Green Foam is Cool

Spray foam insulation in the living room ceiling.

Current temperatures here in Bend, Oregon are soaring above 90 degrees F. What better time to bring up the topic of insulation?  While we often think of insulation as being crucial to keeping out the cold, it is equally as important to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures when there’s a furnace outside.

Spray foam insulation fills all the irregular cavities and flows around obstructions creating an air tight seal.

Spray foam insulation, though not green in color is gaining popularity as a ‘green’ alternative to traditional fiberglass and cellulose insulation systems.  Spray foam provides outstanding building envelope performance by expanding around voids, filling irregular cavities, and creating a seal against air infiltration, the primary source of energy loss.

Did you know that a home that is improperly insulated and sealed, delivers 4500 lbs. of excess greenhouse gases into the air each year? It can also waste 20 percent or more of the energy used to heat and cool the home.

 

The US Department of Energy studies show that 40% of a home’s energy is lost through walls, doors, windows, and roofs. Buildings using spray foam insulation typically perform at least, 50% more efficiently than buildings using traditional insulation. The result is more constant indoor temperatures allowing decreased use of heat and air conditioning.  While the initial costs of installation may exceed that of fiberglass insulation, spray foam is a long-term, energy and money-saving investment.  Other benefits of spray foam contribute to its rising use. There is no settling or decay or ‘off gassing’ over time.  Spray foam blocks moisture, eliminating mold and mildew growth. The application of spray foam strengthens a building’s structure, as the foam expands and fills the gap between each wall, floor, or roof cavity. As a polyurethane product, spray foam does not act as a nesting ground or a food source for pests and insects. The density of the foam creates a sound barrier.  This all adds up to a healthier, safer, and more comfortable living environment.

The insulated ceiling in Desert Breeze (Accessible Dwelling Unit)

Spray foam is the insulation of choice for Desert Rain. Recently, Desert Rain, the main house and Desert Breeze, the ADU guesthouse received their first round of spray foam insulation. The spray foam used by Energy Conservation Insulation (ECI) on the Desert Rain site is a closed cell, polyurethane foam.

Good Enough for NASA –
The Space Shuttle’s External Tank is covered with closed-cell spray-on foam insulation that serves to insulate the tank before and during launch. It keeps the Shuttle’s liquid hydrogen fuel at minus 423 degrees F and the liquid oxygen tank at minus 297 degrees F. The foam insulation must also be durable enough to endure a 180-day stay at the launch pad, withstand temperatures up  to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, humidity as high as 100 percent, and resist sand, salt, fog, rain, solar radiation and even fungus.    Read more here:

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/63758main_TPS_FACT_SHEET.pdf

 

Closed cell- foam insulation is dense, with a small, compact cell structure making it an excellent barrier to air and water vapor. ECI uses foams that do not contain HCFCs, VOCs or formaldehyde, meeting the Living Building Challenge ‘Red List’ requirements and making the insulation systems free of toxic air contaminates.  Polyurethane spray foam typically has an R-value of  R-7 to R-8 per inch. Blown fiberglass insulation is typically only R-2 to R-4.  R-value is the term given to thermal resistance to heat flow; the higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation properties.  Desert Rain will have R-values more than twice the code requirement.

ECI is spraying the foam in stages.  Once the vent stacks and mechanical elements that go through the roof were in place, the ceiling and duct work received layers of spray foam. The walls will initially be sprayed to about half the final thickness.  Any mechanical systems, plumbing and wiring in the wall will then be installed before the final layer of foam is sprayed.  Without the obstructions the spray foam can more easily penetrate the wall cavities, creating a better seal.   ECI uses standard and custom equipment that processes foam through both spray and injection techniques. This allows them to take advantage of numerous chemical systems with varying densities, speeds, closed-cell content, fire rating, vapor permeability, and other desirable environmental characteristics.  ECI considers the principles of heat, air and moisture flow, and how the building envelope interacts with a building’s mechanical systems as well as who occupies the structure.

An example of thermal imaging showing a passive, well insulated home in the front and a traditionally constructed home in the background.

Thermal imaging is used to check for any deficiencies once the insulation has been sprayed.  In a conversation with Will Lebeda, owner of ECI, he stated, ‘my business is all about optimal levels – using the best products and techniques to make the home as energy-efficient and comfortable as possible’.

The spray foam insulation will be a significant addition to the other elements that contribute to the comfort and efficiency of the passive design of Desert Rain. Ninety degrees or nine degrees, – Desert rain is also – ‘all about optimal levels’.

The insulated ceiling in the living/kitchen area.

3 replies
  1. Dana Archer says:

    This is fabulous stuff!! Love the rain catchment and filtration systems, the black and gray water reclamation, the foam insulation and of course the beautiful architecture. I hope to build a similar (family) compound in either Sonoma or Santa Cruz, CA within the next 5 years. Thanks for being on the forefront of a greener, and more sustainable future for all of us, you are truly inspirational 🙂

    Reply

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