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Spray Polyurethane Foam: Insulating for Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency has become a significant consideration for building owners, facility managers, and contractors. Not only are they trying to meet more stringent state and municipality codes surrounding sustainability, but they are also tasked with accommodating the increasing energy demands of corporate tenants. When energy efficiency is achieved, so too are real-world operation cost savings, and the corporate sustainability mandates that matter to tenants. 

The building envelope, along with the roof, will either contribute to or hinder energy efficiency. Areas of energy loss may occur at numerous points in the structure, with the roof, walls, and ceiling all functioning as key contributors. Various insulation material options exist for new construction or the retrofit of an existing building and can assist in meeting energy efficiency goals. One material may be utilized for both roofing and wall assemblies, and has the ability to insulate, air and water seal, and control moisture throughout the building enclosure, eliminating the need for multiple materials.

Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is utilized in commercial buildings as a single-source solution. As a thermal insulator, SPF boasts one of the highest R-values per inch of all options available. Because the material forms in-place and fully adheres, it virtually eliminates cracks and gaps that leak air. It can also be applied in a continuous layer, eliminating most thermal bypasses. The superior thermal performance and air-sealing from SPF lowers energy costs for the building over the lifespan of the product, which can be 50 years or more with proper maintenance. 

When used in roofing applications, SPF serves the dual purposes of protective roofing material and functioning as thermal insulation. Insulation effectiveness and performance – in roofing and the building envelope – is not measured by one factor alone, but rather by the assessment of combined considerations for air leakage, moisture control, health, safety, durability, comfort, and energy efficiency. SPF scores high in all categories. 

Because SPF provides thermal, air and moisture control, the versatile material not only maintains indoor temperatures and reduces energy costs but also protects the building against water and mold damage. SPF, along with mechanical ventilation, controls allergens and pollutants that can enter the structure. This improves indoor air quality and comfort, making the interior more habitable especially for those who suffer from allergies. 

A lightweight, durable solution, SPF can bolster the strength of the structure. The material is optimal for use across all geographic regions and climate types, and also requires little maintenance post-installation. Like many building products, spray polyurethane foam should always be installed by a professional installer utilizing proper handling and installation techniques with all safety precautions employed and followed. Choosing a professionally certified installer is recommended, and will help to ensure that the material is installed safely and correctly, which in turn ensures SPF's effectiveness at achieving energy efficiency. 

Rick Duncan is the technical director of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance and can be reached at rickduncan@sprayfoam.org.

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