According to a 2008 study conducted by the Cleveland-based Freedonia Group, the U.S. construction-insulation-materials market is expected to exceed $11 billion in 2012. Fiberglass controls approximately 85 percent of the U.S. home insulation market; cellulose has 10 percent of the market; and spray polyurethane foam, or SPF, makes up a little less than 5 percent, or about $200 million, of the market.

According to the Fairfax, Va.-based Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance, SPF has one of the highest insulating R-values—up to R-6 per 1-inch thickness—of the available insulation products on the market today. SPF insulation also provides an air barrier, which protects homes from moisture, pollutants and pests. These factors combined with sustainability aspects and safety features deliver an impressive future for the SPF insulation industry.

What Is It?

SPF insulation is a two-component system, consisting of an A side and a B side. The A side is a petroleum-based polymeric isocyanate. The B side is a blend of polyols (the building blocks of foam), blowing agents, flame retardants, surfactants and catalysts. The two sides together create the foam. In residential applications, the product can be used in walls, floors, unvented and vented attics, basements and ceilings.

“Portable and disposable SPF systems require no outside source of power to use them,” explains Mark Wojtiuk, general manager for RHH Foam Systems Inc., New Berlin, Wis. “They are designed such that the chemical reaction between the two components causes them to expand and create the final SPF product.”

“Spray foam is sprayed in as a liquid that quickly expands multiple times in size to fill cracks and gaps,” says Jennifer Wilson, brand manager for BioBased Technologies, Fayetteville, Ark. “This seals the structure, and a sealed thermal envelope allows building occupants to efficiently and effectively condition the air inside their home.”

There are several types of SPF to choose from. Closed-cell SPF, which is available in low-, medium- or high-density products, contains tiny cells that are packed tightly together and are filled with a gas that makes the foam expand, which provides structural support to a building. The advantages of closed-cell foam include its strength, higher R-value than open cell, and strong resistance to air and water vapor. In open-cell SPF, the cells are not completely closed and expansion occurs as air fills the open space. Open-cell foam, which is only available as a low-density product, requires less material and, therefore, is less expensive.

Choosing a low-, medium- or high-density SPF determines the weight of the product and its R-value. Low-density, open-cell SPF, which weighs between 0.4 to 0.6 pounds per cubic foot, typically uses water as a blowing agent and has an R-value around 3.5 per inch. Medium-density, closed-cell SPF, which weighs between 1 1/2 to 2 pounds per cubic foot, uses a high-R-value blowing agent and achieves an R-value of around 6 per inch. High-density SPF, which weighs 2 pounds per cubic foot, features a high-R-value blowing agent and achieves R-values ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 per inch.

All SPFs significantly reduce sound transmission by sealing cracks and gaps, thereby preventing sound through walls, floors and ceilings. Because high-density, closed-cell SPF rigidly adheres to exterior sheathing and studs, it also can deaden the sound caused by vibrations and strong winds.

In addition, the seamless barrier in all SPF products inhibits growth of mold and bacteria.

“Closed-cell spray foam controls moisture well enough to satisfy current International Code Council requirements without an added interior vapor retarder in most applications,” says Tom Sojak, vice
president of sales for Gaco Western’s WallFoam division, Seattle.

Homeowner Interest

SPF addresses consumers’ top-of-mind issues, including home comfort and energy efficiency. The effective air seal created by SPF reduces energy loss and moisture penetration, as well as limits entrance of outdoor allergens and pollutants that can affect the comfort of a home.

“The growing trends in the marketplace around more energy-efficient and greener buildings have created an emphasis on controlling the air leakage of buildings, in addition to ensuring a well-insulated building enclosure,” says Chad Fenbert, account business development manager for Owens Corning, Toledo, Ohio. “Homeowners and builders are much more educated about the importance of comfort. It’s not just turning the thermometer up or down; rather, they want to focus on controlling potential leaks from the start.”

“Spray foam insulation has seen continued growth in the market, even in a down economy, because of interest in green building and energy efficiency,” Wilson adds. “We’ve seen interest in the product for retrofits and new construction. It is an efficient product that will pay off for building owners and for the environment in the long run because of the amount of energy it saves.”

Despite SPF’s many benefits, some homeowners run into sticker shock when they initially compare SPF to more traditional insulation systems, which can cost three to four times less than SPF. Homeowners must be educated that they can realize as much as 50 percent savings in their heating and cooling costs when they use SPF with other responsible building practices, such as thermally efficient doors and windows, good air sealing and right-sized HVAC equipment.

“The highest and quickest return for spray foam is in very cold and very hot climates,” Sojak notes. “The product still will provide a return on investment in more mild, temperate climates but within a slower time frame.”

To minimize the upfront costs, hybrid insulation systems that incorporate SPF and fiberglass insulation have become an emerging trend. “Although a whole-house application of spray foam can bring the highest R-value, it can be too costly for some homeowners and/or construction projects,” says Lionel Rossignol, product manager for CertaSpray by CertainTeed, Valley Forge, Pa. “Hybrid systems offer some of the best value propositions available for home insulation by combining the air-sealing characteristics of foam insulation with the time-proven performance and lower cost of fiberglass insulation.”


As with the installation of any building product, it is important that contractors are fully trained about proper installation practices and safety procedures. Material Safety Data Sheets and technical data sheets should be available at every jobsite.

Several SPF products have been made more sustainable by adding bio-content to replace the petroleum-based products used on the B side. Some manufacturers have replaced chemical blowing agents with water and others seek third-party certifications for indoor air quality, such as Atlanta-based GREENGUARD and San Francisco-based Collaborative for High Performance Schools. All SPF products contribute to earning points in LEED and NAHB Green.

Because SPF insulation will provide a “tighter” building envelope, builders, contractors and architects must design and construct buildings where SPF is installed to have plenty of air exchanges
to minimize the moisture buildup within the building.

In recent years, rumors have spread about SPF’s combustibility. Many manufacturers offer Class I fire ratings, according to ASTM E84, “Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials.”

Additionally, products that pass ICC-ES AC377 Appendix X do not require an ignition barrier or intumescent coating when used in unoccupied attics and crawl spaces.

SPF’s chemicals can be very temperature sensitive. The chemical temperature should be between 60 and 80 degrees F. If the chemical is too warm or too cold, the system will not create the best foam product.

Contractors should check with the product’s manufacturer for safety procedures, application methods, product information, codes and compliance. “With any foam, safety and awareness are paramount,” Sojak explains.

“Contractors should ensure they are always using a professional installer and that proper personal-protective equipment is in place.”

Continued Growth

Despite the recent recession, SPF manufacturers have noticed their products taking more market share in residential and commercial construction. This trend looks like it will continue. “As codes change, air-barrier codes will dictate the use of air barriers within residential construction,” Sojak predicts. “We’re already seeing this with codes for 2011. With future code changes, it seems that spray foam will become the product of choice.”

Use the E-Inquiry Foam to receive more information about the following spray polyurethane foam suppliers:

Comfort Foam

  • Closed cell
  • Seamless, self-adhering and monolithic construction
  • Part of BASF’s Residential Foam Toolkit

Type in 77 in E-Inquiry Foam

BioBased Technologies,
BioBased 501w

  • Water-blown, open-cell, 0.5-pound foam that expands
    to 100 times its size
  • R-13 at 3 1/2 inches
  • ICC-ES AC 377, Appendix X, approved and Class I fire rated
  • Low VOCs

BioBased 502

  • R-13 at 3 1/2 inches


  • Non-bio-based
  • 245fa-blown, closed-cell, 2-pound foam
  • Class I fire rated
  • R-18 at 3 inches

Type in 78 in E-Inquiry Foam


  • Available as open and closed cell
  • ICC-ES AC 377, Appendix X, approved
  • For wall cavities, attics and floors

Type in 79 in E-Inquiry Foam



  • Closed cell
  • Formulated with recycled plastic and soy
  • ICC-ES AC 377, Appendix X, approved

Type in 80 in E-Inquiry Foam

Gaco Western,


  • ICC-ES AC 377, Appendix X, approved
  • Contains polyols derived from naturally renewable oils, post-consumer recycled plastics and preconsumer recycled materials

Type in 81 in E-Inquiry Foam


  • Approved as an ignition barrier
  • Low density is ICC-ES AC 377, Appendix X, approved
  • Limited lifetime warranty
  • Water-based, noncarcinogenic, and VOC- and formaldehyde-free

Type in 82 in E-Inquiry Foam

Johns Manville,

  • Open cell
  • Minimizes sound transmission
  • R- 3.8 at 1 inch, R-13 at 3 1/2 inches and R-19 at 5 1/2 inches

JM Corbond II

  • Closed cell
  • Can be used alone or in hybrid systems

JM Corbond III

  • 5,000 to 5,200 board feet of coverage per set
  • Can be used for remodeling applications, including basements and additions
  • JM Spider Custom Insulation System can be applied over JM Corbond III in exposed attics

Type in 83 in E-Inquiry Foam

Owens Corning,
EnergyComplete system with Flexible Seal Technology

  • Synthetic, latex-based foam
  • Can be used with PINK FIBERGLAS insulation for a total home insulation and air sealing solution
  • Can reduce air infiltration up to 70 percent
  • Installers do not need to wear full body protection or have an external air-supply mask

Type in 84 in E-Inquiry Foam

RHH Foam Systems Inc.,
Versi-Foam System 100

  • Open cell
  • Easy-to-use disposable foam dispensing system
  • 3/4 pound per cubic foot
  • Yields approximately 1,200 board feet

Type in 85 in E-Inquiry Foam

Duraseal SFC 1.9

  • HFC-245fa blown, closed cell, low density
  • A component is a polymeric isocyanate containing reactive isocyanate groups
  • B component is a combination of polyols, catalytic agents and blowing agent

Type in 86 in E-Inquiry Foam

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