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1.6 Summary of Key Codes and Standards

The information in this guide does not replace or change codes such as the BC Building Code, national codes or municipal codes and other regulations. Rather, this guide is designed to complement existing codes and minimum requirements. The summaries below provide a commentary on BC Building Code issues and other standards and are intended to assist practitioners understand the purpose and role of each. Practitioners are still responsible to identify, understand and implement all applicable codes and regulations within their particular jurisdiction.

The first three codes and standards listed in this section represent the “core” standards that address mechanical insulation requirements and practices for most types of projects in BC that are the focus of this guide. Note, however, that additional codes and standards may apply to any given project, and these may or may not be listed.

BC Building Code

The Building Code requires that designers and builders conform to the principles of good engineering practice. This extends to optimizing energy efficiency and cost considerations. However, the main focus of the Code is on life safety issues and on issues relating to preserving the condition of buildings. The BC Building Code (2006) references other standards (including the ASHRAE Handbooks and Standards, and other sources) [2] and provides some direct guidance for designers of mechanical insulation systems. These other standards provide detailed information about materials choices, insulation thicknesses as well as installation practices.

Designers and installers should keep in the mind the overall objectives of the BC Building Code [3]. Briefly, these include the following:

  • Limit the probability that a person will be exposed to an unacceptable risk of injury. This applies to both temperature related issues and to physical protection of individuals from hard surfaces for mechanical insulating systems.
  • Limit the probability that a person will be exposed to an unacceptable risk of injury due to fire. This applies to the flame spread ratings and smoke developed classifications for insulating materials.
  • Limit the probably of deterioration of the building elements. This includes corrosion to pipes and ducts, and damage to insulating materials due to temperature, moisture, mildew, etc.
  • Limit the probably of exposure to hazardous substances (such as asbestos).
  • Limit the probably of exposure to an unacceptable risk of illness due to noise or vibration.

The Code requires that insulation materials for air ducts [4] be of either non-combustible construction or have a limited flame spread rating and smoke developed classification. The Code expressly forbids the use of foamed plastic insulation on and in interior and exterior air ducts. And, the Code does not allow combustible duct coverings to pass through rated fire separations.

The same basic requirements apply to insulation and coverings on pipes. [5] The flame spread ratings and smoke developed classifications are actually higher for pipes than for ducts in some piping applications.

Designers and installers need to be aware of the classification of the building and the physical location of the pipe or duct in making their selection for insulating materials. The building construction (i.e., combustible vs. non-combustible) and duct or pipe location (i.e., concealed or non concealed) does demand different insulating materials.

The Building Code also identifies life safety issues in its requirements for piping systems. [6] There are no equivalent statements for ducted systems, but the general Code requirement is to not expose a person to unacceptable risk of injury. [7]

Finally, the Building Code gives a limited amount of direct guidance for designers in their selection of materials. The Code requires that insulation and coverings will withstand deterioration from a variety of mechanisms that would occur through normal use. [8]
The key reminders for designers and installers include:

  • Have a clear understanding of Code requirements and their application including classification of the building structure. It is good engineering practice for designers to include a Code summary on their contract documents.
  • Review the location of insulating systems to understand how the Code requirements may apply. This would include flame spread ratings and smoke developed classifications as well issues such as moisture, mildew, etc.
  • Provide adequate clearance for proper insulation thickness.

Other Codes and Standards are outlined in the following sections. This is an illustrative, not exhaustive sample.


American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standards

As of September 2008, ASHRAE 90.1 (2004) is referenced by the BC Building Code for residential buildings of 5+ stories, or non-residential buildings of 4+ stories or greater than 600 square metres in area. Note that the City of Vancouver has its own Building Bylaw that includes energy performance requirements and also references ASHRAE 90.1. ASHRAE 90.1 versions referenced in both the BC and Vancouver codes are expected to change as new codes and bylaws are issued.

ASHRAE Standard 90.1 specifies thicknesses for mechanical insulation on pipes and ducts, and specifies thermal conductivity ranges for different piping and duct applications[9].

The reader is referred to the ASHRAE website, Standards and Handbooks for more comprehensive information on recommended insulation practices.

ASHRAE 90.1 provides some cursory guidance on design objectives, noting that mechanical insulation should be protected from the elements and cites means of doing so[10]. However, this instruction alone is not sufficient to ensure energy efficiency, or other objectives such as durability. ASHRAE 90.1 also specifies that “[Mechanical] Insulation … shall be installed in accordance with industry-accepted standards”[11]. It refers readers to Appendix E in the Midwest Insulation Contractors Association’s Commercial and Industrial Insulation Standards Manual.

A new standard, ASHRAE 189.1-2010, includes minimum insulation thickness for mechanical insulation on pipes and ducts. This standard defines the minimum requirements for high-performance green buildings.


BC Insulation Contractors Association, “Quality Standards for Mechanical Insulation (Commercial and Institutional Buildings)”

This document developed for practitioners in British Columbia provides material quality standards and workmanship requisite to the design, specifying and installation of systems for mechanical insulation, fire stopping and smoke seals, and asbestos removal. It is widely used across the province.

Other Supporting Standards, Guides and Resources

.1 Thermal Insulation Association of Canada (TIAC) “Mechanical Insulation Best Practices Guide”

This guide provides detailed design information, including installation details, for industrial and commercial systems requiring mechanical insulation. TIAC is the national industry association for contractors, distributors and manufacturers of commercial, industrial and institutional thermal insulation, asbestos abatement and fire stopping.

.2 Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) “Mechanical Insulation Design Guide”

The USA-based WBDG is a web-based portal providing government and industry practitioners with one-stop access to up-to-date information on a wide range of building-related guidance, criteria and technology from a ‘whole buildings’ perspective. The Mechanical Insulation Design Guide is design focused, and includes design objectives, data and guidance on writing specifications, and economic performance analysis.

.3 North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) 

NAIMA is the association for North American manufacturers of fibre glass, rock wool, and slag wool insulation products, and provides various resources on materials, installation practices, thermal performance, economic evaluations, and health and safety issues.

.4 Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) “Fibrous Glass Duct Construction Standards”

The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association provides a standard for the installation of fibreglass duct insulation.

.5 Process Industry Practices

The Process Industry Practices organization provides detailed information on the use and installation of mechanical insulation for process piping applications. The guidelines or specifications can be purchased from their web site. For these specific applications, we encourage the reader to familiarize themselves with this material.