Job opportunities in the occupation are expected to be excellent.
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, asbestos—now known to cause cancer in humans—was
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.
Insulation workers use common handtools—trowels, 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
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
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
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
|Insulation workers, mechanical
| Building equipment contractors
| Building finishing contractors
|Insulation workers, floor, ceiling,
| 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.
Insulation workers combine their knowledge of insulation
materials with the skills of cutting, fitting, and installing
materials. Workers in occupations involving similar skills
include carpenters; carpet, floor, and tile installers and
finishers; drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and
tapers; roofers; and sheet metal workers.
|Sources of Additional Information
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:
- National Insulation Association, 99 Canal Center Plaza,
Suite 222, Alexandria, VA 22314. Internet: http://www.insulation.org/
- Insulation Contractors Association of America, 1321 Duke
St., Suite 303, Alexandria, VA 22314. Internet: http://www.insulate.org/
of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook,