Since pipework can operate at temperatures far removed from the ambient temperature, and the rate of heat flow from a pipe is related to the temperature differential between the pipe and the surrounding ambient air, heat flow from pipework can be considerable. In many situations, this heat flow is undesirable. The application of thermal pipe insulation introduces thermal resistance and reduces the heat flow.
Thicknesses of thermal pipe insulation used for saving energy vary, but as a general rule, pipes operating at more-extreme temperatures exhibit a greater heat flow and larger thicknesses are applied due to the greater potential savings.
The location of pipework also influences the selection of insulation thickness. For instance, in some circumstances, heating pipework within a well-insulated building might not require insulation, as the heat that's "lost" (i.e., the heat that flows from the pipe to the surrounding air) may be considered “useful” for heating the building, as such "lost" heat would be effectively trapped by the structural insulation anyway. Conversely, such pipework may be insulated to prevent overheating or unnecessary cooling in the rooms through which it passes.
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