Pro's Pick: RetroFoam Insulation

Pennsylvania remodeler Dennis Gehman on why he likes this three-part resin for insulating his company's remodeling projects 

March 28, 2017
RetroFoam installation

Dennis Gehman, PA remodelerDennis Gehman

President, Gehman Design Remodeling 

Harleysville, Pa.



RetroFoam is a nonadhesive, non-expanding polymer foam insulation. It contains no solvents, petrochemicals, or CFCs, so my crew isn’t exposed to toxic fumes. It’s also biodegradable, so we can take excess to the landfill. 

The foam is perfect for wood-frame walls. It’s blown in place through holes drilled through the sheathing behind the siding, or through the drywall. Tiny air bubbles in the foam create an R-value of 4.5 per inch, or up to R-16 for a 2x4 wall. 

We had tried other loose-fill blown insulations, but since they tended to hang up on wiring, pipes, and any obstruction, doing a thorough insulation job always meant removing the old drywall, installing batts, then hanging new drywall. No more. Because RetroFoam is non-expanding and blown at 80 pounds of air pressure, it flows into nooks and crannies and will even compress existing insulation and fill around it. The result is a well-insulated wall with an airtight seal.

This flowability makes it a real problem-solver. In my area there are lots of old, uninsulated brick homes with drywall over 1x3 furring. RetroFoam easily fills the gaps created by the furring, and homeowners tell us they feel noticeably more comfortable.

The foam does come with a few caveats. It’s more expensive than batts and, if using it in new walls, it needs to dry for a few days before you apply mud and paint.  

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Thanks for introducing us to the product, Dennis. A couple questions: you show them injecting it about midway up the wall; do you shoot it up and down from there? I assume you need the drywall up first; it's not a foam that can be sprayed into an open cavity because it is so flowable? And finally, have you gone back and taken infrared shots to verify coverage? Thanks!

RetroFoam needs to be installed into a closed wall cavity. It can be installed from the interior or exterior. Most of the time it is being used to enhance the insulation in an existing wall. We certainly have looked back with an infrared camera and found that RetroFoam does indeed get into all of the nooks and crannies. We aren't able to verify a specific R-value because we don't always know what's already in the wall cavity and therefore can't know how much RetroFoam will go into the wall.
The 'whip hose' is inserted into a 2-9/16" diameter hole half way up the wall pushing it first down to the bottom wall plate and filling up to the hole and then pushed up to the top wall plate and filling down to the hole. You know when the wall cavity is full because the foam squirts out of the hole. While RetroFoam does increase R-value it's best job is stopping air from coming through the walls.

Holes are drilled into each stud bay halfway between the floor and ceiling. The whip hose is then pushed through the hole and down to the floor and pulled out and up as RetroFoam fills up the space, then up to the top and filled down. When foam squirts out the hole we know that the bay is full.
RetroFoam needs to be installed in a cavity, as it has no adhesive properties, so something has to hold it in place.
Infrared cameras verify that RetroFoam does indeed get everywhere unless there's something totally blocking the bay.

How long have you been using this?
Does it shrink and pull way from surfaces over time?
Any before / after blower door test results right before and right after install and then again several years later?

Thanks for sharing your experience.

As an ex RetroFoam dealer (among a growing many out there) I can accurately tell you that the RetroFoam product does not do what it claims it does. What it does do is "shrink" inside the walls. Often in excess of 30%!!
The ownership of RetroFoam/Polymaster gets around this fact by placing blame on the Dealer for Faulty installation and manufacturing. They are able to avoid lawsuits and penalties because the RetroFoam/Polymaster ownership and management make the claim that they "don't make the product, they only supply the ingredients. The Dealer makes the product in the field". They claim, "the Dealer made the mistake." The fact of the matter is that the ingredients cannot be mixed to produce a product that will not shrink. The end result is that the homeowner and the Dealer get the short end of the stick. I have been a businessman and have dealt with hundreds of suppliers in my career and I have never run across a more dishonest supplier. Shame on you Steve __________. You and your team have hurt thousands of good people in your pursuit of riches. Eyes wide open for this outfit everyone!

Rob, I’m sorry to hear about your experience with RetroFoam. Being a long time installer in Michigan, We have had a good experience with our supplier and with the product to date, and our homeowners tell us they immediately feel the benefits after the work is done. We have had homeowners report positive results from installs done 10 years ago. I have this product in my own home and know that it makes a difference.

I've been a RetroFoam dealer in Oregon for several years and have not had any problems with the supplier or the product. Sorry you had such a bad experience, but RetroFoam has been a great product for us and Polymaster has been excellent to work with.

RetroFoam is nasty stuff. How bad? It is BANNED in Canada, California, Massachusetts, and Vermont. It is a Urea-Formaldehyde based product, and it exposes workers to a listed carcinogen. The material also breaks down in UV quickly, turning into a toxic dust. This impacts any future remodel and the people performing it. Like asbestos and vermiculite, RetroFoam is a problem.

Also it is worth noting, CFCs are greenhouse gasses that have an impact on our climate. They are not a worker health issue (unless you get global about humanity). Installers of SPF must follow strict guidelines for health and safety, which include having no exposed skin and breathing through respirators with a mandatory zero occupancy for 6 hrs after spraying. By contrast, the RetroFoam installers are exposing themselves to a carcinogen, which they are both inhaling and having direct skin contact with (note the splatter on the installers arm).

Thank you for your comment Michael. After reading your thoughts I would like to reply with a few facts to help fill in between the lines here. RetroFoam is based on urea-formaldehyde chemistry to manufacture the foam, and can emit small quantities of formaldehyde just like many things like the carpet, hardwood floors, clothes, upholstery, bedding, cleaning products, cosmetics, shampoo, toothpaste, baby wipes etc. Research shows that there are no observable health effects from the formaldehyde in UF-containing materials when air concentrations from off-gassing are below 1.0ppm; consumer product safety recommends an off-gassing threshold between 0 .5- 0.250 ppm. RetroFoam is at .016ppm. Opening up your wall to do work is not considered harmful to any person or to pets that may be exposed.” The state laws in the few states (and Canada) that you mention say that absolutely no UFFI products can be used. We are placed in this category only because of the UF chemistry that is involved, and not because of hazards because of formaldehyde. As far as breakdown under UV, you will see some breakdown if the product remains outdoors in the open environment where there is continuous exposure to UV light (which is not present inside a wall cavity). Even when exposed, it would take quite a bit of time for that product to deteriorate (as in years).

Talking about SPFs you are correct; however, as you stated previously, RetroFoam is NOT a SPF (Spray Polyurethane Foam). RetroFoam also has NO strict guidelines regarding health and safety for it’s installers, homeowners, or future remodelers. If you would like to see our MSDS (material safety data sheet) feel free to contact us directly, or any dealership, and we would be happy to send it to you in order to back up this statement. RetroFoam is perfectly harmless and there is no effect if the foam touches exposed skin or is breathed. RetroFoam requires NO time for the homeowners to be out of the home like SPF, in fact, we encourage the home owner to be home when the install is being completed. Therefore, we are glad that you noticed that our installers skin was touched when the foam was being injected to show that there is absolutely no safety issue with this occurrence.

I hope that we were able to clarify the very large difference between a SPF and the RetroFoam product. It is a common misconception but one that cannot be taken lightly as there is such distinguishing difference. We would gladly welcome you to contact us directly if you have any further questions that you would like to discuss. Please also take some time to do some research yourself around our product. Look forward to speaking with you further!

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