Thermal Insulation Engineer

The Job and What's Involved

Thermal insulation engineers, also known as pipework laggers, play a vital part in energy conservation. As engineers, they specialise in insulating hot pipes, boilers and vessels to keep heat in or, in refrigeration and air conditioning installations, to keep heat out.

Thermal insulation engineers may fit insulation materials on commercial sites, such as offices, factories, hospitals and schools, or on large-scale industrial projects, including petrochemical works, power stations, oil refineries and ships.

In the construction industry, they may be known as building insulators.

Tasks and duties can include a combination of the following:

  • Referring to building plans and layouts to determine where insulation materials need to be fitted.
  • Choosing the most appropriate materials and calculating the volumes required.
  • Outlining specific recommendations to clients and explaining how these solutions might better conserve energy.
  • Preparing and cleaning the surfaces to be insulated.
  • Measuring and cutting insulation materials to size and shape.
  • Installing insulation materials, using clips, adhesives and tapes to fit them into place.
  • Sealing or boxing in the insulated area with sheet metal or another strong material to protect it from the weather or mechanical damage.
  • Maintaining and repairing existing insulation.

There are many different insulation materials, all with different applications and finishes. A thermal insulation engineer needs an excellent knowledge of the suitability of these products for different requirements.

Thermal insulation engineers usually work around 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Overtime may be available and occasionally weekend and evening work may be required to meet a deadline or respond to an emergency. The work may involve early starts.

Some of the work takes place in small, enclosed spaces such as under floors or in engine rooms, so engineers could be exposed to extreme hot or cold temperatures or awkward and uncomfortable conditions. A thermal insulation engineer must be comfortable working at heights. This work would not suit anyone who suffers from claustrophobia or has respiratory problems.

Work takes place in a variety of locations and travelling is usually necessary. This could involve spending nights away from home, sometimes weeks at a time.

They may be exposed to hazardous substances. Thermal insulation engineers need to wear personal protective equipment, including safety hats, boots and suitable protective clothing.

An apprentice thermal insulation engineer may earn between £9,000 and £15,000, depending on their stage of training, qualifications and experience. In their third year of training, they may earn around £20,000 a year, potentially rising to £23,500 when newly qualified. Senior thermal insulation engineers might earn up to £30,000 a year or more.

Employers will usually offer additional overtime payments and travel expenses to engineers visiting different sites.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

All new buildings require insulation, and the focus on environmental conservation within the construction industry today is leading to increased opportunities for thermal insulation engineers. Many thermal insulation engineers are employed in the construction industry, often by specialist subcontractors. Specialist insulation subcontractors may also work in other areas of industry, including petrochemical plants, power stations, oil refineries, shipping firms, paper mills and chemical plants.

Approximately 7,000 people are employed as thermal insulation engineers throughout England. Jobs are available nationwide wherever construction projects are carried out. There is currently a demand for skilled workers. Each year the Insulation and Environmental Training Agency (IETA) offers up to 110 Apprenticeship places for their three-year training programme.

Jobs may also appear in local newspapers, Connexions centres and Jobcentre Plus offices and in specialist publications such as Construction News and Contract Journal. It is possible to approach companies direct to enquire about training opportunities. The Thermal Insulation Contractors Association (TICA) advertises jobs and publishes a list of member companies on its website.

Education and Training

There are no set entry qualifications. The most direct route into this career is via the IETA Apprenticeship in thermal insulation. Application is possible from the age of 16.

Ideally, apprentices need four GCSE's (A*-C), including English, maths and a science, although applicants without these qualifications will be considered. Personal qualities, such as being hardworking and reliable are often regarded as more important. Applicants will usually be assessed for their ability to work at heights. Medical screening tests may also be conducted.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

The Diplomas in construction and the built environment or in engineering may provide a good introduction to this career.

Some employers also accept trainees, usually over 18. Previous experience of a related profession, such as air conditioning, might be helpful to people taking this route.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

The three-year thermal insulation Apprenticeship involves working on site for the majority of the time. During the first two years, apprentices attend the TICA training centre in Darlington in two-week blocks approximately four times a year. They will work on site for the entire third year, applying their knowledge to practical aspects of the work, and gaining qualifications such as:

- NVQ Level 2 in thermal insulation
- Level 2 Certificate in thermal insulation
- Functional skills in English, maths and optional ICT
- Employer's rights and responsibilities

The NVQ qualification includes units in:

  • Erecting and dismantling general access equipment.
  • Applying insulation materials to cylindrical and flat surfaces.
  • Fabricating and fitting sheet metal insulation protection.
  • Conforming to general workplace safety and efficient work practices.
  • Moving and handling materials and resources.

To prove they are competent to work on construction sites, thermal insulation engineers also need to qualify for the appropriate ConstructionSkills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card, either Red, Experienced Worker, or Blue depending on their area of work, qualifications and experience. To qualify, they must pass the Operative Health and Safety Test.

Insulation engineers working on engineering construction sites may need to pass the CCNSG Safety Passport to cover clients' health and safety requirements.

The Asbestos Control and Abatement Division (ACAD) of IETA also offers a range of short training courses for engineers working with asbestos.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Thermal insulation engineers should be:

  • Practical, with good manual skills.
  • Knowledgeable about different insulation materials and their applications.
  • Able to solve problems logically.
  • Have good numerical skills for measuring and calculating quantities of materials.
  • Co-operative team workers.
  • Comfortable working in confined spaces and at heights.
  • Aware of safe working practices.
  • Reasonably fit with no respiratory problems.
  • Reliable and flexible in their approach to work.

Your Long Term Prospects

With further qualifications and experience, there are opportunities for promotion to technical, site supervisory or managerial roles, including risk management and safety assessment.

The skills acquired in thermal insulation are equally transferable into related jobs, for instance heating and ventilation engineering or air conditioning and refrigeration.

Self-employment and working overseas are possible too.

Get Further Information

ConstructionSkills
Tel: 0844 844 0046
Websites: www.cskills.org
and www.bconstructive.co.uk

ConstructionSkills Certification Scheme (CSCS)
Tel: 0844 576 8777
Website: www.cscs.uk.com

Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB),
Blue Court, Church Lane,
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire WD4 8JP
Tel: 01923 260000
Website: www.ecitb.org.uk

Insulation and Environmental
Training Agency (IETA)
Website: www.ieta.org

Thermal Insulation Contractors Association (TICA),
TICA House, Allington Way, Yarm Road Business Park,
Darlington, County Durham DL1 4QB
Tel: 01325 466704
Website: www.tica-acad.co.uk

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