The Surprising Impact of Spray Foam Insulation on Global Warming
The “miracle” of spray foam insulation as seen through the eyes and experience of Iain Stuart, Carlisle Spray Foam Insulation’s Canadian Sales Manager.
If people’s eyes glaze over when you tell them about spray foam insulation, it’s because they don’t understand the big picture. It’s hard to imagine that something as simple as insulation could have such an impact on global warming. But it does. Just follow the money if you don’t believe it. There’s about US$1.39 billion in the global spray foam insulation market and it’s growing over 6% each year. Overall, it’s a $27 billion industry and climbing due to the growing demand for energy-efficient buildings that reduce heat transfer and energy consumption.
Human Impact and Long-Term Benefits
But the other “soft” reason is human – that is, long-term benefits to people. Iain Stuart, a married dad of two young kids – and national sales manager for Carlisle Spray Foam Insulation Canada – agrees.
From Biology to Building: A Career Path in Insulation
After graduating from the University of Windsor with a BSc in biology, Stuart started work as a tech for a mineral wool insulation company. The biology degree included physics, which helped him understand the technical side of insulation. He eventually moved into architectural sales to promote better insulation to architects.
Transition to Carlisle Spray Foam Insulation
After nine years, he moved to Carlisle Spray Foam as general manager and is now national sales manager. Spray foam, he felt, had great potential for reducing energy consumption and positively impacting global warming.
The Superiority of Carlisle’s Product
And Carlisle’s product, he felt, was particularly effective. “It’s the spray foam with the highest long-term thermal resistance (LTTR). That term is kind of like R-value, but it’s the nomenclature used in the spray foam insulation industry.”
Changes in Foam Insulation Industry
As an industry, foam insulation has changed due to increased requirements to reduce global warming potential in its manufacturing. Spray-applied foam insulation offers insulation value as well as a reduction in air leakage in the building envelope. Typically, builders have used halfpound or two-pound foams to ensure air barrier continuity, especially in areas where it is difficult to maintain continuity of sheet-applied air barriers (such as rooms over garages).
Advantages of Two-Pound Foams
What builders may not realize is that two-pound foams have increased structural stability, which is an advantage to both air and vapour barriers. The Carlisle product, Stuart says, is also the “most dimensionally stable in Canada.” In other words, Stuart explains, “You measure a cube before placing it in an environmental chamber for 28 days. Every foam will change in that chamber, but ours has the least amount of change.”
Carlisle’s Commitment to Quality and Efficiency
He says some spray foams can shrink, which is what Carlisle aims to avoid. Its R-value is the highest in Canada, at 6.7 per inch (four-inch thick foam), and is capable of getting into nooks and crannies in the building. Another benefit is “zero field issues, so zero headaches for builders,” Stuart adds. “It’s so consistently stable that there is no shrinkage and no need to fix once it’s installed in new homes. That takes a lot of worry, time, and effort out of a builder’s hands.”
Carlisle and Campanale Homes: A Case Study
The foam is such an effective product that Campanale Homes selected it to use in its low-HERS zero energy-ready demonstration home. “Campanale builds a lot of top-shelf homes with low HERS ratings,” Stuart says. “And they wanted to try something new and better to achieve the lowest HERS score possible.”
Increased Airtightness and Structural Strength
The project is a test case for the builder to eliminate the use of a 6 mil poly air vapour barrier in the main walls. Further, four-inch foam in the wall cavities will increase insulation levels to 26.8 (4″ × 6.7″) while also increasing airtightness. Lastly, the foam will increase the structure’s strength against extreme winds by adding lateral strength.
Environmental Evolution of Spray Foams
While the product has excellent qualities, spray foams in general are not 100% environmentally friendly. As Stuart explains, “Spray foam has a matrix of polymer and gas bubbles within bubbles, and originally the industry used chlorofluorocarbons [CFCs], which create holes in the ozone layer. To change that, the industry did eventually shift to hydrofluorocarbons [HFCs], which do not contribute to ozone holes. But it did produce greenhouse gas and therefore contributed to the potential for global warming.”
Industry-Wide Commitment to Sustainable Solutions
However, the industry continued to research and develop to meet the challenge by minimizing Global Warming Potential values (GWPs), with each unit equivalent to one CO2 molecule.
The old HFC was equivalent to about 700 or 800 CO2 molecules, but as of January 1, 2021, the industry began using hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), which has a GWP of just one. “Clearly, the improvements are significant,” Stuart says. It’s an industry-wide standard now, and all spray foam manufacturers must use it.
Transparency in Manufacturing with EPDs
Manufacturers can also up their game with an environmental product declaration (EPD), which reveals exactly how they make their products. This standardized document, Stuart says, “was pushed by architects and designers to force everyone in the industry to show their cards, so to speak. And it allows builders and architects to compare each product.”
Adapting Insulation to Various Housing Forms
Some housing forms work better with mineral wool batt insulation than others. It’s less effective in townhomes because the walls between the units need to be up to spray the foam in, whereas in a detached home, you can spray the foam onto studs before installing drywall. But Carlisle has been working on designs to install spray foam into homes built very close together.
Meeting Fire Safety Standards
To be more competitive, the company recently completed ULC fire-rated designs for one-hour and two-hour fire ratings. To date, builders have been restricted to mineral wool in homes built very close together because of that insulation’s fire retardancy.
Accessing Carlisle’s Spray Foam for Building Projects
So how does a builder get a hold of this product? If a builder wants to use Carlisle foam, they need to go through a certified contractor. “That’s because of the National Building Code, which requires spray foam contractors to be certified through a certification body. There are only a small handful of certification bodies in Canada,” Stuart explains.
The Importance of Proper Installation
Mixing chemicals must be done right, Stuart says, which is why it’s critical to abide by the rules. “Our name is on that product, and we’re known for quality and we want to keep it that way.”
A Financially Smart Choice
It also makes financial sense to use a certified installer rather than take a DIY approach by the builder, he adds. “The equipment is expensive and needs to be maintained regularly to ensure product performance.”
Carlisle’s Commitment to Builders
While spray foam costs about double what fiberglass batts cost, Carlisle is looking at ways to be competitive. Their incentive program is just in its infancy but it shows the company’s desire to work with builders. Carlisle also offers a warranty covering up to $50,000 for material, labour, and relocation costs (if a homeowner has to move to a hotel while issues are being fixed).
Industry-Leading Warranty and Quality Assurance
“No other Canadian spray foam company offers that,” Stuart boasts