Energy & the Environment
Sustainability / Life Cycle Assessment
The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA) completed a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of open and closed-cell spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation in buildings to quantify cradle-to-end of life across the entire life cycle. The LCA was conducted to assure builders, designers, and consumers that the products are indeed part of a responsible and effective energy and environmental construction solution.
The life cycle approach to evaluating the energy and environmental impacts of products is critical in understanding these impacts and for developing environmental improvement strategies. For SPF insulation, the use phase energy savings and avoided environmental impacts result from a high R-value and reduced air infiltration. These positive impacts significantly offset the impacts associated with manufacturing SPF, which are quantified using a holistic life cycle assessment. Considering only single ttributes (such as recycled or renewable material content), or only the impacts from the anufacturing phase of a product creates a limited and technically flawed perspective on the environmental impact of SPF.
The LCA results show that spray foam products save significantly more energy and prevent more environmental impacts during the life of the insulation in a building compared to the relatively minor energy and environmental impacts associated with making the insulation.
These findings have been reviewed, assessed and validates through a rigorous process conducted by Underwriters Laboratory Environment (ULe) and published in a series of Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) on SPF.
Both the LCA and EPD may qualify for partial LEED credits on SPF projects utilizing the LEED system.
SPFA LCA Summary Report (48 pages)
For a useful explanation of EPDs, consider this article from EDC, The Official Magazine for the LEED Professional.
According to a 2002 US Department of Energy report, heating and cooling costs amount to 50-70% of the energy used in the average American home. With the costs of heating and cooling going up, this is a concern of most home and building owners. Most of us know to turn off the lights to conserve energy but don't think to look to insulate our homes/buildings to more efficiently heat and cool them.
Builders and architects are now turning to spray polyurethane foam (SPF) to curb these problems. SPF is one of the most efficient insulation materials on the market today for roof and wall insulation, insulated windows and doors, and air barrier sealants.
Why is SPF Energy Efficient?
- Polyurethane foams have one of the highest insulating R-values per inch of all the available products on the market today. With typical values ranging from 3.5 to 6.0 per inch, it is possible to maximize efficiency, increase space utilization and reduce operating costs, while having thinner walls and a lower profile roofs.
- Studies show that increasing the thickness of your roof insulation by 1" or more above the ASHRAE required thickness significantly reduces your energy costs.
- SPF sealants that are applied to cracks around window frames expand to fill energy-wasting (escaping) gaps around the window, which increases your buildings energy efficiency.
- Energy studies performed by Texas A & M on their own roofs show the energy cost reductions obtained by applying SPF to more than 8 million square feet of roofing paid for the cost of the retrofit in a little over three years.
- Cool roofs (using reflective plastic coverings over SPF insulated roofs) bounce sunlight and radiant heat away from a building, helping the structure stay cool and reducing energy use for cooling.
Sprayfoam and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) has become a very important topic in recent years, particularly as buildings have become tighter as a result of air-sealing and energy efficiency measures employed by the construction, building science, architectural, efficiency, code and sustainability communities. One of the reasons SPF has become such a popular solution is because of the high-performing combined features of high R-Value and air-sealing. Both of these features are in high demand by customers and driven by building and energy codes. Interestingly these features apply to both roofing (the forgotten fifth wall) and insulation.
Using SPF to seal and insulate a building from air-leakage, a common problem lesser products struggle to solve, means a noticeable, more comfortable and consistent indoor environment for the occupants. It also means that outdoor pollutants and allergens infiltrating the home can be reduced, possibly improving conditions for allergy sufferers.
Although these improvements to the building likely mean a more efficient operation for heating and cooling systems, allowing the owner to “right size the mechanicals” and further improve the building’s efficiency, it also means that mechanical ventilation becomes more important. Keeping pollutants, cold/hot/humid air, and allergens outside means that the conditioned space (interior) of the building needs good, consistent, mechanically-produced air-flow to avoid the possibility of unexpected odors from people, carpeting, furniture, or other building products being trapped inside. To realize the best performance, occupant comfort, and satisfaction look at these combined elements as a system, and make sure that the building’s HVAC is providing regular, adequate and consistent ventilation.
It is essential that any combustible gas appliances, such as water heaters, furnaces, etc. are properly vented to the outside of the building. This is the case with any structure for the safety of occupants, but particularly in the case of a highly insulated and air-sealed building, to avoid the build-up of Carbon Monoxide (CO) fumes. For the additional safety of occupants in any building, especially residential, SPFA recommends using at a minimum a plug-in CO detector in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Use of the CO detector, along with other fire alarm, security or building safety systems should be among the suite of common practices by all building owners.
Always use a professional, experienced and trained SPF contractor and consider consulting with a BPI Analyst, RESNET Hers-Rater, or other energy and environmental professional when making decisions that can result in substantial changes to your building’s operation and performance.
ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping home and building owners save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. In the home, energy efficient choices can help families save about a third on their energy bill with similar savings of greenhouse gas emissions, without sacrificing features, style or comfort.
Homes that earn the ENERGY STAR must meet guidelines for energy efficiency set by the EPA. ENERGY STAR qualified homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code. ENERGY STAR qualified homes can include a variety of energy-efficient features, such as effective insulation, high performance windows, tight construction and ducts, efficient heating and cooling equipment and ENERGY STAR qualified lighting and appliances.
For more information, log on to energystar.gov.
Federal Tax Incentives
Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) will enable existing homeowners, commercial building owners, builders, and manufactures of new homes to take advantage of tax credits available as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. A tax credit is different from a tax deduction in that it reduces the amount of income tax you have to pay versus reducing the amount of income subject to tax.
More recently, SPFA worked with the Energy Efficient Tax Credit Industry Coalition, a consortium of industry and private interests to have extended the Federal Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit. This provision originally expired at the end of 2011. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 retroactively renewed this tax credit effective January 1, 2012, expiring again on December 31, 2013. Any qualified equipment installed in 2012 or 2013 is eligible for this credit. As in previous years, the cumulative maximum amount of tax credit that can be claimed by a taxpayer in all years combined is $500. If a taxpayer has already claimed a tax credit of $500 for purchases made in any previous year, they are ineligible for additional tax credits for any new equipment purchases.
Be sure to discuss any possible tax or financial incentives with your professional SPF contractor, the manufacturer of the SPF product, your local or municipal utility, state energy efficiency organization, or a BPI or RESNET auditor. With correctly-installed SPF, customers get the performance they pay for. Premium performance and reduced energy bills from efficiencies mean that customers will start seeing a payback right away. But incentives are a great way to start saving even sooner by reducing your first-costs of the project.
For more information on this and other tax incentives, consult the following helpful links.
Adverse Weather Performance
SPF roofing systems have exceptional sustainability characteristics. They save energy, are resistant to high winds, protect the substrate against damage from hail and wind driven debris, and are renewable (in many cases reusable rock aggregate, recycled roofing material injected into the coatings, and other renewable materials can be used to complement the SPF roof). SPF has proven durable during recent hurricanes, during hail storms, and other adverse weather conditions.
RICOWI (Roofing Industry's Committee on Weather Issues) is a non-profit organization that works to identify and address important technical issues related to the cause of wind and hail damage. SPFA is a founding member of this organization and has done work in the past to help coordinate and execute research after major weather-related incidents. RICOWI's research and investigation after these events has shed quantifiable light on the durability of spray foam roofing. For more information on their findings, please contact RICOWI or SPFA Technical Services.
SPFA believes that the path to a healthful, safe, high-quality and performing SPF installation travels through the hands of a knowledgeable, trained, experienced, and ideally PCP-certified professional contractor.