Refrigeration Insulation

Refrigeration systems present some of the toughest refrigeration pipe insulation challenges of any mechanical system. Supermarkets, beverage-dispensing lines, food processing, ice rinks, cold storage, etc., rely on insulation to prevent heat gain and control surface condensation, both of which put refrigeration systems at risk.

Refrigeration applications encompass a variety of operating temperatures, piping materials, space and environmental conditions, refrigerants and fluids – all of which impact refrigeration pipe insulation selection.

Aerocel® EPDM closed-cell elastomeric refrigerant pipe insulation is capable of meeting all of these demands and conditions. The extremely low permeability, closed-cell structure, built-in vapor retarder and durability of EPDM rubber make Aerocel a reliable solution for these demanding applications.

More About Refrigeration Insulation

Refrigerant pipe insulation is crucial for refrigeration systems. Refrigeration systems, also known as below-ambient systems, vary by application (commercial and industrial), temperature requirements (high & low), refrigerant types (traditional and natural), and operating environments. Common refrigeration system applications include supermarkets, cold storage, food processing, beverage dispensing lines, ice rinks, morgues, laboratories, chillers, data centers, and owner-specific applications. While refrigeration pipe insulation is commonly installed indoors, many systems include piping and equipment on exterior rooftops to conserve interior space or to preserve interior design aesthetics.

Commercial and industrial refrigeration systems have a few things in common. They are demanding, designed to operate 24/7, may require wide temperature fluctuations, are designed to avoid costly downtime, and are always subject to a persistent enemy – moisture which can result in surface condensation. Condensation creates the potential for decreased thermal efficiency, pipe corrosion under refrigerant piping insulation, icing, mold/mildew growth, and system failure.

Refrigeration pipe insulation plays a critical role in controlling heat gain of refrigerant fluids, moisture (vapor drive), surface condensation, and icing. National energy standards and codes require refrigeration pipe insulation on cooling systems, such as chilled water, brine, and refrigerants, that operate with service temperatures below 40°F (typically 20°F) and up to 60°F. However, some refrigeration systems operate as low as -50°F (ammonia) and up to 250°F (intermittent defrost cycles).

The proper refrigerant pipe insulation thickness, factoring in system operating conditions such as pipe size & type, ambient temperature, relative humidity, wind speed (if applicable), and jacketing, can be calculated to control surface condensation for the life of an insulation system.

The ASHRAE Handbook recommends closed-cell types of refrigeration pipe insulation for refrigeration system applications, such as cellular glass, flexible elastomeric, polyisocyanurate, and polystyrene, due to their low vapor transmission (WVT), low water absorption qualities and not always requiring a supplemental vapor barrier. Important refrigeration pipe insulation selection considerations include the following reference standards (not all-inclusive):

  • Thermal conductivity (thermal k-value) / ASTM C518
  • Water vapor transmission (WVT) / ASTM E96
  • Water absorption / ASTM C209
  • Continuous service temperature / ASTM C411
  • Fire safety (25/50) / ASTM E84
  • Fungi resistance / ASTM G21
  • UV resistance / ASTM G7

Of the closed-cell refrigerant pipe insulation types referenced above, flexible elastomeric insulation has been commercially available in the United States for over 50 years and is a proven refrigeration pipe insulation solution due to its closed-cell structure, built-in vapor barrier (smooth continuous outer skin), and flexible nature. American-manufactured flexible elastomeric insulation typically meets all of the above standards up to 2” thick (ASTM E84 25/50). While always available in a matte black color, tubes are now available in white color to blend in with commercial ceilings.

Additionally, flexible elastomeric refrigerant pipe insulation manufacturers offer their own system solutions such as insulated pipe hanger fittings to prevent moisture damage at pipe hanger locations (a common failure point due to compression of insulation from loaded pipes), special purpose contact adhesives (including low-VOC formulas), rubber/foam tapes and protective coatings.

To ensure the long-term performance of a flexible elastomeric refrigeration pipe insulation installation, it’s critical that all insulation seams are completely sealed with the manufacturer’s adhesive to provide a continuous vapor barrier. Additionally, closed-cell elastomeric foam insulation is susceptible to UV degradation when installed in exterior environments such as commercial rooftops. Refrigeration pipe insulation should be protected from solar radiation with the manufacturer’s specially-formulated protective coating (meets national energy code requirement) or jacketed if mechanical damage is expected (foot traffic, birds, varmints, or severe weather).

Aeroflex’s Aerocel® brand of refrigerant piping insulation is American-made in Sweetwater, Tennessee, meets the referenced industry standards, and is composed of an EPDM rubber. EPDM offers a higher continuous service temperature and slower UV degradation rate than traditional NBR/PVC rubber, which is hydrophobic (does not induce or react to moisture), and is naturally microbial-resistant (no biocides added).

Aerocel REF™ is our standard formula for refrigeration pipe insulation and is available in unslit tubes or “factory-split self-seal” tubes known as Aerocel-SSPT™. For demanding applications, such as low-temperature refrigerant piping insulation in high-temperature and humid operating environments, Aerocel ULP® (Ultra-Low Perm) offers a water vapor permeability rating of 0.01 perm-inch (standard flexible elastomeric formula perm ratings are 0.03 perm-inch, cellular glass @ 0.00) and a continuous service temperature on the low end of -320°F. Available thicknesses range from ⅜” to 2” and tube ID’s from ¼” to 16” IPS for both formulas.

Refrigeration systems present some of the toughest insulation challenges of any mechanical system. Supermarkets, beverage-dispensing lines, food processing, ice rinks, cold storage, etc., rely on insulation to prevent heat gain and control surface condensation, both of which put products and/or operations at risk.

Refrigeration applications encompass a variety of operating temperatures, piping materials, space and environmental conditions, refrigerants and fluids – all of which impact refrigeration insulation selection.

Aeroflex is capable of meeting all these demands and conditions. The extremely low permeability and durability of EPDM foam makes it a reliable solution for these demanding applications. It is an effective, low-cost alternative to cellular glass, and easier to install.

Benefits of Refrigeration Insulation

Effectively retards heat gain/loss and prevents condensation and ice
Can contribute to EPA’s GreenChill certification
Fiber-free for healthier indoor environments
Naturally microbial resistant
Low Halogen content makes it safe to install on stainless steel, aluminum & copper piping
Prevents corrosion under insulation (CUI)
Non-polar – does not react with water
Lower material, fabrication & installation cost with less waste than cellular glass (Aerocel® Ultra-Low Perm ULP®)
Naturally UV-resistant for long lasting service
Fire safety – Passes ASTM E 84 25/50 up to 2” (50 mm) thick
Built-in vapor retarder eliminates the need for jacketing in typical applications
Complimentary components like Aerofix® insulated pipe supports, EPDM tapes, etc. provide an airtight hermetic seal throughout the insulated system
Low-emitting material: Indoor Advantage[TM} Gold Certified
Can contribute to LEED®
Attenuates HVAC noise at lower frequencies

Applications for Refrigeration Insulation

Beverage & ice dispensing lines
Food processing facilities
Cold storage facilities
Temperature range: -320°F (-196°C) to 257°F (125°C)

Why non-polar EPDM elevates insulation preformance

Aeroflex's Aerocel brand of insulation products (like refrigeration insulation) are unique among other closed-cell elastomeric foams in that they are classified “non-polar.” EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) is a non-polar compound and the basis for all Aerocel insulation.

Polarity is a function of the electrical charge across a molecular structure. When a material is classified as “non-polar,” it means that the electrical charges are evenly distributed across each molecule. This makes the molecules more stable, especially when exposed to water.  As a result, Aerocel insulation degrades at a slower rate than other closed-cell elastomeric brands, especially when exposed to moisture, sunlight, ozone and a wide range of temperatures.

Because Aerocel EPDM insulation is hydrophobic, meaning that it does not react with water, it is inherently microbial-resistant and lasts longer, providing owners with a more favorable product life-cycle assessment and cost than other closed-cell elastomeric foam insulations.

For a more detailed explanation please refer to  our whitepaper: Chemical Polarityand Its Impact on the Performance of Elastomeric Foam Insulation