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Difference in meaning in “insulation” vs. “isolation”?

What is the difference in meaning between isolated and insulated?

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    You might want to supply some context, Anixx. It sounds like a quick look at a dictionary would help, unless you had something more to offer as to why you are contrasting the two words. – JeffSahol Apr 24 '12 at 18:03
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    Context: are you talking about a person's relationships, or about physical or electrical properties of materials or devices? Both words have meanings in these contexts. – JeffSahol Apr 24 '12 at 18:11
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    Alibaba might not be the best place to use as an english reference, due to the majority of suppliers there being from China? You'll find a lot of things there with slightly odd (to me, as an english speaker) phrasings but that make sorta sense if I think about it for a bit. – tanantish Apr 25 '12 at 0:35
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    The insul... adjective meaning isolated is insular, not insulated. – Peter Shor Apr 25 '12 at 3:34

When you are isolated you are far away from other people or things (depending on the context). There are isolated areas, i.e. remote ones. There are also people who feel isolated among others because there is lack of communication.

When you are insulated from something you are protected from it. It can be literal and metaphorical. For example, you insulate your home to save energy (literal) using some protective material in the walls and roof. You can also be insulated from poverty when you have a steady income.

EDIT upon comment: After taking a look at the results you mention in your comments, I can say that when something is isolated, i.e. separated from heat by means of a material that leaves the item unaffected by heat, the result is that there is insulation, i.e. protection from heat. I would use insulation in this context, as it is a more usual term.

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  • +1 I was going to say, "If something is isolated from something, it has been removed from that something's presence. If it is insulated from something, it has been protected from that something, but not removed from its presence," until you posted this in the midst of writing. – zpletan Apr 24 '12 at 18:26
  • What is about a US patent on heat isolation element? freepatentsonline.com/7109413.html – Anixx Apr 24 '12 at 18:28
  • @zpletan: A similar thing has happened to me numerous times. Thanks for upvoting. – Irene Apr 24 '12 at 18:29

The difference is kinda subtle, as they both relate to the concept of preventing one thing from interacting with another thing but in my head the difference is that:

isolated: a statement that two things can't interact (for whatever reason)

insulated: implies that something has been done to alter the the thing being insulated

I'd suspect this ties in with @irene's answer, where isolated is a bit more passive (you're just away from things, which just happens to protect you) and insulated is a bit more active (in that you've had something done to protect you)

In the case of physical materials in a building/engineering/manufacturing context you almost always want to be talking about something that's been done to make the material different from what it would be normally (otherwise, it's kind of not something you'd be talking about), and so I'd probably suggest going with insulated to sound more natural - of course, if you're wondering what term to use when searching for materials, you might have to use both..

An additional nuance (again, in my head) is that its more natural to say that something is insulated with XYZ, and leave unspoken what it's insulated from (e.g.: the cable is insulated with plastic), but when you're talking isolation, it's more natural to say what you're isolating it from, but not need to say how (e.g.: the cable is electrically isolated).

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  • Insulation surrounds the thing be insulated, it doesn't mean that the thing is altered at all. – Carl Smith Jul 7 '13 at 2:01

"isolated" from everything; "insulated" from something

When you are isolated, you are separated from everything -- you are alone.

When you are insulated, you are separated from one or more things.

Things, external to you, in both cases.

Generally, isolation is used with reference to the subject (who/what is isolated); insulation with reference to an object in the external enviroment (insulation from what).

When you are insulated from everything, you are isolated.

Isolation and insulation both relate to the influence of external entities.
Physical distance is not a direct factor.
The terms can be applied to both living beings as well as inanimate objects.

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    Sorry, I have trouble with the browser -- can't post more than a few lines at a time. So pl bear with me. – Kris Apr 24 '12 at 18:29
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    I don't think everything/something specific is central. Isolating valves usually only prevents water getting through. And an evolutionary isolating mechanism, only prevents genetic material being transferred. – FumbleFingers Apr 24 '12 at 21:02

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