by Scott Schnelle
As an energy consultant for home retrofits, I often have customers
and acquaintances ask my opinion regarding green technologies and
energy efficient products. Undoubtedly, with the recent surge of the
green movement and a shift toward becoming more environmentally
sustainable, now is a great time to invest in these types of
One product that has been getting more and more attention lately is
spray foam. The product itself has been around for many years, but
it has recently risen in popularity for a couple of reasons. Here,
I’ll discuss spray foam briefly and then touch on some tips for
investing in this market.
First, spray foam is a more environmentally efficient method of
insulation as opposed to traditional fiberglass installation. Spray
foam is usually several times more expensive, depending on the size
of the spray foam tanks being used. Bigger tanks are cheaper per
ounce. That being said, the spray foam installation is often quicker
and easier, and after factoring in labor costs, spray foam can
compete with fiberglass in many applications solely on price.
The product itself is a thick, foaming substance that sprays out in
a thin layer but quickly begins expanding on contact. After about 60
seconds, it ceases expanding and begins to harden.
Otto Bayer developed the product in the 1930s while he was trying to
develop an alternative to the rubber tire. It was also used in World
War II in the German U-boats as floatation material. In the ‘60s and
‘70s, the product began infiltrating into the residential market as
home insulation. In recent years, home improvement television shows
have spurred a new interest in spray foam. Most customers that come
to us cite these types of programs as their point of familiarity
with the product.
My company highly recommends this product. It’s great for large gaps
and cracks that need to be air-sealed. It also acts as a great
insulator and can be used to save time in some applications like rim
Because the product has been around for many years, I would not
consider spray foam an “up-and-coming” product. However, I believe
it is gaining quite a bit of popularity because of the green
movement and the push for greater energy efficiency. I also believe
that we’ll see a drop in the price of this product as more people
use it and it is manufactured on a larger scale.
Currently, my company uses a spray foam product from Dow Chemical
though we do not necessarily endorse any one company or brand. All
major industry players carry spray foam products, including Johns
Manville (a subsidiary of Berkshire-Hathaway, href="http://www.altenergystocks.com/comm/content/berkshire/">BRK-A
and BRK-B), Owens Corning ( href="http://www.altenergystocks.com/comm/content/owens-corning/">OC)
and Certainteed (a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain (SGO.PA). Another
company worth exploring is BioBased Technologies, LLC.
Biobased is based in Arkansas and specializes in polyurethane foam
insulation products. The notable aspect about BioBased Technologies
is that they use a soy-based product, which is becoming a new trend
within the spray foam movement. Other soy-based insulation companies
include InsulSoy, Emega Biopolymers, Urethane Soy Systems and Green
Bear Innovation. Though, it is safe to say that BioBased is the
industry leader in the soy-based product. I see soy-based
spray foam growing in popularity faster than traditional spray foam.
Soy based foam could even become the industry standard in
residential applications in the future, most likely because
traditional spray foam products are are quite toxic. We have had a
few cases where employees fail to use their masks properly and
subsequently report pain in their lungs and a shortness of breath.
It is extremely important to wear a protective body suit along with
a breathing mask if ever applying spray foam. The soy-based
product is much safer for the installer and the homeowner as well.
The level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are much lower with
the soy product, and I think as awareness about the harmful effects
of VOCs becomes more widespread, more people will be seeking a safer
product. Our company is currently working with distributors in the
area that carry soy-based spray foam.
Though Johns Manville has a line of spray foam products, they have
yet to introduce a soy-based product. The same is true for Owens
Corning and Certainteed. I believe that this is because soy-based
spray foam is still relatively new. Soy-based spray foam has many
advocates, but it also has been the subject of some criticism. For
instance, many believe that the environmental benefits are
overstated, as soy-based spray foam could open up its own set of
environmental problems including pesticide use and the use of
genetically-modified crops. However, many agree that these potential
problems still outweigh the carbon footprint and toxins associated
with traditional spray foam.
About the Author: Scott
Schnelle is an energy auditor with href="http://www.goenergylink.com">Energy Link, a home
retrofit company based out of Columbia, Missouri. EnergyLink
specializes in increasing energy efficiency in homes through
comfort sealing, duct renovations, insulation, heating and air and