Insulation Workers


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

Duties

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.

Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall held about 33,300 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall were as follows:

Drywall and insulation contractors 67%
Building equipment contractors 12
Nonresidential building construction 2
Self-employed workers 2
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 1

Insulation workers, mechanical held about 25,400 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of insulation workers, mechanical were as follows:

Building equipment contractors 57%
Drywall and insulation contractors 18
Other specialty trade contractors 8
Self-employed workers 2

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.

Mechanical insulators may get burns from the pipes they insulate if the pipes are in service.

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.

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.

The median annual wage for insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall was $38,480 in May 2018.

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 $25,050, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,050.

The median annual wage for insulation workers, mechanical was $47,740 in May 2018.

The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,380, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $88,770.

In May 2018, 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 $44,860
Building equipment contractors 43,020
Drywall and insulation contractors 37,120
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 34,990

In May 2018, the median annual wages for insulation workers, mechanical in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Other specialty trade contractors $54,010
Building equipment contractors 46,520
Drywall and insulation contractors 45,240

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.

Union Membership

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

Insulation Workers

Median annual wages, May 2018

Insulation workers, mechanical

$47,740

Construction trades workers

$44,810

Insulation workers

$41,910

Total, all occupations

$38,640

Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall

$38,480

 

Overall employment of insulation workers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Growth rates, however, will vary by occupation. Demand for mechanical insulation workers will be spurred by the need to make new and existing buildings more energy efficient.

Increases in home building and retrofitting insulation will spur employment growth for floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers over the coming decade, but the ability of other workers to install insulation will limit growth.

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.

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, 2018-28
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Insulation workers

47-2130 58,600 61,800 5 3,100 Get data

Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall

47-2131 33,300 34,200 3 900 Get data

Insulation workers, mechanical

47-2132 25,400 27,600 9 2,200 Get data

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of insulation workers.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2018

Carpenters

Carpenters

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

High school diploma or equivalent $46,590

Construction laborers and helpers

Construction Laborers and Helpers

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

See How to Become One $34,810

Drywall and ceiling tile installers, and tapers

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.

No formal educational credential $45,180

Roofers

Roofers replace, repair, and install the roofs of buildings.

No formal educational credential $39,970

Boilermakers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $62,150

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Hazardous materials removal workers identify and dispose of asbestos, lead, radioactive waste, and other hazardous materials.

High school diploma or equivalent $42,030

Masonry Workers

Masonry workers use bricks, concrete blocks, concrete, and natural and manmade stones to build masonry structures.

See How to Become One $44,810

For details about apprenticeships or other opportunities for insulators, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local insulation contractors, or firms that employ insulators. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627.

For more information about apprenticeship or training for insulators, visit

National Insulation Association

NCCER

International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

O*NET

Insulation Workers, Floor, Ceiling, and Wall

Insulation Workers, Mechanical


Suggested 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 (visited ).


 

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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