Improving your home’s insulation effectively saves money on your energy bills and reduces your carbon footprint. Air leaks around doors, foundations, and windows can drastically reduce your home’s energy efficiency, with up to 50% of a home’s heat loss due to leaky walls and ceilings that’s money down the drain! If areas of your home need insulation upgrades, spray foam insulation is definitely an option worth considering.
In this article we’ll discuss spray foam insulation, what makes it unique, why you should use it, and answers to common insulation questions.
What’s Spray Foam Insulation?
Also known as spray polyurethane foam (SPF), spray foam insulation is an air-tight barrier material that seals floors, walls, and ceiling cavities to limit air leakage. This includes the spaces around lighting fixtures, electrical outlets, rim joists and where walls meet doors and windows. ( Be careful to check that any electrical fixtures you intend to spray foam against are rated for insulated application. Otherwise you have a fire hazard!!)
You can spray this form of insulation into open cavities, like in new construction stud spaces, crawl spaces, attic, rim joists, and more. As long as you have access to the cavity or space you can apply spray foam
Spray foam keeps its shape and unlike most traditional insulation materials. Spray foam effectively fills gaps, cracks, and crevices during installation. It wont sag, compress, or even settle over time. For this reason, spray foam anywhere is ideal for basement insulation, attic insulation, and crawl space insulation.In fact anywhere traditional insulation is used spray foam can be used.
Couple of footnotes….. First, Spray foam really requires professional installation. Sure you can do some small DIY projects with building supply store versions like froth-Pak spray foam insulation but for a guaranteed product insist on a certified professional installer using high quality materials like BASF or Demalec products. Both these products have strict quality control and installation standards. Secondly , closed-cell foam R-Values may be superior to other products but it may need covering to comply with firecodes, so check your local building code to ensure your application complies. In Canada exposed foam is not permitted in a space that has a common air stream with the home’s interior.
How Spray Foam Insulation Works
Spray foam is designed to go a step further than other insulation options, with its water-tight and air-tight properties. It comprises a combination of liquid chemicals (often mixed at the job site). These chemicals react and expand into a thick, insulating layer when sprayed. Once this insulating layer hardens, it doesn’t easily lose its shape and will protect your house from air leakage. This insulation and sealing provides the foundation of indoor environment control, comfort and indoor air quality. We wont get too much into the technical details but latest generation spray foam insulation has changed due to recent legislation which has made the “blowing agents” more environmentally friendly, a real plus for the green conscious consumer. With earlier ozone-depleting chemicals known as HFC’s banned, Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) is the latest approved blowing agent for foam insulation materials with zero GWP – global warming potential and measurable climate benefits.
Types of Spray Foam Insulation
There are generally two types of spray foam insulation – open cell and closed cell insulation. Both types insulate a home by creating an air seal although the closed cell insulation is superior in R value and vapor barrier properties. They also have sound dampening qualities, which means they can enhance privacy from one space to the adjacent room. They reduce unwanted airflow and stop drafts as well as cold floors in the winter. As mentioned earlier, this insulation option can help lower your monthly energy bills and from the homeowner experience can change a drafty home into a snug comfortable one!
As mentioned earlier “polyurethane spray foam insulation”, if we used its full name, comes generally as two types of insulation – open cell foam insulation and closed cell foam insulation. These are technically a foam thermoset plastic. (As opposed to say PVC a thermoplastic which can be reused and melted down). While both options create an air-tight seal, reduce heat energy transfer, and increase energy efficiency in buildings there are differences between them that can significantly affect your home insulation project.
Open cell foam insulation
The open cell spray insulation ( otherwise called Low-density spray foam or half-pound foam) is generally used in similar ways to the closed cell insulation. It creates an air seal and a continuous layer of insulation. This layer of foam is pliable, light, and can expand up to 100 times its original size to fill all nooks and crannies where it’s applied. Here’s what open cell spray foam insulation has to offer….. In conventional applications because open cell foam is porous a traditional poly tarp vapor barrier is required. Check with your building inspector to verify the details as incorrect installations can result in building damage!
- It’s cheaper than closed cell foam insulation
- As your newly constructed home shifts and settles, this is flexible and doesn’t pull away from the studs as easily or crack.
- It allows water to move through it so used in the right place it can be a great component of the homes wall assembly. Caution is required here to pay attention to the vapor transmission to avoid unintended consequences and condensation and building damage.
- Open cell spray foam has sound dampening properties, which means it can reduce the noise coming into your home.
Closed cell foam insulation
This spray-applied plastic creates an air-tight seal and a continuous layer of insulation. Otherwise referred to typically as 2 pound or medium-density foam vs open cell or low-density foam) Just like open cell spray foam insulation, closed cell foam can be applied in open cavities of existing houses, new homes, metal buildings, and pole barns. In fact its really used extensively throughout the building industry. Closed cell foam has structural integrity in fact where more strength is needed closed cell foam is available in denser versions.
Here’s why you may want to consider closed cell spray foam insulation.
- It is durable, if you leave it exposed during the build it can take some abuse. ( it does have sun exposure limits that need to be respected)
- Water doesn’t pass through the foam and it creates a vapor barrier so if used correctly you don’t need to worry about condensation within the wall giving you peace of mind.
- Has a higher R-value per inch than open-cell foam so required insulation values can be achieved with less thickness
- When properly installed, closed cell foam can limit air leakage and can also be used as a radon barrier.
- Enhances indoor temperature control, provides moisture control and protects against harmful mold
- Its available in higher-density spray foam versions for more rigorous applications, under concrete traffic pads etc.
Benefits of Spray Foam Insulation
Although foam insulation is costlier than other home insulation types, for many its benefits outweigh the upfront installation costs. Here are some of the benefits of insulating your home using spray foam.
Cooling and Heating
As we’ve already mentioned Spray polyurethane foam can get into small crevices and cracks and that really helps to seal a home, combating heavy leaks and reducing air infiltration through walls and ceilings. In our experience, in renovating leaky homes using spray foam, when the air changes were measured before and after, the results were drastic, confirming the home is truly sealed and a sealed building envelope helps maintain steady temperatures throughout your home and enables control of the indoor environment for occupants and those are real comfort and health benefits.
For reducing noise or airborne sound transfer through a wall or floor assembly both open and closed cell foam can be part of the solution. Because of the differing densities of open and closed cell foam, they will absorb different sound frequencies. If closed cell foam is used in conjunction with drywall and batt insulation the three different materials will work together to absorb different sound frequencies. Conversely if open cell foam is used along with different density materials in the assembly the necessary soundproofing can be achieved. Soundproofing is somewhat complex and beyond the scope of this short article. Most building codes contain tables of tested assemblies that can be helpful in choosing the right combination of materials to fit the bill and provide the necessary sound proofing.
Reduced bugs, pollen and allergens in your home
Back in the 80’s when building scientists began testing air tightness in homes, they discovered another benefit to air sealing- there were less flies in the spring. Tightening the envelope blocked all the tiny holes that flies call home in the dormant months, and when they come to life in spring they easily make their way into the interior of the home through cracks in walls. Similarly, pollen and allergens get through cracks and crevices of poorly insulated walls. Due to its ability to fill crevices and cracks, spray foam does a great job of sealing up so air, bugs and pollen simply can’t penetrate walls .
Prevent the growth of mold and mildew
This is an area where spray foam shines, and particularly closed cell foam. Think of a cold pop can or glass with an ice drink on a warm day. Condensation forms on the outside because when flowing next to the surface of the glass or can the air is cooled enough to become saturated, and hence it condenses on the cold surface. Next think of a winter’s day. we know that a home’s windows can fog up or get wet with condensation on the cold days. Well if a wall is poorly insulated the same thing happens and water can condense on the cold surface of the wall, often hidden in corners or behind furniture. The three ingredients needed for mold growth are 1) water 2) food 3) temperature. Often these three are present and mold results. Spray foam combats this with good insulation keeping the interior surface temperatures of a homes wall warm enough so that condensation and hence mold will not occur and that’s peace of mind knowing mold remediation isn’t a worry!
Increase the sturdiness of walls
You’re not only saving on utility bills but you are strengthening the structure of your home’s walls due to the foam’s hardness and density. Remember, all buildings must adhere to specific building codes, and the walls must meet a minimum load-bearing standard. Although architects and engineers don’t count on the strength of spray foam any contractor who has demolished spray foam knows how resilient and tough it acts as a glue holding everything together.
“How long does spray foam insulation last?”
Installed correctly a good spray foam will last the lifetime of the building. Typically, problems occur in poorly designed assemblies where vapor transmission and drying characteristics are not considered then as part of the remediation of a damaged wall structure you need to do spray foam removal, however, the spray foam itself is generally not the problem.
Asked, “do i use low-density foam or medium-density foam?” Understanding the building science and the right types of insulation is crucial for a long-lasting and successful application.
If you intend to keep your home ‘green,’ spray foam is a great insulation option for you. While its acquisition and installation costs are somewhat high, it pays these costs by reducing your home’s energy consumption. This form of insulation also protects your home against the growth of mold and mildew.
Is it Safe to use Spray Foam Insulation?
Generally, spray foam insulation is a popular, safe, and effective option that creates an airtight seal even in the most vulnerable areas of your home. If you have been struggling with a drafty attic or moldy basement, the chances are that you have poor insulation. Although it’s a considerable upfront investment, spray foam insulation can address this problem. Consult with an experienced contractor if you intend to install spray foam insulation.
What’s Spray Foam Insulation?
Also known as spray polyurethane foam (SPF), spray foam is installed in stud spaces, and rim joists and creates air-tight barrier materials that seal floors, walls, and ceiling cavities to limit air leakage. This includes the spaces around lighting fixtures, electrical outlets, and where walls meet doors and windows.
How does spray foam insulation work?
Spray foam is designed to go a step further than other insulation options, with its water-tight and air-tight properties. It comprises a combination of liquid chemicals (often mixed at the job site). These chemicals react and expand into a thick, insulating layer when sprayed. Once this insulating layer hardens, it will never lose its shape and will protect your house from air leakage.
What are the types of spray foam insulation?
Two types of spray foam insulation are available – open cell foam insulation and closed cell foam insulation. While both options create an air-tight seal, there are differences between them that can significantly affect your home insulation project. Our preference is for closed cell foam due to its higher performance, ability to control moisture and R values.
What are the benefits of spray foam insulation?
Here are the benefits of using spray foam as insulation for your home.
- Cooling and Heating (can reduce monthly energy bills) enables advanced temperature control
- Noise Reduction
- Vapor control
- No more pollen and allergens in your home because both the open-cell foam and closed-cell spray foam insulation close all gaps in walls during the application process.
- Prevent bugs, insects, and small rodents from getting into your house
- Prevent the growth of mold and mildew
- Increase the sturdiness of walls
- Eco-friendly Insulation
How long does spray foam insulation last?
Spray foam is exceptionally durable; when installed properly, you can expect it to last the lifetime of your home. However, careful consideration is necessary for the choice of the wall/ceiling assembly as ill-placed foam can actually cause damage. Closed cell foam insulation is our first choice for its high performance in moisture control, high R-values and durability while keeping your home energy efficient and optimizing energy usage.
Is it Safe to use Spray Foam Insulation?
Generally, spray foam insulation is a popular, safe, and effective option that creates an airtight seal even in the most vulnerable areas of your home. If you have been struggling with a drafty attic or moldy basement, the chances are that you have poor insulation. You can either use open cell or closed cell spray foam to minimize energy loss both inside and exterior walls to minimize the energy cost and maximize energy savings. Caution! During the installation process high-grade breathing apparatus is necessary, so stay clear of any areas during and for 24 hours after application.