Bursting the Bubble – Icynene and Sprayed Foam Insulation

Being in the insulation business we hear a lot of talk about spray foam insulation, specifically Icynene®. Let’s take a minute and look at what sprayed foam products are, how Icynene and other sprayed foam products work and then determine if there is any other, less expensive, way to accomplish the same thing.

What is Icynene?

Icynene (LD-C-50™)1 is a low-density, open-cell, water blown, polyurethane foam insulation that is made from petroleum-based plastics. Icynene LD-C-50 is a two-part, spray-applied product consisting of polymeric isocyanate (Component-A Base Seal®) and a proprietary resin (Component-B, LD-C-50 Resin or Gold Seal®)2.

How Does Icynene Work?

Like all other conductive insulation, foam insulation works by trapping air. In the case of sprayed foams, the air is trapped in little plastic bubbles that form as the foam expands. The trapped air provides the real insulation value; the foam simply keeps the air from moving.

So Why Does it Work so Well?

When foam is sprayed on a surface, a thin polymer film is produced. This plastic film works as an air barrier (air seal) and stops heat transfer through the movement of air (convection). This helps to prevent drafts and increases the performance of the conductive insulation.

Are There any Drawbacks to Foam Insulation?

One of the initial drawbacks to foam insulation is its cost. Depending on the project, it can cost between $1.25-$2.00 or more per square foot to install. Even for a small house this could easily run into $5,000+ price range. For many homeowners this is a steep cost entry.

Most foam insulations require special thermal and ignition barriers for safety and to meet national, state and local building codes. This is often not included in the base price and should be questioned when pricing foam insulation.

Spraying foam insulation on the underside of the roof sheathing doesn’t help the roof. During the day, as the roof heats up to 160°+ the heat has to go somewhere. Since the conductive insulation is on to the underside of the sheathing, it takes longer for the heat to conduct through the roof so the heat is forced to stay on the roof surface, effectively baking the shingles. Shingles are made of asphalt-based products and, because of the consistently high temperatures, the oils begin to break down and evaporate and the shingles lose their integrity sooner than normal.

The greatest value of spayed Icynene, and foam insulation in general, is not its conductive value, (it can only provide an R-13 in a 2”x4” cavity whereas fiberglass and other materials can provide an R-15 in that same 2”x4” cavity) but rather its ability to stop convection. Unfortunately, foam insulation does nothing to protect the house against radiant heat transfer. While insulating against conduction and convection is important, more heat is gained through radiant heat transfer than the other two combined. By insulating for conduction and convection only, the homeowner has missed their greatest opportunity to save big on energy consumption.

Foam has also recently come under the spotlight of the EPA3  as well. The potential problems are caused by exposure to isocyanates such as methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI, and other SPF chemicals in vapors, aerosols, and dust during installation and before the foam is completely cured4.

What are the Alternatives?

There is an alternative to Icynene. We call it the All in One System™ of insulation. It’s less expensive and more effective because our system specifically insulates against all three methods of heat transfer: convection, conduction and radiation