Welcome to spray foam insulation, a website created to help men and women get a full understanding of the various types of choices available including closed cell foam and open cell foam, kits, and roofing applications. I will also discuss the wide range of uses, the cost of using foam as an insulator, and problems one might experience using this type of insulation.
The goal of creating this website is to develop the most comprehensive source on the internet for learning about the various aspects of spray foam insulation. There are a lot of websites out there covering this topic, but most of them are contractors or installers and are trying to sell you on the service. But that won’t be the case with this website. This will be an information website that covers both the good and the bad attributes of spray foam insulation. We’ll cover many topics, such as the one’s mentioned above, and also touch on subjects like choosing a contractor, utilizing spray foam in the attic and spray foam crawl spaces, and foam cans & do it yourself (DIY) spray foam kits.
Table of Contents for Spray Foam Insulation:
So what is spray foam insulating? It is considered by many to be one of the best options for a home or commercial building. I first heard about it when watching a television program called Modern Marvels, on the History channel, that highlighted the process of spray foam insulating.
Polyurethane is made with several key ingredients.
- Polyol – Sugar and petroleum products base
- Surfactant – Controls the size and shape of the bubbles
- Catalyst – Controls the reaction rate – quicker the reaction…smaller the bubbles.
Size of bubbles is important because it dictates the density of the spray foam insulation. Foam roofing spray insulation, which chances are will be walked on, needs to be stronger and denser than wall or attic spray foam insulation, which after being applied is probably not going to be touched again. So you can see that making foam insulation in the lab is pretty high tech stuff. There are various formulas, all dependent on the type of insulating it will be used for.
Now, you might be wondering, where do the bubbles come from? The bubbles for foam insulation come from what is called the blowing agent. It is a liquid that has a very low boiling point. When it is applied as a spray, it converts from a liquid to a gas, forming the bubbles.
These four liquids are combined together, but it is only one half of the recipe for spray foam insulation. The other part needed is an ingredient called isocyanate, which is a highly reactive molecule. It is separated from the other ingredients until the spraying begins. They are dispensed separately all the way through the hoses to the gun. When the applicator pulls the gun, the materials are mixed together, the reaction occurs, it dispenses in a liquid form, but the reaction drives the expansion very quickly, creating spray foam insulation.
As you can see, this process is very high tech. In this section, I will further expand by classifying the most common types of spray foam insulation because it can get a little confusing with the different sub-categories. It is important to read this section because the different types of spray on insulation have different traits and uses in home construction or building construction.
A lot of descriptions found on the internet get very technical when describing spray foam insulation, but I want to keep it very simple. First off, and to keep it as simple as possible, spray foam insulation can be broken down into two distinct groups. The first type is called open-cell foam and the second type is called closed-cell foam. I will further describe them in the following paragraphs.
Open Cell Versus Closed Cell Spray Foam Insulation
Open-Cell Foam Insulation
The easiest way to describe open-cell spray foam insulation is that it is spray foam with tiny cells that are not completely closed. It is very spongy looking and is also much softer to the touch than closed-cell. So, in other words, it is much less dense. It has a lower R-value, which is the standard measure of insulation, than the other foam.
The reasons to use open cell foam insulation? It is a more inexpensive option for a homeowner. Additionally, the reasons to use it boil down to the type of application it is being used for. If you are looking to insulate vaulted ceilings, interior walls, or floors other than a floor that is on the bottom level that has contact with the outside, than using the open-cell spray foam insulation is a good option. The reason is that there is much less concern about water vapor, which open-cell has no barrier for. Another reason to use it on the inner walls of a home or building is that is offers much better sound absorption. Since it is spongy and soft, it absorbs a lot more sound.
Closed-Cell Foam Insulation
As you can probably guess from the title, closed cell foam insulation is packed tight, without many air cells left open. It makes it very thick and dense. It has a much higher R-value than any other types of insulation and not only provides a great air barrier, but also an excellent vapor barrier.
One can probably surmise by reading the above description that closed-cell is a great insulating choice for anywhere in the house, including outside. You would be correct. Since it is harder, thicker, and provides vapor protection, this insulator works great for roofs, crawl spaces, basement walls, attics, anywhere actually. Plus, it has double the insulation value versus open-cell.
The key takeaway from this is that if you are having trouble deciding between the two types of spray foam insulation, than you need to review your requirements. If you are looking to insulate inner walls, or areas that do not have much concern for water vapor intrusion, than go with the lesser expensive option of open-cell. If you are in need of a spray foam insulation option to do any type of exterior work, than choose closed-cell.
Above we addressed the main categories of spray foam insulation. But to further confuse the matter, I need to mention a few sub-categories. It is important, and I’ll try to best summarize without making it too technical and confusing.
There are three sub-categories of spray foam insulation that I will quickly describe. The first is two-component high-pressure. The second is two-component low-pressure. The last is one component foam.
This type of foam insulator system is most often used in new construction, or in situations where there is a large area to insulate, including roofing insulation. The application uses large drums and very high pressure to make the job go very quick. This is the option that must be done by a professional spray foam insulation installer.
This is the best way to spray foam insulate a home that is being remodeled or for small areas. The reason this is the best solution for a home remodeling job is that this type of spray foam insulation fills the wall cavities much more slowly than the high pressure type. So if you have walls that already have sheet rock or drywall, than this is the best solution. The sprayfoam insulation will slowly fill the wall cavities and there will be little chance of the foam bursting through the walls and ruining the drywall. This is a solution used by do-it-yourself remodeling people and often involves using spray foam insulation kits.
One Component Foam
The one component system is great for filling cracks, holes, gaps, and crevices. This spray foam insulation type is the typical solution for use around doors and windows. This is the typical spray foam insulation product that you will find at your local hardware store and is often used in DIY projects.
This site thus far has described the history of spray foam insulation and the various types. Now it is time to address the advantages of spray foam insulation for a home or a building. I’ll try to address all these advantages with a comprehensive approach that will address matters such as insulation value, sealant power, durability, and cost savings. For an expansive look at the advantages of foam insulating, see my new spray foam insulation advantages guide.
One of the most obvious advantages of spray foam insulation is that it provides superior insulation versus other types. Most know of fiberglass, the most common type found in a home. It comes in sheets and is stapled into the wall cavities and laid down in the attic. It’s been used for years because anyone can install it, and it’s the least expensive option. But it’s not the most efficient. Spray foam insulation, as mentioned many times thus far, expands and fills every nook and cranny, creating a tight seal, with a two part chemical reaction. These chemicals, when combined, create a much more dense insulator, and have a much higher R-value than fiberglass.
It Seals Better
As was described above, fiberglass is stapled into place or is laid down in the case of an attic installation. It doesn’t create any type of seal. But spray foam insulation does. It expands to fill the entire area. When sprayed on, foam insulation finds every hole, every crack, and plugs it up. By creating this seal, no air can leak into the home or building, which makes the temperature much more constant throughout the structure.
Lower Lifetime Cost
The old saying holds true, “you get what you pay for.” I’ll be honest, foam insulation is more expensive. But not much more as the average is 20-30% higher than that of fiberglass insulation. Plus, you have to pay professional installers to come in and do it. The price can shock and maybe deter a lot of you from considering it.
Yes, fiberglass is cheap, and easy to install. But that’s the end of the list as far as benefits. Long term, energy bills are going to be a lot higher because it is less efficient. Spray foam insulation, on the other hand, is going to pay for itself in the long run. With the higher R-value and the better sealant capabilities, less air is going to escape. This means that your energy bills are going to be far less.
Spray foam insulation is becoming more and more popular every year. It has many advantages and benefits versus traditional types of insulation. However, there can be legitimate concerns about the safety of insulating a home or building with spray foam. As was described above, spray foam insulation is made with many chemicals, and as you can see from some of the photos, the people apply it are dressed up like they are entering a radioactive zone. There are several precautions that need to be taken when installing spray foam insulation and that’s why it’s best to have a professional do it.
Personal protection is the first line of defense when insulating with spray foam. Protective equipment such as an air respirator, eye protection, chemical resistant clothing, and chemical resistant gloves are required by law. I can’t stress this enough, if you do not have this equipment, do not use spray foam. Additionally, all people that do not have this equipment must vacate the premises while the installation is taking place. I am amazed when I see videos of installations taking place and the host of the show has no equipment on. That is a big no no.
I can’t stress the safety element enough. Spray foam insulation deals with several chemicals. These include the reactive chemical known as isocyanates and polyol, plus additional chemicals including catalysts, flame retardants, blowing agents and surfactants. The hazards of being exposed to these chemicals include asthma and other breathing problems, skin and eye problems, and lung damage.
My hope is not to necessarily scare you away from using spray foam, but to deter the do-it-yourself type people. It’s serious business. The silver lining to this is that it is safe after it has cured (dried). Most experts say that it takes 3 or 4 days for the spray foam insulation to fully cure.
While you will find a wide range of spray foam insulation brands and options these days, not all of them will work for everyone. It all depends on the type of insulation application you have. The best place to start is with a simple evaluation done by a local and licensed expert in the field. They will walk through the project with you and provide the most common sense solutions.
I hope that the spray foam insulation information provided here has been helpful and stay tuned for more in-depth articles and videos discussing the various components of spray foam insulation.
Thank you for visiting spray foam insulation and I wish you good luck in finding the best solution for your home construction or building construction project.