A Fail safe Formula For Finding the Right Spray Foam Insulation and Installer
Ten years ago, Allison Bailes PHD wrote an article that appeared on his website Energy Vanguard, an excellent online newsletter/blog for building science, energy efficiency and green products. The article, “Four Pitfalls of Spray Foam Insulation” garnered thousands of hits and turned a number ready customers away from spray foam, though in most cases the culprit wasn’t the foam itself, but the installer.
- Spray foam isn’t thick enough. Poor quality installer!
- Too many air leakage sites were missed. Poor quality installer!
- Too much, too little spray foam. Poor quality installer!
- Foam contracts and pulls away from framing. Poor quality installer!
Time for an update—Ten years ago spray foam hardly had the foothold it does today. Current spray foam technology and installation acumen has leapfrogged into next generation science. Suffice it to say, spray foam is the most stable, versatile, valuable, and energy efficient way to insulate. The only thing standing in the way of it becoming the most popular choice is the perceived price and the selection process for the perfect installer.
In addition, many readers missed the part of Allison’s article where he clearly says, “Spray foam insulation is a great product. Homes insulated with it can be some of the most efficient and comfortable homes built.” The point of Allison’s article is NOT, Don’t use Spray Foam, the point is buy good foam from a great installer and you will be comfortable for the duration of the time you are in that home! As Allison concludes “The good news, though, is that spray foam’s problems are generally less frequent and easier to overcome with proper planning and follow through.”
Let’s go ahead and get price out of the way: (You do get what you pay for!)
Spray foam is more expensive up front, no question. Better quality contractors tend to charge more but help you avoid the PITFALLS! Depending on your climate, you can expect to save between 15% and 50% on energy costs over traditional insulation. Together with your HVAC system, the insulation you choose will determine the way your home will “feel” for the entire time you live there. If you live in the Midwest, that can be the difference between energy bills that can make you faint or bills that will make you smile.
My favorite story is the one where the guy had a 100-year-old brick building with zero insulation and three boilers. During the winter, all three boilers were running 24/7 and couldn’t keep the living space above 60. Monthly heating bills often topped $2,000 in January, February and March. After new HVAC, windows and doors and $30K worth of spray foam were installed, the following winter, he paid $25 per month for heat! Hardly more expensive.
Now, onto the formula for success in choosing an installer:
- Begin at the vendor’s Website. How an installer presents him/herself as a local professional can speak volumes about how they’ll approach and tackle the most challenging corners of your project. Do they offer a lifetime guarantee? Are they members of the ICAA and OSHA certified? Do they list and link to the manufacturers of the product (s) they install? Is there an ample list of positive testimonials? A portal for you to ask questions? Are phone calls returned in a timely manner?
- Does the installer have a good reputation/relationship with local inspectors? Don’t simply trust your general contractor’s recommendation, do a little due diligence. Important: Are R-value claims backed up by ESR documents readily available at https://icc-es.org/evaluation-report-program/?
- Is the installer comfortable with qualified third-party inspections? An installer who is willing to have third-party professionals inspect their work says a great deal about their confidence in their employees, their products and their attention to the subtle nuances of each project. If you sense hesitation, move on to the next vendor on your list.
- Does the installer buy quality foam? Professional, high quality material is not hard to find but is critical to the success. A visit to SPFA, Sprayfoam.org, home of the Insulation Contractors Association of America is a good place to learn about the product a contractor recommends. Insist the installer state the type/brand of foam on the bid and finally, check that the material on the truck is the material on the bid. The American Chemistry Council also has timely articles on the latest trends in spray foam.
- Does the owner regularly send their staff to training’s offered by manufacturers? This is an easy ask and an answer an installer should have at the ready. In addition to best practice training programs for new hires, foam manufacturers frequently offer in-service presentations and clinics on installation techniques, as well as trouble-shooting tutorials on tools and products.
- Is the installer well versed in the latest energy code? Having a good reputation for compliance and leadership with local code officials is a must. A good spray foam installer can also be an excellent source of education for architects, builders, and developers.
In essence, the positives of spray foam are solid with green products gaining in popularity as manufacturers substitute a portion of polyurethane with renewables such as soy. According to Architect Magazine, “If a single product can claim the status of a green building silver bullet, it might be foam insulation. Single handedly, these products can almost guarantee the highest practical levels of R-value per inch, effective air sealing, moisture management, and a higher performance.” Add to that its sound insulation properties and its ability to reduce airborne contaminants, mold and allergens, its certainly the future of building a better home.