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Mission: HVAC 2017 – Challenge 4: Reflective Insulation

by | Jul 25, 2017 | Mission HVAC

One of the current trends in HVAC is reflective insulation, a material that is used to wrap ductwork in order to provide an additional barrier against unconditioned spaces and keep the air being heated or cooled by the HVAC system at the proper temperature without seeping out of the duct, thus increasing the efficiency of the system overall. In order to understand how this trend is shaping the industry, we asked our Mission: HVAC students to share about their experiences working with reflective insulation. Here’s what they shared:

Aaron: A Growing Trend

For mission four I had the chance to sit down and talk with Mark Debri, a local service technician, and ask him about his experience with reflective insulation. Mark worked as an installer for a residential heating and cooling company for 13 years.  Since then he is now a service technician for a commercial/industrial mechanical company in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Q1: Have you personally ever worked with reflective insulation for HVAC ductwork? (If so, how were you involved?)
A: Over the past year I have been a part of a couple jobs that have required me to work with reflective insulation for HVAC ductwork.  I was involved while installing ductwork for a newly built home in my area.

Q2: How common is reflective insulated ductwork in your area?
A: Reflective insulation is relatively common in my area yet but from my interview with Mark Debri it sounds to be that it is where the future in going towards.  This insulation really affects the efficiency of a homes systems by a great deal.

Q3: What percentage of your jobs involve reflective insulation?
A: Mark says that right now as a commercial/industrial service technician he rarely will ever see it. When he worked a residential heating and cooling company reflective insulation was seen roughly 30% of the time at jobs.

Q4: What are some distributors that carry and sell reflective insulation?
A: Any wholesale supply shop should have reflective insulation stocked in their shop since it is somewhat common in the area and becoming more popular. The only problem might be being able to get enough of it because in most cases there is a lot of duct work to wrap.

Q5: How does the use of reflective insulation affect the job at hand?
A: Reflective insulation affects the job by just being another step in the whole process.  It is going to make the job take a little more time and is also more expensive.

Gustavo: Learning a New Skill

Mission #4 was very interesting due to the fact that this project made me understand a lot more the true purpose of reflective insulation products. I knew that they served a purpose but was not aware of just how big of a positive difference they make when properly applied to structures, homes and HVAC units.

Q1: Have you personally ever worked with reflective insulation for HVAC ductwork?
A:  Yes I have. I have actually used reflective insulation when working on the Air conditioning unit of the Army (MRAP) Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle during my 2007 Iraq deployment.  I remember a few of us were assigned to install this type of reflective insulation around the AC unit of the MRAP vehicle to help it resist the hot Iraq heat, and maintain its inside coolness longer. This Reflective insulation helped a lot during Iraq’s summer heat. I’m sure that without it, the heat inside its portable AC unit and inside the vehicle would have been much higher.

Q2: How common is reflective insulated ductwork in your area?
A: Reflective insulated ductwork in my area is very popular. I’ve noticed that every new and developing construction site that has its air conditioning and heating units in place and installed, is using reflective insulated ductwork. Even my college building has this product in place. I believe that insulated ductwork is essential to the overall performance and durability of a structure and its system.  It’s not a surprise to see more and more of this reflective insulated ductwork being used everywhere.  Not only can it provide an airtight thermal break around the ducting, but it also provides a huge vapor barrier wherever it’s installed.

Q3: Ask an HVAC business owner: What percentage of your jobs involve reflective insulation?
A: For this question I asked one of my neighborhood neighbors by the name of “JC” who works for “Air Pro”, one of the largest HVACR companies in Houston. According to JC, over 50% of the jobs he attends for an install, repair or service, have reflective insulation installed, or need reflective insulation. According to JC, most of the time when attending a new job or project, they recommend to the customer to use this type of reflective insulation. At the end of the day it’s all up to the customer and its budget to add the extra precaution and care this reflective insulation brings.

Q4: What are some distributors that carry and sell reflective insulation?
A:  For this question I visited Abacus Air Conditioning and Heating Company in Houston Tx. Even though they were very friendly with me, when I asked them about their source of reflective insulation materials the representative did not want to get in any type of legal trouble, and kindly told me they were not allowed to disclose specific company names they were affiliated with.  However I did ask them more questions regarding the customer satisfaction rate of using reflective insulation, to which they agreed it to be a very high positive rating.  I did some research on distributors that carry and sell reflective insulation, and I was shocked to find out that there is only about 5 or 6 major companies. I figured there was a lot more than that due to the fact that Houston is a huge city and requires lots of HVAC maintenance.

Q5: How does the use of reflective insulation affect the job at hand?
A: The use of reflective insulation affects the job at hand in many ways. To start off, the application of reflective insulation adds more time to the completion of a job at hand. Using reflective insulation affects or changes the HVAC installation process in a time consuming way. Adding reflective insulation to a buildings duct work or in a home’s attic can be very time consuming and exhausting. As far as the maintenance affects it has where applied, I can honestly say that I believe it does more good than bad. By using reflective insulation, one can avoid paying higher costs of electricity bills as well as maintaining an attic, home or structure cooler. However, after doing some research on reflective insulation, it looks like any of this product applied around a home or building will have to be removed to be replaced by new product once signs of deterioration start to show.  This specific replacement process can be expensive depending on the amount of time and reflective insulation needed. At the end of the day, it’s all up to the consumer to make such decision of using reflective insulation products. I for one, highly recommend them now and I’m sure in the future as well.

Chris: Speaking from Experience

Q1: Have you ever personally worked with reflective insulation for HVAC ductwork?
A: Yes! Every time we do an install that requires running ductwork, the flex duct that we use is wrapped in reflective insulation.

Q2: How common is reflective insulated ductwork in your area? (Southeast United States)
A: Reflective ductwork insulation is extremely common here. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen ductwork with insulation that is not reflective, and that was only in mobile homes

Q3: What percentage of your jobs involve reflective insulation?
A: Speaking as an employee of an HVAC contractor, I can say that more than 75% of our jobs involve reflective insulation. We do both residential and commercial AC work, and all of our installs include reflective insulation, with the exception of mobile homes, which use a special kind of flex duct that has black insulation.

Q4: What distributors carry and sell reflective ductwork insulation?
A: All of our local supply houses carry reflective insulation, whether it’s flex duct that is already wrapped or duct wrap that’s used to cover sheet metal ductwork. The closest distributor to our shop is the local Rheem dealer.

Q5: How does the use of reflective insulation affect the job at hand?
A: Using reflective duct wrap always means an extra step in the install process- in order to create a true vapor barrier, the duct must be wrapped tightly, and the wrap must be thoroughly taped and sealed with mastic. Reflective duct insulation also means an extra step when on a service call or a routine maintenance visit- it is always important to check and make sure that none of the insulation is torn and no tape is peeling off. The barrier that is created by the insulation is essential in achieving desired supply air temperatures.

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