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Insulation workers, also called insulators, install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings and their mechanical systems.
Insulators typically do the following:
Insulated buildings save energy by keeping heat in during the winter and out in the summer. Insulated vats, vessels, boilers, steam pipes, and water pipes prevent the loss of heat or cold and prevent burns. In addition, insulation helps reduce noise that passes through walls and ceilings.
Insulators often must remove old insulation when renovating buildings. In the past, asbestos—now known to cause cancer—was used extensively to insulate walls, ceilings, pipes, and industrial equipment. Because of this danger, hazardous materials removal workers or specially trained insulators are required to remove asbestos before workers can begin installation.
Insulators use common hand tools, such as knives and scissors. They also may use a variety of power tools, such as power saws to cut insulating materials, welders to secure clamps, staple guns to fasten insulation to walls, and air compressors to spray insulation.
Insulators sometimes wrap a cover of aluminum, sheet metal, or vapor barrier (plastic sheeting) over the insulation. Doing so protects the insulation from contact damage and keeps moisture out.
Floor, ceiling, and wall insulators install insulation in attics, under floors, and behind walls in homes and other buildings. Most of these workers unroll, cut, fit, and staple batts of fiberglass insulation between wall studs and ceiling joists. Alternatively, some workers spray foam insulation with a compressor hose into the space being filled.
Mechanical insulators apply insulation to equipment, pipes, or ductwork in businesses, factories, and many other types of buildings. When insulating a steam pipe, for example, they consider the diameter, thickness, and temperature of the pipe in determining the type of insulation to be used.
Floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers, hold about 30,900 jobs. The largest employers of floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers are as follows:
|Drywall and insulation contractors||68%|
|Building equipment contractors||10|
|Nonresidential building construction||3|
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors||3|
Mechanical insulation workers hold about 28,600 jobs. The largest employers of mechanical insulation workers are as follows:
|Building equipment contractors||55%|
|Drywall and insulation contractors||17|
|Other specialty trade contractors||10|
|Painting and wall covering contractors||2|
Insulators generally work indoors in residential and commercial settings. Mechanical insulators work both indoors and outdoors. They spend most of their workday standing, bending, or kneeling in confined spaces.
Although installing insulation is not inherently dangerous, falls from ladders and cuts from knives are common hazards. In addition, small particles from insulation materials, especially when sprayed, can irritate the eyes, skin, and lungs. To protect themselves, insulators must keep the work area well-ventilated and follow product and employer safety recommendations. They also may wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including suits, masks, and respirators, which protects against hazardous fumes or materials.
Mechanical insulators may get burns from the pipes they insulate if the pipes are in service.
Although most insulators work full time, more than 40 hours a week may be required to meet construction schedules. Those who insulate outdoors may have to stop work when it rains or during very cold weather.
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Most floor, ceiling, and wall insulators learn their trade on the job. Many mechanical insulators complete an apprenticeship program after earning a high school diploma or equivalent.
There are no specific education requirements for floor, ceiling, and wall insulators. Mechanical insulators should have a high school diploma. High school courses in basic math, woodworking, mechanical drawing, algebra, and general science are considered helpful for all types of insulators.
Most floor, ceiling, and wall insulators learn their trade on the job. New workers are provided basic instruction on installation as well as mandatory Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety training on handling insulation and asbestos. Insulators who install blown or sprayed insulation will work alongside more experienced workers to learn how to operate equipment before being tasked with leading a spray installation job.
Many mechanical insulators learn their trade through a 4-year apprenticeship. Some apprenticeships may last up to 5 years. For each year of a typical program, apprentices complete at least 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training.
Unions and individual contractors offer apprenticeship programs. Although most insulators start out by entering apprenticeships directly, others begin by working as helpers. The International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers provides contact information on local union chapters.
Insulation workers who remove and handle asbestos must be trained through a program accredited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The National Insulation Association offers a certification for mechanical insulators who conduct energy appraisals to determine if and how insulation can benefit industrial customers.
Dexterity. Insulators often reach above their heads to install insulation, sometimes in confined spaces, where maneuvering can be difficult.
Math skills. Mechanical insulators need to measure the size of the equipment or pipe they are insulating to determine the amount and dimensions of insulation needed.
Mechanical skills. Insulators use a variety of hand and power tools to install insulation. Those who apply foam insulation, for example, must be able to operate and maintain an air compressor and sprayer to spread the foam onto walls or across attics.
Physical stamina. Insulators spend much of the workday standing, kneeling, and bending in uncomfortable positions.
The median annual wage for floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers is $35,660. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,380, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,520.
The median annual wage for mechanical insulation workers is $45,430. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,920, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $84,230.
The median annual wages for floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Building equipment contractors||$39,970|
|Nonresidential building construction||39,280|
|Drywall and insulation contractors||34,570|
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors||34,340|
The median annual wages for mechanical insulation workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Other specialty trade contractors||$47,720|
|Drywall and insulation contractors||46,510|
|Painting and wall covering contractors||46,460|
|Building equipment contractors||43,630|
The starting pay for apprentices is less than that of a fully trained insulator. Apprentices earn more pay as they acquire more skills.
Although most insulators work full time, sometimes they may need to work more than 40 hours a week to meet construction schedules. Those who insulate outdoors may have to stop work when it rains or during very cold weather.
Compared with workers in all occupations, insulators have a higher percentage of workers who belongeto a union.
Overall employment of insulation workers is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Growth rates, however, will vary by occupation.
Employment of mechanical insulation workers is projected to grow 10 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for mechanical insulators will be spurred by the need to make new and existing buildings more energy efficient.
Employment of floor, ceiling, and wall insulators is projected to show little or no change over the next ten years. Increases in home building and retrofitting insulation will spur employment growth over the coming decade, but the ability of other workers to install insulation will limit growth.
Floor, ceiling, and wall insulators are expected to face competition for jobs, as they often compete with other construction trade workers and there are fewer job entry requirements for these insulators. Job openings will continue to arise because the difficult working conditions cause many insulation workers in residential construction to leave the occupation each year.
Mechanical insulation workers who have completed training should have the best job opportunities. In fact, overall opportunities for mechanical insulators should be very good as new construction continues to grow, as the increased focus on maintenance and retrofitting continues, and as government and private businesses strive for more energy efficiency.
Insulation workers in the construction industry may experience periods of unemployment because of the short duration of many construction projects and the cyclical nature of construction activity. Workers employed to perform industrial plant maintenance generally have more stable employment because maintenance and repair must be done regularly.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2016||Projected Employment, 2026||Change, 2016-26|
|Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall||30,900||31,400||1||500|
|Insulation workers, mechanical||28,600||31,400||10||2,800|