Lately there’s much discussion about spray foam in remodeling. New-construction and commercial spray foam are walks in the park by comparison.
A lot of the conversation was started by and among people who attended a two-day training session by Building Science Corp., in Westford, Mass., in December. We heard from foam manufacturers, a distinguished academic researcher, foam component providers, an SPFA (Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance) rep, and host Joe Lstiburek. Then we spoke among ourselves. A lot.
When foam board, a radio, or a car is made in a factory, the process can be closely controlled and, most of the time, the product is exactly the same as the one ahead of it on the assembly line.
When insulation contractors show up on the job with a rig containing 55-gallon barrels of foam ingredients that are mixed together by sophisticated equipment to start a chemical reaction, the foam product that results is actually manufactured right then and there. When the “factory” is a mobile spray rig, there are a lot more variables: temperature, humidity, condition of the equipment, age of the ingredients, you name it.
Things can and do go wrong. Sometimes they go catastrophically wrong. Household pets die. People get seriously ill. I’ve seen it.
The chemistry involved is intimidating: amines, glycols, and phosphate; methylene diphenyl diisocyanate. The process is intimidating too: protect the occupants and the installer, have a Plan B for every Plan A.
If your goal is to deliver a high-performance product safely, you — the remodeler doing the job — must be well informed and prepared to work with the building occupants along with the insulation contractor to explain not only the benefits but also the potential hazards.
We’re not talking here about a few cans of gap and crack filler from the hardware store, but if there’s a spray rig in the driveway, it’s time to assume full professional responsibility for delivering the project safely.
The remodeler and the insulating sub must advise the home’s occupants of the safety requirements for spray foam products and installation. All the information and guidance you need is readily available on the SPFA website.
The cost of doing spray foam will rise. Some homeowners may not be willing to accept the inconvenience of being out of the house for at least 24 hours, or to accept some other potential hazard that should be disclosed to them before agreeing to do the job.
If so, I urge you to resort to other insulating materials for that particular project. —Ed Voytovich, now retired, is a 40-year veteran of the remodeling and energy-efficiency industries.