As Building Energy Codes Become More Efficient, Spray Foam Insulation Offers More

Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation has been an energy efficiency tool for decades.

Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation has been an energy efficiency tool for decades.


As states and local jurisdictions increasingly move toward more efficient building codes in regards to energy use, the manufacturers of construction materials have been busy developing and improving products that can help meet these new standards. While improved energy efficiency can be achieved through many systems in a home or building, from lighting and appliances to flooring and windows, one of the most obvious ways to improve efficiency is through building envelope insulation.

Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation has been an important energy efficiency tool for decades, with specifiers, architects and builders recognizing its various benefits. Building on this success, SPF insulation manufacturers are actively working to find innovative ways to continually enhance the product and to identify new ways that it can help buildings meet emerging energy efficiency codes.  

To provide a bigger picture of how the SPF insulation industry is working to help buildings meet energy efficiency goals, we reached out to five industry leaders with questions about the impact of new energy codes, the role of energy codes in next generation construction, recent advancements to the product itself and the versatility that SPF offers.

Q: Updates to energy codes now require more energy-efficient building features and tighter building envelopes. How can spray foam insulation help designers and builders achieve higher levels of energy performance in their projects?

A: Since spray foam insulation products provide thermal insulation and resist air flow, they help to neutralize what the U.S. Department of Energy estimates to be the source of almost half of a building’s energy loss. As state and federal energy codes encourage higher and higher levels of efficiency, architects are increasingly turning towards an all-in-one system to help mitigate heat transfer in their designs.

John Broniek, Senior Engineer, Icynene

Q: Zero net energy buildings are the next frontier in sustainable construction. What attributes make spray foam insulation a logical choice for these ambitious projects? Can you provide an example of how spray foam insulation was used in a zero net energy construction project?

A: Zero net energy buildings are already on the near-term horizon per some state building codes, so it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” zero net energy will be mandated. SPF is an excellent insulation choice because it is a multifunctional product that can serve various control layers for the building envelope.  One project, The Arc House, has a hybrid envelope with closed-cell SPF insulation plus an acrylic roofing membrane, combined with polyiso board and plywood. With the addition of a few solar panels, the result is a highly insulated house that provides net zero energy usage. SPF worked well on this house due to its unique rounded shape; the expansive nature of SPF allowed the contractor to achieve a precise installation. Additionally, the SPF roofing membrane provided a monolithic seal around the solar panel mounts, helping to prevent air leakage through the penetrations.

Jeremy Parker, National Sales Manager, Covestro LLC

Q: The sustainable construction industry today encompasses more than a focus on building energy performance. What are spray foam insulation manufacturers doing to develop products that meet today’s market demands?

A: One major change that the spray foam industry is undergoing involves a transition to new Low Global Warming Potential (LGWP) blowing (foaming) agents. Honeywell anticipated this need many years ago and has been at the forefront of this development. The transition started in North America around three years ago when Honeywell commercialized its platform of LGWP blowing agents. We have since seen rapid growth of these products largely driven by consumer demand as well as design and performance standards. 

The spray foam industry is undergoing a transition to new Low Global Warming Potential blowing (foaming) agents.

Designing for sustainability has become more than a single attribute and more often involves systems integration. Energy efficiency is one aspect of that, but it also includes resilience, storm resistance, comfort, air quality and environmental footprint. Spray foam insulation contributes to industry sustainability goals by providing multiple functionality in a single product that addresses several sustainability measures. Thermal performance, air sealing, comfort, moisture control, storm resistance and structural enhancement can all be improved when you use spray foam insulation. With the added benefit of a reduced environmental footprint, the new LGWP formulations further sustainability goals and positions spray foam insulation as the product of choice.

Xuaco Pascual, Global Marketing Manager—Foam Insulation, Honeywell

Q: We often think of spray foam insulation as a wall product. How can spray foam insulation be used in roofing applications to improve overall building performance?

A: Spray foam roof systems are the only roof systems that are seamless, self-flashing and adhere to the substrate. These qualities help eliminate air and water leakage. Unless mechanically damaged, a spray foam roof system is resistant to water leakage, and if damaged, water tends to be contained in the damaged area. This can reduce the cost of repair and interior damage. Additionally, SPF roof systems can be a renewable solution through maintenance and reapplication of roof coatings that help protect the SPF from degradation extending the roof life and saving replacement costs.

Doug Weaver, Roofing Business Manager, SWD Urethane 

Q: Building resiliency and fortification are buzzwords constantly mentioned in sustainable construction. Is spray foam insulation an effective measure for construction projects that may be subject to the stresses of natural disasters like hurricanes and flooding?

A: Products like closed cell spray polyurethane foam tend to work well in projects subject to the stresses of natural disasters.  This is due to inherent characteristics of the material, such as a very low water absorption rate and a high tensile and adhesion force.  For buildings subject to water damage during a flood event, using material not damaged by water contact can speed up the cleanup and re-occupancy times and reduce the amount of waste generated during the rebuilding process.  For homes subject to high wind events like a hurricane, applying closed cell SPF foam to the roof’s underside can reduce structural damage by helping to attach the roof sheathing to the frame while simultaneously providing a secondary water barrier in the event that the roof cladding is damaged.

Resiliency and fortification are key components to the sustainable construction process.  Spray foam, with its inherent features, is an excellent insulation choice because the material has durability and can withstand the stresses of nature.  It is difficult to see how spray foam wouldn’t be a key material in sustainable construction.

Brian Oman, Application Specialist, Sr., BASF

As these answers from leading spray foam insulation manufacturers show, ongoing innovation and industry application development efforts are continuously improving the versatility of spray foam and its benefits to home owners and construction professionals.

About the Author
Lee Salamone
is senior director at the Center for Polyurethanes Industry.

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