and architects are likely to prioritise water-efficient systems, including well-insulated pipes, as essential components.

It highlights the industry's commitment to a holistic approach to construction in alignment with green building standards.

Buy high-quality water pipe insulation materials 

We supply a diverse range of internal and external pipe insulation materials. This includes fibreglass, known for its excellent thermal performance and cost-effectiveness and elastomeric foam insulation, valued for its flexibility and moisture resistance.

Also, we offer mineral wool, a fire-resistant option with excellent thermal insulation properties. Whether it is for an outdoor water pipe or behind an interior wall, all our materials enhance saving water efforts. 

For our trade customers, we are pleased to offer the convenience and benefits of opening trade accounts. By establishing a trade account with us, you gain access to fast UK delivery options, competitive trade prices and personalised support from our knowledgeable trade account management team.

We also provide credit trade accounts to allow a smooth shopping experience every time. Contact us via the form below to learn more or sign up on our website for instant access.

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