Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation has been a tried and tested option since the early 1960s, sought out for its ability to resist heat transfer. But why does it remain such a prominent and ideal solution?
With rising energy costs and environmental concerns, the demand for increased home and building efficiency is higher than ever. While SPF has a higher upfront cost, it offers substantial efficiency — from R-value per inch to installation process and lifetime energy savings.
Justifying and selling a higher upfront cost presents a significant challenge. This white paper will provide a holistic view of SPF, enabling you to clearly articulate the end-to-end costs and benefits to your clients — builders, homeowners, and building owners.
The Spray Foam Difference
According to the Spray Foam Coalition and the American Chemistry Council, if all of the 113 million single family homes in the United States used SPF, Americans could save up to $33 billion in energy costs each year. Additionally, financial incentives exist to encourage architects, designers, and building owners to reduce energy consumption in their buildings.
SPF is a foam insulation with blowing agents that enable the foam to expand and harden during application, effectively sealing any cracks, joints, or seams. SPF easily creates air tight barriers with minimal material or space, which is a significant advancement toward reducing the amount of energy used to heat and cool a building and can be directly translated into cost savings. The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) estimates that reducing annual air infiltration rates by 83 percent in nonresidential buildings could save more than 40 percent on gas bills and more than 25 percent on electricity.
Explaining the SPF Formulation Class Differences
Open Cell SPF
Open cell (low density) SPF is water-based and filled with air, giving the insulation a spongy texture. The use of a water blowing agent means minimal global warming potential (GWP). However, its insulation value is only approximately R-3.7 per inch — requiring more foam to achieve the same R-value as closed cell.
Closed Cell SPF
Closed cell (medium density) SPF uses an insulating gas substitute for the air found in open cell SPF, resulting in R-value ranges from R-6.5 to R-7.0+ per inch and superior energy efficiency. Historically, the downside of these fluorochemical blowing agents has been their higher GWP than water-based, open cell alternatives. But more recent formulations of HFO and HCFO foams have produced fourth generation closed cell technology with ultra-low GWP. That means closed cell SPF can now offer greater energy savings with a smaller carbon footprint.
Common Performance Advantages of SPF:
- Enhanced indoor comfort, with better temperature and humidity regulation, sound proofing, allergen and pest control, and improved air quality.
- Superior water sealant and mold prevention qualities
- Added structural integrity and strength
Where and Why Each SPF Makes Sense
Open Cell Applications
While closed cell is an optimal choice for many insulation projects, open cell is commonly used in milder, more humid climates. Open cell has a higher vapor permeability, which means it transmits water vapor and reduces the condensation problems that can occur with seasonal changes in weather or from humid air in warmer climates.
Open cell also has a slight edge over closed cell regarding sound proofing; however, building design can counteract this differential. Additionally, if cost is a primary concern, open cell is less expensive to install; however, the R-value is lower and extra installation steps are required, creating hidden costs.
Closed Cell Applications
Across structure and application types, closed cell spray foams offer consistent performance benefits. It shines in tight spaces that require the greatest R-value insulation per inch possible. Also, medium-density foam is often used for continuous insulation, interior cavity fill, and unvented attic applications. It can provide a high tensile and bond strength, offers low vapor permeance, and is not generally affected by moisture, such as wind-driven rains, and closed cell SPF is the only insulation type listed as “acceptable flood resistant material” by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
Although the material is much denser than open cell foam and it can be more expensive to install, closed cell offers a complete, single solution. While open cell may appear far less expensive at face value, it requires additional steps and costs, such as air sealing, vapor control, and framing materials.
Where SPF Makes Sense
If the structure is located in a warm climate, the R-value recommendation will be lower. Insulation Location Areas within the structure such as wood-framed walls and crawl-spaces with walls require lower R-values than attics, for example.
- Heating and Cooling System
Whether the structure operates with a furnace, central air conditioner, or heat pump determines how low of an acceptable R-value can be utilized.
- Closed Cell Return-on-Investment
While traditional blown-in insulation may cost less at install, an upgrade to energy efficient closed cell spray foam quickly provides a return-on-investment, paying for itself in as little as three years. Homeowners can see up to a 47 percent reduction in annual heating and cooling expenses and save thousands of dollars throughout their home ownership tenure. Additionally, lowering the temperature in attics — where HVAC equipment is often located — extends the life of HVAC equipment by increasing efficiency and reducing system strain.
Meeting Energy Codes with Closed Cell Spray Foam
Today, changing building codes and regulations routinely emphasize the need for greater efficiency and energy conservation. States and local jurisdictions have passed legislation for more energy-efficient building codes. SPF is an essential tool in helping architects and builders meet the changing codes to effectively seal the building envelope.
Sealing the Building Envelope
The building envelope is the structure that separates the interior, climate-controlled portions of construction from the exterior elements. Choosing an air-tight insulation, like closed cell SPF, is the key to preventing heat gains and losses through the building envelope.
Closed cell SPF creates an air tight seal in the areas that are most prone to air leaks.
The Role of Closed Cell Spray Foam in Sustainable Energy Savings
Zero Energy Ready
A Zero Energy Ready Building combines extreme energy efficiency with renewable energy systems that “offset all or most of its annual energy consumption,” according to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. It represents a whole new level of sustainable building performance for energy savings, comfort, health, and durability.
SPF is an ideal insulation for achieving an airtight building envelope to create a net zero energy structure. Low global warming potential (GWP) blowing agents, such as Opteon™ 1100, make enhanced energy efficiency possible. It provides a lower carbon footprint, significantly reducing greenhouse gases in the blowing agent’s manufacturing and usage lifecycle.
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