Making the decision to insulate your home or commercial building is an important one.
Insulating with foam is a complex process and you may have find it difficult to choose the correct solution for your project. Below are some common questions and helpful answers.
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Why would I pay twice as much for spray foam insulation when I could just use fiberglass instead?
One has to look at the complete cost of something they are putting into their house before making a decision. The cost of insulation is small compared to the ongoing heating and cooling costs once it’s installed. After several decades of use, spray foam insulation has proven time and again that the energy required to heat and cool a home drops considerably compared to fiberglass (typically 30%). This savings continues throughout the entire life of the building. Spray foam is also considerably more comfortable. Fiberglass is a mistake that cannot be undone in most cases.
How can R-20 of spray foam insulation outperform R-38 of fiberglass?
R-Value is one of the most misused and misunderstood measurements in the world. The test results are determined in a 75ºF lab with no wind load and ideal humidity. In such conditions the two insulation types are identical with respect to heat transfer. Unfortunately, insulation isn’t needed in those conditions. However, once the insulation is installed in a home in real world conditions, the heat loss/gain of fiberglass and cellulose are outrageous since cold and warm air freely move about them through convection. Spray foam insulation is an air barrier AND it is physically adhered to the wood framing members of a structure thus minimizing air infiltration. Think of fiberglass as a screen and spray foam insulation as a window. Coincidentally, most furnace filters are made from fiberglass. These filters are obviously designed to allow the free movement of air through them.
Which product is better, open cell foam or closed cell foam?
We know this will probably confuse you more, but it depends. Although some may try to convince you, there is no universal answer. It depends on numerous factors regarding your project, most importantly those of available space in a cavity to be insulated and the moisture environment. In our paper Open Cell vs Closed Cell, we discuss these factors in more detail. In western New York, open cell foam can be used in most projects. As usual, our highly experienced professionals can give you a recommendation.
What are the advantages of flexible foam?
Any spray foam that adheres to building materials must remain flexible in order to maintain its air seal. Buildings expand and contract with changes of season and temperature. If the foam is too rigid, it will inevitably develop cracks along the studs and ultimately the air seal will be destroyed. While other types of non-rigid insulation — such as batts and loose fill cellulose — can slip, sag, or settle, leaving uninsulated gaps. Blower door tests have consistently shown that a homes insulated with spray foam, with no polyethylene vapor barrier, have air changes less than half that of fiberglass insulated homes. Spray foamed homes easily meet the air changes required in the new building code (three air changes per hour at -50 pascals of depressurization).
Is there a difference between the R-value of foam and fiberglass?
R-values of insulating materials are measured in 75ºF laboratories with no wind and are designated a nominal R-value per inch. In the wall or ceiling of a building, fiberglass and cellulose insulation materials suffer a reduction in performance due to air leakage and infiltration — so their “real” insulating value may be as low as 50% (or less!) of the nominal R-value of the insulation they contain. Their R-value in the real world is constantly changing based mostly on temperature and wind speed. A good analogy here is to think of an old fashioned knit sweater: If you’re inside during the winter you’ll be nice and warm, but if you went outside in that sweater in the cold wind, you’d be quite uncomfortable. Fiberglass is similar.
By contrast, spray foam (open cell or closed cell) is an air barrier and will perform more closely to the laboratory tested R-value of the material. To continue the analogy, it’s like wearing a high quality ski jacket outside on a windy cold day. It results in an incredibly comfortable environment.
What is spray foam insulation? How long has it been around?
Spray foam is a semi-rigid, non-toxic, insulation that offers added value as an air and moisture barrier solution that air seals wall, floor, and ceiling cavities to prevent air movement — including spaces around electrical outlets and light fixtures, at baseboards, and where walls meet windows and doors. So everything from frigid winter air to hot, humid summer air cannot seep through your walls to the inside, nor can your comfortable, interior air enter the walls to condense. By virtue of its low permeability to air, its adhesion to other building materials, and its flexibility, spray foam provides value beyond insulation. It provides superior air leakage control, moisture control, and sound attenuation — a one-step insulation and moisture, vapor, and air barrier system. And, unlike fiberglass and other loose fill insulation methods that do not air seal building cavities, the air sealing characteristics of spray foam provide virtually the same R-value in your home as it does in the laboratory where the listed R-value is measured.
Spray foam contains no formaldehyde or ozone depleting gases. The chemical reaction that forms spray foam creates millions of tiny cells. These cells are filled with air and provide permanent control of air and airborne moisture movement.
Spray foam has been installed in various building structures since the 1970s. Energsmart has been installing spray foam since 2004, completing several thousand projects successfully since then.
What are some other advantages of spray foam insulation?
In addition to its extreme efficiency and comfort, spray foam insulation offers other advantages as well.
Most notably, smaller and less expensive heating and cooling equipment can be used in a home or building that uses spray foam. Spray foam usually results in these systems being housed in semi-conditioned areas, which allow them to function much more efficiently and effectively.
Spray foam insulation also doesn’t require ventilation like fiberglass or cellulose, and can also be installed effectively in any shaped cavity.
These unique characteristics allow almost limitless design flexibility for a home and the systems in it.
What are the acoustic properties of spray foam insulation?
An effective air seal, spray foam insulation eliminates the gaps through which sound travels and is superior in controlling common mid-range frequencies — including the human voice, stereo music, and plumbing noise. While spray foam is effective at reducing sound transfer, keep in mind that it will not eliminate it.
Can my house be "too tight"?
Yes it can, but it’s highly unlikely, especially in the windy climates of the northeastern United States. Wood framed homes will always have some small gaps and cracks no matter how well they are framed or insulated. Windows will also have small amounts of air infiltration. Whenever a door is opened to the outside of the home air exchange occurs. Our position is that you only get one chance to insulate a new home. If you under-insulate you will regret it for as long as you live in your home because you can’t fix it. In the event that you over-insulate and make the house too tight, the situation can be remedied with low cost ventilation. The motto in the foam industry is “insulate tight and ventilate right.”
Is spray foam insulation a fire hazard? What are its flammability and fire-rating characteristics?
All insulation, whether it is foam, cellulose, or fiberglass, must be separated from living space by a 15-minute thermal barrier (i.e. drywall). While all of our foam insulation products are “Class 1” fire rated according to ASTM-E84 and contain fire retardants, there are still certain situations that call for special handling of the products from a fire safety standpoint.
In general, if foam is exposed directly to an open flame it will ignite. If the flame source is pulled away it will typically self-extinguish; however, if the flame is constant (i.e. your house is on fire) it will spread and burn similar to wood and many other products used to build our homes.
Exposed foam is usually only found in areas that are not living spaces, such as attics and crawl spaces. If the area is not used for storage or if it doesn’t contain utilities (i.e. a furnace) foam can be left exposed and still meet Building Code. If the area is used for storage or to service utilities, then some types of foam must be covered by a thermal or ignition barrier. Usually, the most cost effective way to accomplish this is to have Energsmart spray a thermal or ignition barrier paint onto the foam.
Energsmart’s sales team will inform you of when such barriers are needed, but you should always consult your local Building Code Enforcement Official about the requirements as well to ensure you are meeting all local Code changes.
Are there any electric wiring overheating problems associated with spray foam insulation?
No. Spray foam insulation has tested negative for electric wiring concerns.
It is, however, a violation of Building Code for most insulation products to be installed over knob-and-tube wiring systems (knob-and-tube wasn’t used in homes built after about 1940).
Does spray foam insulation change physically over time?
No. Spray foam insulation is inert — its physical and insulating properties are constant, as is its air seal. Ultraviolet rays from the sun will damage and break down the foam over time so the foam must not be exposed to the sun’s rays.
Does spray foam insulation break down, sag, or shrink?
No. Spray foam insulation does not shrink, settle or sag. The reaction that creates the stability of spray foam is irreversible and it cannot break down into its constituent parts. Fiberglass and cellulose both sag and settle over time.
Is spray foam insulation environmentally friendly?
Yes. Spray foam insulation is an environmentally safe, “green” product. The product Energsmart uses contains sugar cane extracted oils and a meaningful amount of recycled plastic bottles. In fact, it is “triple green” for a green wallet, green home, and green environment — reducing the demand for fossil fuels to heat and cool homes. Like similar products, including cellular plastics, it contains non-recycled components, too, but these components have zero global warming potential. Its superior efficiency results in drastically reduced use of non-renewable resources like electricity, natural gas, coal, and oil.
I'm having an Energy Star home built. Why would I need foam?
The Energy Star program is sponsored by the U.S. government and its intent is to give incentives to builders to exceed the minimum necessary energy requirements for a new home. Although the program has resulted in more energy efficient homes, it is a relatively easy hurdle to reach. The program allows fiberglass insulation to be used, which is ironic because Fiberglass is literally the least efficient insulation permitted by code — and the US Government has concluded that it is a likely carcinogen. Every bag of fiberglass sold in America is labeled with a cancer warning. In short, an Energy Star home using foam insulation will be 30%-50% more efficient for heating and cooling than a fiberglass insulated Energy Star home.
Why don't more builders use spray foam insulation?
The home building industry is a very competitive one. In metro Buffalo alone there are nearly 200 companies/individuals that will build a home for you. The initial cost of foam insulation typically adds $5,000 to a new home. Since most customers of a given home builder aren’t aware of foam insulation and its long term cost savings, they will simply see that the price of builder A’s house is $5,000 more than builder B. They will go with the lower cost builder because they perceive that they are getting the same product. What the customer doesn’t typically understand (and may never realize) is that the extra $5,000 they spend will pay for itself in energy savings and will make the house much more comfortable.
When it comes to items like insulation, furnaces, and windows, it’s important to remember that there are two components to the cost. The initial cost of the products and the ongoing costs of operating your home (heating and cooling costs). Remember that a homebuilder is only involved in half of that equation. Their customer has sole responsibility for paying for heating and cooling costs for the life of the home. As long as his customer finds their home to be “acceptable”, the builder is happy. At some point in the future fiberglass will become an “unacceptable” product to use for insulating a home in the eyes of the public in general. At that time builders will make foam insulation standard. That being said, we have never come across a builder who refused to use foam if their customer wanted to use it. If your builder refuses to put foam in your house you should fire them because they aren’t acting in your best interest. There are many more factors than meets the eye when it comes to builders.
Read the paper Why Doesn’t my Builder use Foam Insulation? for more information.
At what stage is spray foam insulation installed?
Spray foam insulation is installed in new construction after the windows and roof are installed and electrical, framing, and plumbing inspections are complete — and after any other electrical or mechanical system located behind the drywall is installed. It is the last installation to take place before drywall installation.
How is spray foam insulation installed?
It is sprayed onto any open surface and studded wall — including metal. A trained spray foam installer is required. With any open surface, it can be sprayed on once electrical and plumbing services are in place. In seconds, it expands to 100 times its initial liquid volume, permanently adhering to the surfaces of the surrounding building materials and sealing all gaps. Our retro foam does not need an open cavity. It is injected into closed cavities
How long does it take spray foam insulation to cure?
Less than one minute. The foam is created in seconds after spraying. You can watch it expand within seconds to more than 100 times its original volume. It can be covered with sheetrock boards within just a few minutes.
Do I need attic and roof venting?
No. Building Code no longer requires ventilation in attics with foam insulated rooflines.
Attic and roof venting were developed because of the inferiority of fiberglass insulation. In our climate, in the winter, heat passes through fiberglass in attics with relative ease. Without ventilation this heat would just hang out in your attic causing two common problems. One, it will melt the snow on your roof, which in turn causes ice damming, which in turn causes ceilings to leak. Second, without a way to evacuate the heat from your attic, the warm air will rise and come in direct contact with the extremely cold underside of your roof causing all the moisture in the air to condense into water. This typically results in mold and all sorts of other damage. Unfortunately, this ventilation is just a “band-aid” that creates a flue draft effect that pulls conditioned air from your living space more rapidly. Your house would actually be more energy efficient without the ventilation, but the lack of ventilation will cause the above-stated damage.
In the summer, ventilation is needed at certain times of the day when the attic is warmer than the exterior surface of the roof (typically the evening). With foam sprayed to the underside of the roofdeck, the attic will not reach temperatures that significantly harm roof shingles. Keep in mind that foam can be sprayed to an attic floor. This application still requires ventilation, but to protect the shingles on the roof, not the foam.
Does spray foam insulation have limited uses?
No. Spray foam insulation can be applied to both new or existing construction, adhering to virtually any surface. It allows for architectural freedom and eliminates the insulating and air-sealing woes of metal construction.
With spray foam insulation, your new or existing building is permanently protected, sealed off from wind, pollutants and airborne sound, and resistant to moisture-related condensation problems.
What are some of the value-added benefits of spray foam insulation?
Sound and odor control. While spray foam insulation is not intended as a sound-proofing solution, its superior fit reduces airborne sound transfer through roof, floor, and walls — which means it does double duty and becomes part of a cost-effective sound-proofing solution. Outside noises such as air, road, and rail traffic are significantly less noticeable. Inside, there are far fewer complaints about plumbing and neighbor noise. And, by eliminating of air movement through common walls in multi-dwelling units, spray foam insulation eliminates cooking odor migration.
Does spray foam insulation absorb water? Does it trap moisture?
No. Spray foam insulation is hydrophobic. In fact, if a small piece were to be placed in a bucket of water, it would float for as long as you want to watch it. Upon removal, it would dry rapidly and lose none of its insulating properties. Spray foam insulation “breathes” and does not entrap moisture. Any moisture in the building’s concrete or lumber easily escapes through the insulation as the building dries out — thus eliminating any risk of mildew or mold. However, it cannot be applied to wet substrates.
Can spray foam insulation eliminate moisture problems?
Most of the time. Because air leakage is the culprit, the only way to eliminate moisture problems is to air-seal the building envelope. By eliminating air movement through walls, floors, and ceilings, moisture-laden air cannot pass through and affect the indoor environment. This allows you to control humidity levels to within the 45-50% range — a level at which molds, mildew, dust mites, and many allergens cannot be sustained. However, spray foam cannot be used to stop leaks. You need to call a roofer for that problem!
Do I need a vapor barrier with spray foam insulation?
Usually no. Closed cell foam is a vapor barrier. Open cell foam is a vapor retarder, but its moisture permeability properties in our climate are sufficient for most structures. Our building science professionals can advise you as to which type of foam is best for your project. Since both of these products are air barriers, the conditions for cold and warm air to mix, condense, and cause moisture problems, do not exist if installed properly. In some cases, we recommend a spray-on vapor barrier paint, which Energsmart can install, on open cell foam — usually in the Southern Tier of Western New York.
Code Reports and Technical Data Sheets for Energsmart Foam Insulation Products:
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Energsmart Insulation, LLC
483 Sawyer Avenue
Tonawanda, NY 14150