Properly insulated buildings reduce energy consumption by keeping heat in during the winter and out in the summer. Refrigerated storage rooms, vats, tanks, vessels, boilers, and steam and hot-water pipes also are insulated to prevent the wasteful loss of heat. Insulation workers install the materials used to insulate buildings and equipment.
Insulation workers cement, staple, wire, tape, or spray insulation. When covering a steampipe, for example, insulation workers measure and cut sections of insulation to the proper length, stretch it open along a cut that runs the length of the material, and slip it over the pipe. They fasten the insulation with adhesive, staples, tape, or wire bands. Sometimes, they wrap a cover of aluminum, plastic, or canvas over the insulation and cement or band the cover in place. Insulation workers may screw on sheet metal around insulated pipes to protect the insulation from weather conditions or physical abuse.
When covering a wall or other flat surface, workers may use a hose to spray foam insulation onto a wire mesh that provides a rough surface to which the foam can cling and that adds strength to the finished surface. Workers may then install drywall or apply a final coat of plaster for a finished appearance.
In attics or exterior walls of uninsulated buildings, workers may blow in loose-fill insulation. A helper feeds a machine with fiberglass, cellulose, or rock-wool insulation, while another worker blows the insulation with a compressor hose into the space being filled.
In new construction or on major renovations, insulation workers staple fiberglass or rock-wool batts to exterior walls and ceilings before drywall, paneling, or plaster walls are put in place. In making major renovations to old buildings or when putting new insulation around pipes and industrial machinery, insulation workers often must first remove the old insulation. In the past, asbestosnow known to cause cancer in humanswas used extensively in walls and ceilings and to cover pipes, boilers, and various industrial equipment. Because of this danger, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations require that asbestos be removed before a building undergoes major renovations or is demolished. When asbestos is present, specially trained workers must remove the asbestos before insulation workers can install the new insulating materials. (See the statement on hazardous materials removal workers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Insulation workers use common handtoolstrowels, brushes, knives, scissors, saws, pliers, and stapling guns. They may use power saws to cut insulating materials, welding machines to join sheet metal or secure clamps, and compressors to blow or spray insulation.
Insulation workers generally work indoors in residential and industrial settings. They spend most of the workday on their feet, either standing, bending, or kneeling. They also work from ladders or in confined spaces. Their work usually requires more coordination than strength. In industrial settings insulation workers often must insulate pipes and vessels with temperatures that may cause burns. Minute particles from insulation materials, especially when blown, can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. Workers must follow strict safety guidelines to protect themselves from insulating irritants. They keep work areas well ventilated; wear protective suits, masks, and respirators; and take decontamination showers when necessary.
Most insulation workers learn their trade informally on the job, although some complete formal apprenticeship programs. For entry-level jobs, insulation contractors prefer high school graduates who are in good physical condition and licensed to drive. High school courses in blueprint reading, shop mathematics, science, sheet metal layout, woodworking, and general construction provide a helpful background. Applicants seeking apprenticeship positions should have a high school diploma or its equivalent and be at least 18 years old.
Trainees who learn on the job receive instruction and supervision from experienced insulation workers. Trainees begin with simple tasks, such as carrying insulation or holding material while it is fastened in place. On-the-job training can take up to 2 years, depending on the nature of the work. Installing insulation in homes generally requires less training than does learning to apply insulation in commercial and industrial settings. As they gain experience, trainees receive less supervision, more responsibility, and higher pay. A certification program has been developed by insulation contractor organizations to help all workers prove their skills and knowledge. Certification is currently limited to residential installation. Workers need at least six months of experience before they can complete certification. Certification in industrial settings is being developed
Trainees in formal apprenticeship programs receive indepth instruction in all phases of insulation. Apprenticeship programs may be provided by a joint committee of local insulation contractors and the local union of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, to which some insulation workers belong. Programs normally consist of 4 years of on-the-job training coupled with classroom instruction, and trainees must pass practical and written tests to demonstrate their knowledge of the trade.
Skilled insulation workers may advance to supervisor, shop superintendent, or insulation contract estimator, or they may set up their own insulation business.
Insulation workers held about 61,000 jobs in 2004. The construction industry employed 4 out of 5 workers; most worked for building finishing contractors. Small numbers of insulation workers held jobs in the Federal Government, in wholesale trade, and in shipbuilding and other manufacturing industries that have extensive installations for power, heating, and cooling. In less populated areas, carpenters, heating and air-conditioning installers or drywall installers may do insulation work.
Job opportunities are expected to be excellent for insulation workers. Because there are no strict training requirements for entry, many people with limited skills work as insulation workers for a short time and then move on to other types of work, creating many job openings. In addition, openings will arise from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.
In addition to the regular need to replace workers, some new jobs will arise as employment of insulation workers is expected to increase more slowly than average for all occupations through the year 2014. In contrast to other construction workers, insulation workers work mainly on new construction, which is expected to moderate some over the next decade. Growth also will be limited by the increased efficiency of these workers and installation techniques, such as blow-in and spray-in insulation, which allows more work to be done in a shorter time and with fewer people. Insulation also is increasingly being installed by other workers in other occupations. Some demand for insulation workers will be spurred by the continuing need for energy efficient buildings, which will generate work in existing structures as well as new construction.
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 on a continuing basis. Most insulation is applied after buildings are enclosed, so weather conditions have less effect on the employment of insulation workers than on that of some other construction occupations.
In May 2004, median hourly earnings of insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall were $14.57. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.63 and $20.20. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.53, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.35. In May 2004, median hourly earnings of insulation workers, mechanical were $16.03. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.16 and $21.15. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.82, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $28.85. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of insulation workers in May 2004 are shown in the following tabulation:
Insulation workers, mechanical
Building equipment contractors
Building finishing contractors
Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall
Building finishing contractors
Union workers tend to earn more than nonunion workers. Apprentices start at about one-half of the journey worker’s wage. Insulation workers doing commercial and industrial work earn substantially more than those working in residential construction, which does not require as much skill.
For information about training programs or other work opportunities in this trade, contact a local insulation contractor, the nearest office of the State employment service or apprenticeship agency, or one of the following organizations:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,
Insulation Workers, on the Internet at
(visited June 21, 2006).