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Spray Foam Insulation Guide for Homes and Buildings

There is no better home or building insulating material that can seal it from air and moisture intrusion, save on costly utility bills, strengthen your home or building, and protect your family’s health from dangerous mold, airborne pollutants, and allergens than Spray Foam insulation.

Benefits of Spray Foam Insulation

  • Stops air and moisture infiltration
  • Makes your home more comfortable
  • Saves on energy costs
  • Adds strength to the building structure
  • It is permanent and will not sag
  • Keeps dust and pollen out

Reduces capacity requirements, maintenance and wear of HVAC equipment.

Spray Foam Insulation Redefines Traditonal Construction Methods and Benefits Modern Building Sciences and Energy Efficient Green Building Initiatives Read all about how spray foam used in the Building Envelope outperforms fiberglass insulation, becomes a superior air barrier, and defies traditional, and perhaps, outdated building practices of attic and crawl space ventilation.

SPF Saves You Money and Pays for Itself

SPF home or building insulation saves on energy costs and lowers utility bills. SPF is used to seal the entire “building envelope” of your home or building to prevent air and moisture infiltration. The US Department of Energy (DOE) studies show that 40% of your home or building’s energy is lost due to air infiltration. This air infiltrates the home or building in the form of drafts through walls sockets, windows and doorways.

Often times no expensive building wrap or additional vapor protection is required during construction when using SPF, saving money yet again. Monthly energy and utility savings of 30% or greater can be achieved when compared to the alternative roofing and insulation systems. The cost of an SPF roof or insulation system can often be recovered in less than 5 years, simply through energy savings alone.

Prevents Air, Moisture and Gas Infiltration

Studies have shown that as much as 40% of a building’s total energy loss is due to air infiltration. Traditional fiberglass insulation is only stapled, or placed into the wall cavities and does not seal the stud and wall cavities from end to end, or top to bottom. Air infiltration can pass through these gaps, making it far less efficient than SPF. SPF not only adheres to, but forms to the walls and floors to create a tight seal and insulating barrier that stops this air leakage. SPF also boasts the highest R-value per inch than any other commercial material, (upwards of R-7.0, compared with Fiberglass at R-3.5) making your home or building more comfortable and less expensive to heat in the winter, and cool in the summer.

Since SPF acts as an air barrier, it also helps to reduce moisture infiltration, which is a source of dangerous mold and mildew growth in your home or building, and can cause severe health problems to its occupants. So save your family and save money at the same time with SPF insulation systems. Moisture infiltration can also cause structural damage to your home or building.

Enhances Overall Building Stability

Since SPF is seamless and monolithic, foam sprayed into the walls enhances overall building stability and reduces “rack and sheer.”


Spray Foam in the Building Envelope

The building envelope is a total system of construction materials and design components that control the temperature, movement of air, and moisture both into and out of the building. A building's insulation, air barrier and vapor barrier all need to work together to achieve a more stable, comfortable and healthier indoor environment. Many new materials and design practices are being implemeted to extend the sustainable service life of buildings and homes.

Build it Tight, Ventilate Right.

Ventilating the Attic and the Crawl Spaces has long been the traditional and code required method of home design and building. However, ventilation of these spaces was required because standard materials and building design practices were not capable of addressing radiant heat transfer, condensation, and the results of “stack-effect issues.”

In order to address heat transfer form weather issues, utilities, and the formation of moisture due to condensation and air infiltration, the only option was to ventilate the attics and crawl spaces. The major problem with ventilating these spaces is that the air brings moisture, pollution and other adverse problems and challenges with it. Furthermore, the vents to allow it in create voids in the building for insects and rodents to enter, and all our nice conditioned air that escapes, or is pulled from the living spaces to exit.

In fact, in the summer, the incoming air needs power consuming fans to bring it in, and it will never get any cooler than the outside air temperature. Why would we want 95 degree hot, humid, potentially pollution ridden air into our attic and crawl space? In the winter this air is freezing cold.

If our heating/cooling utilities and ducts are located in the attic and/or crawl spaces (most usually are) then their radiant contact with the ducts will cause them to loose up to 10% or more of the hot or cold air flowing through them due to radiant transfer. Worse yet, Moisture and mold can also form within the ducts during certain temperature conditions, causing adverse health affects to the building occupants or your family.

Another major reason that traditional methods call for attic ventilation is that during the hot summer months, heat from the sun builds on the roof and radiates into the attic space. In fact, it can build to upwards of 130 to 150 degrees or more. (see our section on Urban Heat Islands). This extreme heat radiates into the attic and the living space causing condensation and the potential for mold. Our air conditioning systems also need to work harder and consume more energy with all this heat directly above our heads. The extreme heat also makes it very uncomfortable to enter these spaces.

Most builders and design professionals are not familiar with modern materials and progressive building science techniques that can virtually eliminate all of these problems that force the traditional, less effective requirement for ventilation in these building spaces. Builders and design professionals will also make the argument that your home needs to breathe. Well, they are absolutely correct. But why rely on cracks, gaps and holes in your building for passive ventilation, when you can build your home tight, healthy and energy efficient, and let the mechanical ventilation systems due the job properly.

Spray foam insulation can still provide benefits far greater than traditional materials such as fiberglass and cellulose, regardless of whether you decide to ventilate these spaces or not. By using spray polyurethane foam insulation you can increase your home's energy performance, structural integrity and air quality.


Polyurethane Foam Strengthens Your Home

The walls in your home are the main structural component of the building. In wood frame construction, the weight of the roof, shingles, standing rain water and any snow add weight and exert downward forces on the walls resulting in a compressive force.


Stud wall as built.

Stud wall under shear load (exaggerated)

The walls in your home are the main structural component of the building. In wood frame construction, the weight of the roof, shingles, standing rain water and any snow add weight and exert downward forces on the walls resulting in a compressive force.

Strong winds and gusts from storms also impose lateral forces onto your home’s walls. These forces can distort the walls with what is called a “shearing force.”

Building codes require that your home’s walls be designed to withstand these various forces and loads. However, when walls are built to just the minimum standards, while still safe, symptoms of movement such as creaking and shaking during high winds or occupant usage often occurs.

Higher density, closed cell spray foam insulation inside your stud walls fully adheres to both the exterior sheathing and the studs, reinforcing both. With this added rigidity, there will be less wall movement due to wind, vibration, and occupant activity. Additionally your walls have greater than code required resistance to "racking events" such as hurricanes or other strong wind situations.

SPF also can add structural strength to buildings. NAHB Research demonstrated SPF filled walls could add from 75% to 200% racking strength to walls of OSB, plywood, light gauge metal, vinyl siding or gypsum board.

Racking Test

Shearing forces on a wall tend to distort the wall from its original shape as a rectangle into a parallelogram. To test a wall’s resistance to the shear forces imposed by wind loading, engineers use a "racking test." An 8 ft. x 8 ft. model wall is built and placed in a large frame. The base of the wall is secured to the frame and a horizontal (lateral) force is applied at one upper corner. The force is increased in 400 lb. increments until the wall structure fails.

Spray Foam’s affect on wall strength

In a series of racking tests1, walls with and without spray-applied polyurethane foam insulation were compared. Two exterior facing materials were tested:

  1. Vinyl siding over 15-lb. building paper; and
  2. Textured plywood siding.

All wall panels were faced with ½-inch sheetrock on the interior side and used 16 inch stud spacing. For the stud wall panels that were insulated with spray-applied polyurethane foam, the stud cavities were essentially completely filled with foam of 1.5 lb/ft³ density.

As the graph indicates, stud walls filled with spray-applied polyurethane foam add significant strength to home walls. Furthermore, for each load applied, the foam filled walls deformed less and offered greater resilience.

In a second series of racking tests2, spray-applied polyurethane foam insulation was compared with conventional R-19 glass fiber batts. In one comparison, the wall panels were faced both sides with dry wall. In the other comparison, the wall panels were faced one side with OSB (oriented strand board) with dry wall on the opposite side. In both cases, the wall panels used steel studs spaced 24 inches on center and the average foam density was 2.26 lb/ft3.

Once again, the graph indicates the greater strength of the spray foam insulated wall system.

On a second series of racking tests2, spray-applied polyurethane foam insulation was compared with conventional R-19 glass fiber batts. In one comparison, the wall panels were faced both sides with dry wall. In the other comparison, the wall panels were faced one side with OSB (oriented strand board) with dry wall on the opposite side. In both cases, the wall panels used steel studs spaced 24 inches on center and the average foam density was 2.26 lb/ft3.

Once again, the graph indicates the greater strength of the spray foam insulated wall system.

Test1= Test results are reported in "Testing and Adoption of Spray Polyurethane Foam for Wood Frame Building Construction" (May 25, 1992) prepared by NAHB Research Center for The Society of the Plastics Industry/Polyurethane Foam Contractors Division.

Test2= Test results are reported in a letter from Bob Dewey, Mechanical Engineer, NAHB Research Center to Mason Knowles, The Society of the Plastics Industry/Spray Polyurethane Foam Division (November 18, 1996).