Environmental Impacts of Spray Foam Insulation

June - 2019

As environmental concerns continue to rise, homeowners are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint. Investing in proper insulation for your home is a smart place to start your eco-friendly journey. By insulating your home, you are lowering your energy consumption, in return, lowering your environmental impact.

Inquisitive consumers are curious as to how insulation is impacting the environment. Some may think you only have two options: use an excess amount of energy due to poor insulation or subject the Earth to the environmental impact of insulation materials. There are several different types of insulation available for different needs but regardless, you will want to ensure you are getting a quality product that takes into account its cradle to grave environmental impacts. When you work with the right company and they use appropriate products, harmful insulation will not be an option. This article will take you through spray foam insulation and its impact.

What is Spray Polyurethane Foam?

Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) is a type of insulation that mixes two chemicals to form a plastic-like foam that is both a thermal barrier and air barrier. Spray foam is formed when a chemical reaction occurs between the products and then cures quickly to form a durable seal. It can be used in the cavities of ceilings, walls, and floors as well as on knee walls and crawl spaces. When you consider installing SPF, it is important that you work with a licensed insulation contractor that practices the latest standards in the industry. It is just as important to choose a qualified installer as it is to choose a proper product. Working with a professional will allow you, as a homeowner, to understand if you are making the right choice of insulation.

What are the different types of spray foam?

There are two types of spray foam insulation, open cell and closed cell, at Ecotelligent Homes we work exclusively with closed cell because it provides the best benefits for existing homes. A major benefit of closed cell spray foam is its high R-value which is up to 6.9 per inch of insulation. This measure is a material’s resistance to heat transfer through conduction, so the higher the R-value the better material can combat the heat. Closed cell spray foam is also an air barrier and water barrier, so it will stop the drafts and prevent water leaks.

What is spray foam’s environmental impact?

Making ethical home improvements is a great way to reduce your ecological footprint. When you consider installing spray foam, we highly suggest asking the provider about the global warming potential of their product. Global warming potential (GWP), according to the EPA, is the measure of how much energy the emissions of 1 ton of a gas will absorb over a given period of time, relative to the emissions of 1 ton of carbon dioxide. This means the higher the global warming potential, the more a gas warms the earth compared to carbon dioxide. A large issue associated with spray foam is the chemicals used in common blowing agents, like HFC-245fa, HFC-365mfc, and HCFC-141b, have an extremely high GWP. HFC-245fa has a GWP of 1030 meaning it is 1030 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide; HFC-365mfc and HCFC-141b have GWP of 794 and 725, respectively. At Ecotelligent Homes, we use closed cell spray foam whose blowing agent has a GWP of 1.

By using proper closed cell spray foam with an incredibly low global warming potential, we eliminate ozone depletion and reduce the global warming impact allowing for effective insulation without hurting the environment.

Installing Spray Foam

If spray foam is not installed correctly it could pose quite a few risks. There is no sugarcoating, chemicals are being mixed and if they are not mixed correctly it could lead to inadequate insulation and health issues. Since we use an advanced spray foam rig, our chemicals are forced to maintain ideal ratio levels.

A common downside to spray foam is that the occupants of the home are required to be out of the house for at least 24 hours to allow the insulation to cure because it is not safe until it is completely cured. During the curing process, the closed cell spray foam hardens and becomes rigid so it will not continue to off-gas. The equipment or rig we use to install the spray foam allows the product to be installed at a lower pressure than traditional rigs, which reduces the amount of off-gassing generated in the install process. This reduces off-gassing problems and will leave you displaced from your home for a shorter period of time. The closed cell spray foam used at Ecotelligent Homes is GREENGUARD Gold certified, formaldehyde-free and has a quicker cure time compared to other spray foams. 

When spray foam does not cure correctly it could lead to long term off-gassing issues, induce health problems and create harsh smells.  The common cause for long term off-gassing is a poor-quality install. If spray foam is installed too thick you can actually trap the liquid chemicals and prevent them fully curing. The good news is that when spray foam is properly installed, it is safe. Hiring a professional is crucial and working with a company that does continuous training and has detailed operating procedures is a good way to ensure your spray foam insulation is installed correctly to avoid future problems.

To conclude, spray foam insulation is beneficial as long as you prioritize quality. If you are not careful you could end up with a product that has high global warming potential or poor installation repercussions. Ask questions, do your research and work with a quality company that has the best interest of both you and the environment.

Would you like more information on environmentally-friendly insulation? Lower your carbon footprint with sensible insulation and give Ecotelligent Homes a call to help.