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What Insulation Workers Do About this section

Insulation workers
Mechanical insulators install preformed insulation.

Insulation workers, also called insulators, install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings or 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

Insulators install and replace the material that saves energy and helps reduce noise in buildings and around vats, vessels, boilers, steam pipes, and water pipes. Insulators also install fire-stopping materials to prevent the spread of a fire and smoke throughout a building.

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 the health risks associated with handling asbestos, hazardous materials removal workers or specially trained insulators must remove asbestos before workers begin installing new insulation.

Insulators use common handtools, such as knives, trowels, and scissors. They also may use a variety of power tools, such as 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 plastic 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. To fill the space between wall studs and ceiling joists, workers either unroll, cut, fit, and staple batts of insulation or spray foam insulation.

Mechanical insulators apply insulation to equipment, pipes, or ductwork in many types of buildings.

Work Environment About this section

Insulation workers
Mechanical insulators often work in large industrial buildings.

Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall held about 34,000 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall were as follows:

Drywall and insulation contractors 67%
Building equipment contractors 11
Nonresidential building construction 2
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 1
Self-employed workers 1

Insulation workers, mechanical held about 27,300 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of insulation workers, mechanical were as follows:

Building equipment contractors 62%
Drywall and insulation contractors 18
Other specialty trade contractors 4
Self-employed workers 1

Insulators generally work indoors. Mechanical insulators work both indoors and outdoors, sometimes in extreme temperatures. They spend most of their workday standing, bending, or kneeling in confined spaces. Insulators may work at great heights on scaffolding, work platforms, or ladders. 

Injuries and Illnesses

Common hazards for insulation workers include falls from ladders and cuts from knives. In addition, small particles from insulation materials 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, to protect against hazardous fumes or materials.

Mechanical insulators may get burns from insulating pipes that are in service.

Work Schedules

Most insulators work full time, and more than 40 hours a week may be required to meet construction deadlines. Those who insulate outdoors may not be able to work in bad weather, such as during a storm or in extreme heat or cold.

How to Become an Insulation Worker About this section

Insulation workers
Many insulators are trained on the job.

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. Apprenticeships for mechanical insulators typically require a high school diploma or equivalent. High school courses in subjects such as math, mechanical drawing, and science are helpful for all types of insulators.

Training

Most floor, ceiling, and wall insulators learn their trade on the job. New workers learn about installation and get mandatory Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety training on insulation handling and asbestos abatement. Beginning insulators work alongside more experienced ones to learn how to use equipment for installing spray insulation.

Many mechanical insulators learn their trade through a 4- to 5-year apprenticeship, which includes both technical instruction and paid on-the-job training.

Unions and individual contractors offer apprenticeships. 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, an affiliate of the North American Building Trades Union, provides contact information on local union chapters.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Insulation workers who remove and handle asbestos must be trained through programs accredited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Some states require a license for asbestos abatement. Check with your state for more information. Mechanical insulators who complete an apprenticeship through the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers may receive this license as part of their apprenticeship. 

The National Insulation Association offers a certification for mechanical insulators who conduct energy appraisals to determine if and how insulation can benefit industrial customers. Mechanical insulators also may receive certification in other job duties, such as fire stopping

Advancement

After completing an apprenticeship, mechanical insulators reach journey-level status. After becoming journey workers, mechanical insulators may advance to supervisor or superintendent positions, or they may choose to start their own business offering mechanical insulation services.    

Important Qualities

Ability to work at heights. Insulators may be required to work high on ladders or scaffolds to install or remove insulation. 

Dexterity. To install insulation, insulators often must reach overhead, sometimes while confined in spaces where maneuvering is difficult.

Math skills. Insulators need to measure the equipment or areas they are insulating and to calculate the amount and dimensions of insulation needed.

Mechanical skills. Insulators must be adept at using a variety of handtools and power tools to install insulation.

Physical stamina. Insulators spend much of the workday standing, kneeling, and bending in uncomfortable positions.

Physical strength. Insulators may be required to lift or carry up to 50 pounds of tools or materials. 

Pay About this section

Insulation Workers

Median annual wages, May 2020

Insulation workers, mechanical

$50,030

Construction trades workers

$47,480

Insulation workers

$45,820

Total, all occupations

$41,950

Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall

$41,690

 

The median annual wage for insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall was $41,690 in May 2020. 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 $26,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $74,540.

The median annual wage for insulation workers, mechanical was $50,030 in May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,830, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,120.

In May 2020, 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 $49,710
Building equipment contractors 45,660
Drywall and insulation contractors 40,640
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 36,580

In May 2020, the median annual wages for insulation workers, mechanical in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Other specialty trade contractors $67,200
Drywall and insulation contractors 50,500
Building equipment contractors 48,410

The starting pay for apprentices is less than that of a fully trained insulator. Apprentices earn more pay as they acquire skills.

Most insulators work full time, and they sometimes need to work more than 40 hours a week to meet construction deadlines. Those who insulate outdoors may not be able to work in bad weather, such as during a storm or in extreme heat or cold.

Job Outlook About this section

Insulation Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Insulation workers, mechanical

5%

Total, all occupations

4%

Construction trades workers

3%

Insulation workers

3%

Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall

2%

 

Overall employment of insulation workers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. However, growth rates will vary by occupation.

The need to make new and existing buildings and systems more energy efficient will drive the demand for mechanical insulation workers.

The amount of home building and retrofitting of insulation is linked to the employment of floor, ceiling, and wall insulation workers over the coming decade.

The precutting and preforming of insulation has made all insulation workers more productive, and therefore may limit the potential for employment growth in this occupation.

Job Prospects

About 6,000 openings for insulation workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Floor, ceiling, and wall insulators face competition for jobs because of the occupation’s relatively few entry requirements.

Mechanical insulation workers who have completed training should have the best opportunities.

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, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Insulation workers

47-2130 61,300 63,100 3 1,800 Get data

Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall

47-2131 34,000 34,500 2 600 Get data

Insulation workers, mechanical

47-2132 27,300 28,600 5 1,200 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

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. Visit Apprenticeship.gov to search for apprenticeship opportunities.

For more information about apprenticeship or training for insulators, visit

National Insulation Association

NCCER

International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers

North American Building Trades Union

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

O*NET

Insulation Workers, Floor, Ceiling, and Wall

Insulation Workers, Mechanical

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