Insulation Workers


Quick Facts: Insulation Workers
2017 Median Pay $39,930 per year 
$19.20 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education  
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training  
Number of Jobs, 2016 59,500
Job Outlook, 2016-26 5% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 3,200

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Insulation Workers Career, Salary and Education Information

What Insulation Workers Do

Insulation workers, also called insulators, install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings and their mechanical systems.

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insulation workers

Duties of Insulators

Insulators typically do the following:

  • Remove and dispose of old insulation

  • Review blueprints and specifications to determine the amount and type of insulation needed

  • Measure and cut insulation to fit into walls and around pipes

  • Secure insulation with staples, tape, or screws

  • Use air compressors to spray foam insulation

  • Install plastic barriers to protect insulation from moisture

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.


Work Environment for Insulation Workers

Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall held about 30,900 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall were as follows:

Drywall and insulation contractors: 68%

Building equipment contractors: 10%

Self-employed workers: 5%

Nonresidential building construction: 3%

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors: 3%

 

Insulation workers, mechanical held about 28,600 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of insulation workers, mechanical were as follows:

Building equipment contractors: 55%

Drywall and insulation contractors: 17%

Other specialty trade contractors: 10%

Self-employed workers: 5%

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.

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 also may wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including suits, masks, and respirators, which protects against hazardous fumes or materials.

Work Schedules for insulation workers

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

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.

Education

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.

Training

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.

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.

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

Important Qualities

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.


salaries for Insulation Workers 

The median annual wage for insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall was $37,050 in May 2017. 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 $24,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,730.

The median annual wage for insulation workers, mechanical was $45,550 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $83,610.

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nonresidential building construction: $47,800

Building equipment contractors: $43,790

Drywall and insulation contractors: $35,780

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors: $33,720

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for insulation workers, mechanical in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Other specialty trade contractors: $48,950

Building equipment contractors: $44,290

Drywall and insulation contractors: $41,420

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.


Job Outlook for insulation workers

Overall employment of insulation workers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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 from 2016 to 2026, 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 from 2016 to 2026. 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.

Job Prospects for insulation workers

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.

Employment projections data for Insulation Workers, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 59,500

Projected Employment, 2026: 62,700

Change, 2016-2026: +5%, +3,200


Careers Related to insulation workers

Boilermakers

Boilermakers assemble, install, maintain, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

Carpenters

Carpenters construct, repair, and install building frameworks and structures made from wood and other materials.

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers, and Tapers

Drywall and ceiling tile installers hang wallboard and install ceiling tile inside buildings. Tapers prepare the wallboard for painting, using tape and other materials. Many workers both install and tape wallboard.

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers identify and dispose of asbestos, lead, radioactive waste, and other hazardous materials. They also neutralize and clean up materials that are flammable, corrosive, or toxic.

Masonry Workers

Masonry workers, also known as masons, use bricks, concrete blocks, concrete, and natural and manmade stones to build walls, walkways, fences, and other masonry structures.

Roofers

Roofers replace, repair, and install the roofs of buildings, using a variety of materials, including shingles, bitumen, and metal.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
CarpentersHigh school diploma or equivalent$45,170
Construction Laborers and Helpers$33,450
Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers, and TapersNo formal educational credential$43,970
RoofersNo formal educational credential$38,970
BoilermakersHigh school diploma or equivalent$62,260
Hazardous Materials Removal WorkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$41,400
Masonry Workers$42,900

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Insulation Workers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/insulation-workers.htm