Spray Foam Insulation, Evolved

An HFO awakening sees the phase out of HFCs.

Synonymous with an efficient building envelope, spray foam insulation has continually evolved over the decades and experienced numerous blowing agent and formulation technology changes. The evolution of spray foam spans 30 years with the formation of the Montréal Protocol in 1987. This was at a time when 197 countries joined forces in a green building narrative that articulated the profound connections between buildings, people, and the long-term health of our planet. These collaborative discussions led to an agreement and the progression of technology to exclude chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in order to preserve the ozone layer.

The Montréal Protocol is considered by many leaders to be the most successful earth-friendly, global unification action to date. It’s been hailed as a testament of exceptional international co-operation. The Montréal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer will allow us to eliminate HFCs, which will then lead to an avoidance of 0.5°C of global climate warming by the end of the century. It’s believed that with continued full implementation of the Protocol’s provisions, the ozone layer should return to pre-1980 levels by 2050.

The Road to HFO Technology

As science and the spray foam industry learned more about the impacts of certain blown agents, the Montréal Protocol was expanded to include a long list of controlled chemicals including HCFCs, HFCs and other ozone-depleting substances (ODS). The evolution of blowing agents saw a discontinuation of CFCs with the replacement of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which in turn were replaced by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). As standards changed over time, so too did the chemicals; they improved over their predecessors from an environmental and health consideration perspective.

Among today’s green building standards and certification systems, we are seeing another spray foam insulation (SPF) metamorphosis. Canada and other developed nations have set a target of 2020 to replace HFCs with the most advanced in blowing agent technology. Reducing greenhouse gases and climate pollutants is essential to our future. That said, the insulation industry is teaming up with the many industries leading the growing call for HFC reduction, including the air conditioning and refrigeration industries.

For stakeholders in the SPF business, these regulatory changes mean embracing the bigger picture and developing new blowing agent formulations. Honeywell changed the game and created a new product based on HydrofluoroOlefins (HFOs). This blowing agent has an ultra low global warming potential (GWP) and are non-ozone depleting.  Concurrently, Lapolla, with a new, progressive vision, pioneered the development of an SPF technology that incorporated the new HFO blowing agent. Lapolla’s new SPF technology was the first to market the near-zero GWP product with equal effectiveness as a superior insulating product to other HFC-blown SPFs.

Acceptance and collaboration globally around the Montréal and Kyoto Protocols demonstrates that we are now committed to innovations that are better for the environment.

The new and improved SPFs on the market must have a broad range of advantages over its brothers and sisters, which includes better RSI or R-Values, airtight building envelopes, added structural support, moisture control and a 40 per cent savings in energy costs or more over other forms of insulation. According to MarketWatch.com, the demand for SPF is estimated to be approximately 18 to 20 per cent of the insulation market today. The growth has been steady and reliable, with estimates of continued aggressive growth for the foreseeable future. In fact, with the desire to have an airtight home or building and to save on energy, the demand for quality SPF is increasing. Builders, architects, interior designers, home and building owners see the value and are educating themselves on the products’ efficiencies and overall health benefits.

Canada and other developed nations have set a target of 2020 to replace HFCs with the most advanced in blowing agent technology. (Image courtesy of Icynene-Lapolla)

The future of the spray foam insulation market looks promising with plenty of opportunities in the residential, commercial, and other end use industries. MarketWatch.com indicates that the global spray foam insulation market is expected to reach an estimated $2.1 billion by 2023 with a CAGR of 5.4 percent from 2018 to 2023. The major growth drivers for this market are the stringent government regulations for greenhouse gas emissions and the increased demand for energy efficiency in homes and buildings.

According to Lucintel, a global management consulting and market research firm, wall insulation is expected to remain the largest application and to witness the highest growth over the forecast period of 2018 to 2023 supported by increasing demand of energy efficient insulation for home and building structures.

Even though the SPF industry is adopting climate-friendly technologies, everyone should be aware that some cheaper alternatives still use HFCs. The right questions must be asked to avoid it from being installed. While the contractor’s or installer’s experience, certification and skill sets are critical, not all foam is the same. Cheaper SPF solutions that are not installed by certified professionals could mean no warranty, no fire resistance classification protocols, poor protection against mold growth and air permeability, low quality spraying equipment, unknown blowing agents and diminished properties in the actual finished foam (water absorption, fire class, dimension and stability).

According to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, (CCAC), the phase-out of HFCs coupled with energy efficiency gains of this new class of products will avoid as much as 1°C of global warming. With HFOs comes a sweeping sustainable and impactful change. HFOs are non-toxic, they do not deplete the ozone, they are not a volatile organic compound (VOC) and they are non-flammable. HFO-based SPFs are also efficient and allow contractors and installers to save on installation time. They exceed in overall performance and contribute to the health and well-being of the planet, homes, buildings and people.

With the future in full sight and the evolution and adoption of HFO blowing agents in more SPF products, green builders, architects and contractors alike see great potential for their building projects, knowing that air pollution issues and environmental considerations have been heard. HFOs are a progressive step forward.

Doug Kramer has been a leading figure in the spray foam insulation and roofing  products industry for almost 30 years with manufacturing, operations, sales and marketing experience in a broad variety of elastomeric coatings and polyurethane foam for construction. He is currently the president and CEO of Icynene-Lapolla.


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