Spray Foam Insulation
The Ultimate Guide to Spray Foam Insulation
Discover what spray foam insulation is, its applications and the installation process with Foam Spray Insulation Ltd.
We love spray foam. It’s one of the most effective and fascinating forms of insulation available for both homes and commercial properties. A form of polyurethane, it is sprayed as a liquid onto a surface to achieve a rigid layer of insulation. We’ve put together the most comprehensive guide on spray foam insulation available online to cover everything including what it is and how it’s applied. If you have questions, you’ll find the answers with us.
What is Spray Foam Insulation?
Spray foam insulation is a versatile form of insulation that can be used as an alternative to fibreglass, foam board, mineral wool or others. Also known as polyurethane foam insulation, it is sprayed as a liquid onto a surface where it reacts and expands in size. Hardening into a rigid substance, it forms a barrier that prevents heat exchange, as well as being waterproof and providing additional structural support.
Spray foam has been used as a form of insulation for decades (with Foam Spray at the forefront of its developments since the beginning!) and its popularity is growing. Now widely recognised as one of the most efficient forms of insulation, more and more people want to know what it is and why it’s so great.
Spray foam insulation is a form of polyurethane. For the chemists out there, polyurethane consists of organic units (largely hydrocarbons) joined by urethane groups. A urethane group is formed by the reaction of a polyol with an isocyanate. For the rest of us, polyurethane describes material made up of a specific chemical structure. It results in different substances according to the exact chemical makeup of each kind of polyurethane. It includes material used in sponges, tyres, foam seals and, in our case, insulation.
Polyurethane was created by a man called Otto Bayer in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until much later, in 1979, that it began being used as building insulation. Polyurethane is created when two materials, polyol resin and isocyanate, are combined. They react together and expand from a liquid into a solid to create the insulation.
The insulating properties of spray foam lie in the micro-structure of the material. As it’s applied, the chemical reaction between the polyol resin and isocyanate creates a unique structure of gas bubbles within the material. Once it’s set into a solid (which takes just minutes), this structure is locked into place. It creates an extremely effective protection against heat loss or gain.
Tiny pockets of gas bubbles become trapped in the material, much like a sponge but rigid rather than squashable. The bubbles are all isolated from each other, creating a network of micro-pockets.
It protects against conduction, convection and radiation – the three ways that heat is transferred through any surface or environment – and therefore protects your property both from heat loss and gain.
Protecting against heat loss through radiation
Radiation is when heat waves travel through the air and are, ultimately, absorbed by a material. It’s the way that the sun’s heat reaches us from so many millions of miles away through the solar system. Radiation can only occur through a vacuum, air or a transparent material. It means that, like most solid objects, spray insulation prevents radiation from bringing heat into your property.
Preventing heat loss through convection
It’s in protection against convection, however, that the structure of sprayfoam really makes a difference. Molecules naturally always want to move around. In solids, they’re trapped in position by bonds between them, but in liquids and gases they move much more freely. As they move, they carry their heat energy with them. Molecules with lots of heat move into areas without much heat and push the cold into the space behind them. This is called a convection current.
As you heat your property, molecules inside warm up and naturally want to move into the cold outside, allowing molecules from outside to replace them. If your walls or loft aren’t insulated, cracks and pores in the material allow air to move through. You lose all the heat and gain cold. However, sprayfoam acts as an air seal — and is used in other applications for this means. It means that convection can’t occur as the air can’t escape and create a current of heat loss. You can better keep the heat in and the cold out – or vice versa, according to your needs!
Preventing heat loss through conduction
The major way heat loss occurs in homes and commercial properties, however, is through conduction. You might remember learning about good and bad heat conductors at school: metals, for example, are very good heat conductors. Solids have different levels of conductive properties while gases are always very bad heat conductors because the molecules are too distant from each other for conduction to occur.
Conduction works as one molecule heats up (beginning to vibrate with kinetic energy) and passes this on to the molecules nearby: it bumps into them and gives them kinetic energy. (Kinetic energy is the amount of movement the molecule has. The more kinetic energy, the more heat the molecule is transferring.)
In a non-insulated wall or surface, the molecules on the inner-side receive heat energy. Because all the molecules in a solid are held really close together, the high energy molecules bump into their neighbours really easily, passing on the heat. Heat therefore moves through the wall or surface and is lost from your home.
The structure of spray foam insulation, however, minimises conduction. It makes the most of the idea that gases are bad conductors of heat. All the tiny and isolated pockets of gas mean that the molecules are held much further apart than in a standard wall or solid material. When one molecule heats up and vibrates with kinetic energy, the gas pocket prevents it from passing this energy on to all the neighbouring molecules, as they’re held further away. It’s one of the most effective ways of minimising heat loss through conduction.
Heat loss occurs in three ways and spray foam tackles them all. It’s a fantastic method of insulating a house or property that is efficient and effective.
Open and closed cell
Spray foam insulation comes in both open cell and closed cell. At Foam Spray, we offer varieties of closed cell foam. Both types are created from polyurethane and have the same basic structure that contains the bubbles of gas. However, open cell spray foam is less dense and rigid than closed cell. The bubbles are larger and it results in a form of insulation that is less effective and doesn’t provide any structural support for your property. It is less water resistant and you need much more of it to provide effective insulation. You can recognise open cell as it can be squashed under your hand.
Closed cell is usually the better choice as it is much stronger, longer lasting, effective and water-resistant than its alternative. It offers better insulation and protection against heat loss, as well as bringing additional benefits. This includes adding additional structural support to your building and helping with weather proofing.
How Spray Foam is Applied and Installed
It is vital that a trained professional applies spray foam insulation as it can be very harmful to your physical health if you try to do it yourself (you can read more below under ‘what happens if it is applied incorrectly?’).
It is the method of installation that makes sprayfoam a fantastic and popular choice for larger properties and buildings, including car parks and warehouses. It’s one of the fastest types of installation to apply so a large area can be covered quickly and efficiently. This isn’t only useful for minimising disruption to your building or business, but also keeps costs to a minimum; you’re not paying for as much of your installer’s time.
The Installation Process
Before an application can go ahead, a good installer will perform a thorough survey of your property. This not only allows them to provide you with an accurate quote, but ensures that the job will be done safely and that you get the best out of your insulation. A survey usually includes the U-value calculation of your property, condensation and structural assessments, identifying risks or potential problems, and calculating the thickness and amount of polyurethane spray that you will need.
Everything included in the survey not only is intended to make the job easier to complete and therefore take less time, but also to provide you with an accurate assessment of the costs. It makes the whole job as safe as possible for both the installers and those using the property. A thorough survey helps to prevent any problems occurring in the future once the polyurethane spray insulation has been applied.
When the survey has been completed and your foam spray company has calculated all the logistics, you’ll be ready for installation. Your installers will provide you with an approximate time frame for how long the work will take. This will depend on the size of your property. If you’re insulating the loft in your home, it could be done in as little as a day. If you’re protecting a multi-storey car park, the time frame will be much longer!
When the installers come to work on your property, it’s easiest if you are out of the way. Because of the nature of sprayfoam, it can be dangerous if inhaled or comes into contact with skin. It is therefore safest for everyone if the area is clear of people.
If you’re having your loft insulated, for example, ensure that it is clear of boxes and other things to allow your installer to work as effectively as possible and to make the most of his or her time. Your installer will provide you with any additional information that you need before application goes ahead and you’ll have a lot of chances to ask questions throughout the process.
Polyurethane spray foam is, as the name suggests, sprayed onto the surface that needs insulating. The two chemical components that create it are mixed in the nozzle of the spray gun, so as it’s sprayed it creates the polyurethane. The foam hits the surface and expands to the thickness that your property needs – carefully controlled by your professional installer. Foam Spray Insulation complete density, depth and appearance checks throughout application to ensure the quality is the best it can be. The foam sets almost instantly into the rigid, solid material that insulates your property. It creates a continuous and seamless wall of heat loss protection. You can see a video of the application below.
At Foam Spray, our team of qualified professionals always apply insulation right, every time and without fail. If, however, you work with a less reputable company or you attempt to do it yourself, you can have a lot of problems. A professional should always apply spray foam insulation as it can be dangerous to your health if done wrong.
If applied incorrectly, the expanding polyurethane foam can put pressure on the structure of your property, having the opposite effect of the structural support it usually boasts. It can risk damaging your home.
The reaction between the polyol resin and isocyanate gives off harmful fumes. An installer will always wear a face mask to prevent inhalation of the fumes and will ensure that you, your family or other people on your property are away from the area. If your installer doesn’t do this, it can be really harmful to their and your health.
Spray foam insulation can be used to protect all sorts of different properties, buildings and systems. Open cell spray foam has even been used as a way to protect important packages during distribution because it expands to fit the package so well.
Foam Spray Insulation Ltd has decades of experience in providing insulation for both homes and commercial properties, including cavity walls, offices, agricultural spaces, water stops and industrial buildings. Both large and small properties can be protected with polyurethane.
Spray foam is a popular and great choice for loft insulation. This isn’t just because it works really well, but also because it is effective with just a small mm thickness. It is built up in layers that never exceed 20mm, which provides insulation that works, without taking up space.
Loft space is one of the primary concerns of home owners when considering how to better insulate the home. Because the loft is such a valuable storage area, adding blanket insulation, for example, means there’s no remaining space available for storage. Sprayfoam allows you to keep your loft space while insulating your house. It works particularly well for loft conversions.
Foam spray is used to tackle condensation on metal or concrete surfaces. This is a particular problem during the winter. As metal is such as good conductor of temperature, when it’s freezing outside, the cold is transferred to the inside surface, especially if the metal is ‘single skin’ – just one layer. The smallest amount of heat inside the building causes moisture to instantly condense on the cold internal surface. This creates a problem with condensation, which can lead to an uncomfortable environment for people and also damage machinery, stock or other items.
Polyurethane spray foam adheres directly to the internal metal surface. Because it’s sprayed on, it fits the shape of the material perfectly. Corrugated sheets can be protected as effectively as straight walls. When the interior side is insulated, the cold doesn’t penetrate onto the inner surface, keeping it a much closer temperate to the room. It reduces the temperate contrast and prevents water molecules from condensing on the surface, solving your condensation problems.
The commercial applications of this insulation are almost limitless. We have experience in countless different installations. These include:
Spray foam insulation comes with a range of environmental benefits. The most obvious of which is energy conservation. Buildings are responsible for almost 45% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change. This is because so many buildings aren’t properly insulated, leading to increased and unnecessary energy expenditure. It is mainly flat roofed construction buildings built between 1960 and 1990 that are responsible – although insulating every house and property makes a massive difference to heating costs and energy usage.
Spray foam insulation allows buildlings to better retain their warmth in winter and reduces heat gain in summer. All year round, you’ll need less energy to heat and cool your property. Sprayfoam helps you to be more environmentally friendly.
Carbon Footprint of the Material
Every material and product will have its own carbon footprint. This refers to the amount of CO2 that is required to produce it. If an insulating material has a high carbon footprint, it could take many years of reduced energy usage to actually outweigh the initial carbon cost caused in creating the insulation.
Polyurethane spray foam has a smaller carbon footprint than just about any other insulation product available. It means that you not only help the environment by reducing the energy spent on heating, but you also don’t start with a hefty carbon footprint from the material itself.
Renewable Materials and CO2 Emissions
Polyurethane spray is made both from renewable sources and petroleum oil. The polyols, for example, that go into the chemical reaction to create the foam are made from sugar and water. The petroleum oil, while being a fossil fuel, is actually used in a way that benefits the environment. In vehicles, for example, the oil is burnt and the carbon is released into the air. This is the problem with fossil fuels. Petroleum oil in spray foam, however, is converted into a permanent and stable material. It isn’t burnt and therefore doesn’t release any CO2 emissions.
It works similarly to the way forests hold carbon dioxide in their wood material, keeping the world in balance. The spray foam holds the carbon inside it, rather than releasing it into the environment. As wood decays, it forms the petroleum oil which otherwise degrades and damages the environment. Foam spray uses that oil and converts it into a stable material, preventing the carbon from getting into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.
Foam spray Technology – Spray Foam Insulation – is an HCFC AND CFC FREE two component 1:1 ratio, rigid foam system, used both in commercial and industrial applications. The sprayfoam is prepared using two liquid components mixed within the nozzle of a spray gun, during the spraying process. It is applied to various substrates and built up in layers not exceeding 20 mm in thickness, to achieve the required level of insulation. Quality control arrangements on site include checks on density, appearance and regular depth checks are made to ensure the correct thickness of sprayfoam is achieved.
Durability: The durability of the product is satisfactory and will have the life equivalent to that of the structure in which it is incorporated.
Class 1 System
Agrispray® OS is an HCFC AND CFC FREE two component, 1:1 ratio, rigid foam system which when processed through suitable spray machinery will produce a rigid foam of approximate density 35kg/m³ with exceptionally good compressive strength. Service temperature range is -15ºC to 70ºC. When tested to BS476 Part 7 the foam achieves a Class 1 surface spread of flame.
Agrispray® OS is used as an insulation material and for condensation control in:
- Exterior and interior of agricultural buildings
- Workshops and industrial units
- Nissan Huts and external tin clad structures
Class 0 System
Pirthane® ‘0’ is an insulating system with excellent fire resistant properties. It complies with the requirements for a Class 0 surface as defined in Paragraph A12(b) of Approved Document ‘Fire Safety’, the Building Regulations 1991. It has a Class 1 surface spread of flame when tested to BS476 Part 7 1997; when tested to BS4763 Part 6 in 1989 the material achieved a fire propagation index (i)
Pirthane® ‘0’ is used as an insulation material and for condensation control on:
- Undersides of concrete soffits or floor slabs
- Interior of commercial buildings