Spray polyurethane foam offers energy savings, comfort

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?s Energy Star program, air leaks account for 25 to 40 percent of the energy used to heat and cool a typical residence. Insulating and air sealing with SPF can dramatically reduce a home?s energy use, which in turn lowers its carbon footprint.

August 01, 2013
SPF is field-applied by sub-contractors using a specialized proportioner to mix

SPF is field-applied by sub-contractors using a specialized proportioner to mix the two liquids. Photo: Spray Foam Coalition

Many of today?s homeowners are looking for ways to save money and make their homes more energy efficient as they undertake remodeling projects. Because homeowners themselves tend to focus on the aspects of the home they come in contact with the most, it is vital that remodeling industry professionals help their customers make smart decisions about building fundamentals, like insulation and ventilation, which have a much greater impact on the efficiency of a home than faucets and light fixtures.

Of the numerous insulation and air sealing products to choose from as you work with homeowners to create the home of their dreams, spray polyurethane foam (SPF) can help remodelers exceed the expectations of even the most discerning customer. While SPF can be used for multiple purposes in a home, the most common use of SPF in a remodeling project is for insulation and air sealing. As you open the walls, floors or attic of a home during a remodel, you have a great opportunity to install SPF to provide an incredibly high-quality air seal and insulation package.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?s Energy Star program, air leaks account for 25 to 40 percent of the energy used to heat and cool a typical residence. Insulating and air sealing with SPF can dramatically reduce a home?s energy use, which in turn lowers its carbon footprint. Further, it can save the homeowner money while improving comfort and providing control over indoor air quality. In fact, not only does SPF have a good return on investment, but in many cases the monthly savings from reduced energy usage could help pay for other parts of the remodel.

Two types of SPF

SPF is field-applied by sub-contractors using a specialized proportioner to mix the two liquids, Part-A and Part-B, which react to create the foam in the wall, ceiling or floor assembly. The sprayed-in-place foam is essentially an adhesive that is frothed up so it adheres tenaciously to the framing members.

There are two types of professionally applied SPF generally used in residential remodels: medium- and low-density foams. Medium-density foam is often called closed-cell or 2-pound foam, and low-density foam is known as open-cell or ½-pound foam.

Medium-density foam expands about 30 times its liquid volume to form a semi-rigid insulation weighing about two pounds per cubic foot. Medium-density foam?s thermal resistance, or R-value, is among the highest of any insulation commonly available and, because it is field-applied, there are no seams or gaps which detract from optimal thermal performance.

This type of foam also adds substantial structural integrity to a home and it is highly moisture resistant, making medium-density foam a good option for buildings in areas prone to flooding or high winds.

Low-density foam weighs approximately half a pound per cubic foot and uses trapped air inside the cells as the insulator. Low-density SPF expands over a hundred times its liquid volume and is an excellent air barrier material as tested in accordance with ASTM standards. This type of foam flows readily into little nooks and crannies to air seal exceptionally well, yet there is not sufficient expansion pressure to move the framing members.

Use a qualified contractor

Whether you are specifying medium- or low-density foam on a remodeling project, it will not significantly change how you have managed remodeling projects in the past. It is important to remember to consult a qualified SPF contractor about installing spray foam. Such a contractor is trained in how to isolate the space where the SPF is being applied and knows to allow site access only to employees wearing the proper personal protective equipment.

Homeowners, occupants, other sub-contractors and pets remain outside the home while the SPF is being applied, much the same as when spray painters and some other remodel trades complete their work. Refer to the SPF manufacturer?s recommendations concerning the length of time that homeowners, occupants, contractors and pets need to wait before reentering the home.

SPF provides benefits

By installing SPF, you can provide significant benefits to customers who are remodeling their home, including increased energy efficiency and an improved indoor environment. Further, by increasing the home?s energy efficiency, you may be able to reduce the size of the HVAC system.

In addition to these benefits, SPF increases building durability and reduces airborne sound transmission. As a highly effective air barrier, SPF also helps control humidity carried by air infiltration, which can otherwise allow condensation that can lead to mold and mildew growth.

SPF provides an exceptional air seal, closing gaps, cracks and air leaks. This effective air seal contributes to more comfortable spaces by preventing drafts, reducing noise infiltration and helping to keep out insects, pests and allergens.

In order to conserve energy and create a healthy and comfortable indoor environment, it is important to ?build it tight and ventilate right.? Any changes made in one area of the building system can affect other parts elsewhere, and because SPF creates such an effective air seal, it is important to properly ventilate the home after installation. An adequate ventilation rate is important for a healthy indoor environment in every air-sealed home.

A remodeling project is one of the biggest investments a person can make in their home. While materials such as countertops and cabinets can be changed easily in the future, it is a significant undertaking to get into the walls, floors and attic of a house. As you gain access to these areas of the home during a remodel, it is an excellent opportunity to install SPF and provide homeowners with the air sealing and insulation advantages of SPF. In doing so, you can help homeowners reach their goals of saving money and making their homes more energy efficient.

For more information about SPF, visit www.whysprayfoam.org.

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Mac Sheldon is national account manager at DEMILEC (USA) LLC. He serves on the Leadership Committee of the Spray Foam Coalition at the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, and the Board of Directors of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance.

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