Insulation Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Insulation Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Insulation workers install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings and their mechanical systems to help control and maintain the temperatures in buildings. These workers are often referred to as insulators.

Duties of Insulation Workers

Insulation workers typically do the following:

  • Remove old insulation and dispose of it properly
  • Read blueprints and specifications to determine the requirements of the job
  • Determine the amount and type of insulation needed
  • Measure and cut insulation to fit into walls and around pipes
  • Fasten insulation in place with staples, tape, or screws
  • Use compressors to spray insulation into some spaces
  • Install plastic barriers to protect insulation from moisture
  • Follow safety guidelines

Properly insulated buildings save energy by keeping heat in during the winter and out in the summer. Insulated vats, vessels, boilers, steampipes, and hot-water pipes also prevent the wasteful loss of heat or cold and prevent burns. In addition, insulation helps reduce noise that passes through walls and ceilings.

When renovating old buildings, insulators often must remove the old insulation. 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.

Insulation workers use common hand tools, such as knives and scissors. They also may use a variety of power tools, including power saws to cut insulating materials, welders to secure clamps, and staple guns to fasten insulation to walls. Some insulators use compressors to spray insulation.

Workers 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. Some workers, however, 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 steampipe, for example, they consider the temperature, thickness, and diameter of the pipe in determining the type of insulation to be used.

Work Environment for Insulation Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Insulators hold about 55,600 jobs. Employment is split about evenly between mechanical insulators and floor, ceiling, and wall insulators.

The majority of floor, ceiling, and wall insulators are employed in the drywall and insulation contractors industry.

About 55 percent of mechanical insulators are employed in the building equipment contractors industry. Another 20 percent are employed in the drywall and insulation contractors industry.

Insulation workers 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.

Injuries and Illnesses

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 may also 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.

Insulation Worker Work Schedules

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.

How to Become an Insulation Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Insulation Workers near you!

Most floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers learn their trade on the job since no formal education is typically required. Most mechanical insulation workers complete an apprenticeship program after earning a high school diploma or equivalent.

Insulation Worker Education

There are no specific education requirements for floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers. Mechanical insulation workers should have a high school diploma. High school courses in basic math, woodworking, mechanical drawing, algebra, and general science are considered helpful for all insulation workers.

Insulation Worker Training

Most floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers learn their trade on the job. New workers are provided basic instruction on installation and begin to place insulation immediately. 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.

Most mechanical insulation workers learn their trade through a 4-year apprenticeship. Some apprenticeships may last up to 5 years, depending on the program. For each year of a typical program, apprentices must have at least 1,700 to 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training and a minimum of 144 hours of related technical instruction. Technical instruction includes learning about installation techniques as well as basic mathematics, how to read and draw blueprints, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.

Unions and individual contractors offer apprenticeship programs. Although most new workers start out by entering apprenticeships directly, others begin by working as helpers. Some apprenticeship programs have preferred entry for veterans. The basic qualifications required for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Being 18 years old
  • Being physically able to do the work

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Insulation workers who remove and handle asbestos must be trained through a program accredited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Insulation contractor organizations offer voluntary certification to help workers prove their skills and knowledge of residential and industrial insulation.

The National Insulation Association also offers a certification for mechanical insulators who conduct energy appraisals to determine if and how insulation can benefit industrial customers.

Important Qualities for Insulation Workers

Dexterity. Insulation workers must be able to work in confined spaces while maintaining coordination and control of tools and materials. Also, insulators often must reach above their heads to fit and fasten insulation into place.

Math Skills. Mechanical insulators need to measure the size of the equipment or pipe they are insulating. This is especially important when insulation is formed off site so that additional cuts are unnecessary.

Mechanical skills. Insulation workers 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 a compressor and sprayer to spread the foam onto walls or across attics.

Physical stamina. Insulators may spend up to 12 hours a day standing, reaching, and bending. Workers should be able to stay physically active without getting tired.

Insulation Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers is $35,040. 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 $23,140, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,980.

The median annual wage for mechanicalinsulation workers is $43,610. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,640, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $83,710.

The starting pay for apprentices is usually near 50 percent of what fully trained insulators make. As apprentices learn to do more, they receive pay increases.

In some areas, workers receive a per diem to offset travel costs.

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.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, insulation workers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Insulation Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of insulation workers is projected to grow 13 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth rates, however, will vary by occupation.

Employment of mechanical insulation workers is projected to grow 19 percent over the next ten years, much 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. In the past, mechanical insulation had been reduced or cut from building plans as a cost-saving method, but energy analyses show that improved insulation provides a greater return on investment. The anticipated construction of new power plants, which are big users of insulated pipes and equipment, also should result in greater employment demand. In addition, jobs are being created that are related to the extraction and transportation of oil and natural gas.

Employment of floor, ceiling, and wall insulators is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Increases in home building will spur employment growth over the coming decade. In addition, insulation will continue to be added into existing buildings to save energy.

Insulation Workers Job Prospects

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. Workers with military service experience are viewed favorably during initial hiring.

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.

Employment projections data for Insulation Workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Insulation workers 55,600 63,000 13 7,400
  Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall 25,600 27,100 6 1,500
  Insulation workers, mechanical 30,100 35,900 19 5,800

*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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