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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 transfer of heat. Insulation workers install this insulating material.
Insulation workers cement, staple, wire, tape, or spray insulation. When covering a steam pipe, 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 it and cement or band the cover in place. Sometimes insulation workers 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. The wire mesh provides a rough surface to which the foam can cling and 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 blow in loose-fill insulation. A helper feeds a machine with shredded fiberglass, cellulose, or rock wool insulation while another worker blows the insulation from the compressor hose into the space being filled.
In new construction or major renovations, insulation workers staple fiberglass or rockwool batts to exterior walls and ceilings before drywall, paneling, or plaster walls are put in place. In major renovations of 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 for covering 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 removing asbestos, insulation workers must follow carefully prescribed asbestos removal techniques and work practices. First they seal and depressurize the area that contains the asbestos, then they remove it using hand tools and special filtered vacuum cleaners and air-filtration devices.
Insulation workers use common handtoolstrowels, brushes, knives, scissors, saws, pliers, and stapling guns. They use power saws to cut insulating materials, welding machines to join sheet metal or secure clamps, and compressors for blowing or spraying insulation.
Insulation workers generally work indoors. They spend most of the workday on their feet, either standing, bending, or kneeling. Sometimes they work from ladders or in tight spaces. However, the work is not strenuous; it requires more coordination than strength. Insulation work is often dusty and dirty. The minute particles from insulation materials, especially when blown, can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. Removing cancer-causing asbestos insulation is a hazardous task and is done by specially trained workers. To protect themselves from the dangers of asbestos and irritants, workers follow strict safety guidelines, wear protective suits, masks, and respirators, take decontamination showers, and keep work areas well ventilated.
Insulation workers held about 64,0000 jobs in 1994; most worked for insulation or other construction contractors. Others worked for the Federal Government, in wholesale and retail trade, in shipbuilding, and in other manufacturing industries that have extensive installations for power, heating, and cooling. Most worked in urban areas. In less populated areas, insulation work may be done by carpenters, heating and air-conditioning installers, or drywall installers.
Most insulation workers learn their trade informally on the job, although some workers complete formal apprenticeship programs. For entry jobs, insulation contractors prefer high school graduates who are in good physical condition and are licensed to drive. High school courses in blueprint reading, shop math, sheet-metal layout, and general construction provide a helpful background. Applicants seeking apprenticeship positions must have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and be at least 18 years old.
Trainees are assigned to experienced insulation workers for instruction and supervision. They 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 work. Learning to install insulation in homes generally requires less training than insulation application in commercial and industrial settings. As they gain experience, trainees receive less supervision, more responsibility, and higher pay.
In contrast, trainees in formal apprenticeship programs receive in-depth 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 many 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 a knowledge of the trade.
Insulation workers who work with asbestos usually have to be licensed. Although licensure requirements vary from area to area, most States require asbestos removal workers to complete a 3-day training program in compliance with the 1986 Asbestos Hazard Emergency Act (AHERA). The National Asbestos Council (NAC) provides this training in over 100 locations. This program emphasizes "hands-on" training. Typically, students build a decontamination unit, handle a respirator and filtered vacuum cleaners, and perform simulated asbestos removal. In addition, they receive classroom instruction on a wide variety of topics, such as government regulations, health effects and worker protection, sampling for asbestos, and work practices. NAC also offers a 2-day course on compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations governing industrial asbestos removal in plants and factories, and an annual AHERA recertification program.
Skilled insulation workers may advance to supervisor, shop superintendent, insulation contract estimator, or set up their own insulation or asbestos abatement business.
Employment of insulation workers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005, reflecting the demand for insulation associated with new construction and renovation as well as the demand for asbestos removal in existing structures. Concerns about the efficient use of energy to heat and cool buildings will result in growth in demand for insulation workers in the construction of new residential, industrial, and commercial buildings. In addition, renovation and efforts to improve insulation in existing structures also will increase demand.
Asbestos removal also will provide many jobs for insulation workers, not only because insulation workers often remove asbestos, but because they replace it with another insulating material. The 1986 Asbestos Hazard Emergency Act requires that all public and private schools have an asbestos management plan. Federal regulations also require that asbestos be removed from buildings that are to be demolished or undergo major renovations. In addition, many banks require that buildings be free of asbestos before a real estate loan will be granted. All these regulatory requirements are expected to stimulate asbestos removal and employment growth. The need to maintain, remove, and replace asbestos insulation on old pipes, boilers, and a variety of equipment in chemical and refrigeration plants and petroleum refineries will also add to employment requirements.
Despite this growth in demand, replacement needs will account for most job openings. This occupation has the highest turnover of all the construction trades. Each year thousands of jobs will become available as insulation workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Since 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.
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 in industrial plants generally have more stable employment because maintenance and repair must be done on a continuing basis. Unlike other construction occupations, insulation workers usually do not lose work time when weather conditions are poor. Most insulation is applied after buildings are enclosed.
Median weekly earnings for insulation workers who worked full time were $485 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $337 and $653. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $276, and the top 10 percent earned more than $819.
According to the Engineering News Record, union insulation workers received an average hourly wage of $30.20 in 1994, including benefits. Wages ranged from a low of $20.38 an hour in New Orleans to a high of $46.67 in New York City. Insulation workers doing commercial and industrial work earn substantially more than those working in residential construction, which does not require as much skill.
Insulation workers combine a knowledge of insulation materials with the skills of cutting, fitting, and installing materials. Workers in occupations involving similar skills include carpenters, carpet installers, drywall applicators, floor layers, roofers, and sheet-metal workers.
For information about training programs or other work opportunities in this trade, contact a local insulation contractor; a local of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers; the nearest office of the State employment service or State apprenticeship agency, or:
National Insulation and Abatement Contractors Association, 99 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 222, Alexandria, VA 22314.
Insulation Contractors Association of America, 1321 Duke St., Suite 303, Alexandria, VA 22314.
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