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Building Envelope Cost Savings Evaluation: Spray Foam Insulation Benefits for the Construction Industry

The new era of construction can be daunting, but there are ways to offset the increase in construction costs while keeping a durable, well-performing and airtight building envelope. Consider spray foam insulation, it can adapt to any shape or design and self-adheres to the substrate.

By Maxime Duzyk

It can be difficult to keep a reasonable budget or stay within budget in the construction industry, without decreasing the quality of construction or compromising on a building’s design. These are times of big changes. There are many behind-the-scenes challenges facing construction today – a changing workforce, increases in construction costs and materials, supply change disruptions, extreme weather, and on-site worker safety and efficiency. All of this contributes to a new dimension in the building world, where owners, architects, engineers, and builders must be resourceful and think differently to achieve efficiency and value to get the desired result.

In Q1 2021, Statistics Canada (Stat Can) reported that the residential construction cost index surged. The impact is largely related to building materials cost, with lumber, cement and other material prices going up. Condo construction has also been hammered by rising costs. Then, there’s the on-site health and safety costs associated with the pandemic – companies are having to develop or change their safety plans, cover costs related to social distancing, PPE, temperature checks and overall sanitation. It is estimated that these requirements have resulted in a loss of productivity, and add to that a slowed materials delivery system, it has costed contractors 10 -12 %.

On top of that, we are seeing more complicated building designs that are taking on different shapes, often creating problems for insulation and air/vapour barrier products to be installed correctly.

The new era of construction can be daunting, but there are ways to offset the increase in construction costs while keeping a durable, well-performing and airtight building envelope. Consider spray foam insulation, it can adapt to any shape or design and self-adheres to the substrate.

A closer look at thinking differently about spray foam insulation

There are numerous benefits to using spray foam insulation in the building envelope tightening process including its quickness of installation to its effectiveness. Other ways spray foam offsets the increase in construction costs by providing a healthy and high performing building envelope:

  1. Closed-cell spray foam acts as an air/vapour barrier, insulation and weather barrier removing the need for a full-surface membrane. This saves on construction material and labor costs.
  2. The quickness of spray foam installation saves time on site for builders and contractors, and it reduces the timeline length of construction projects.
  3. It’s durable, so it saves on product replacement during construction. Traditional insulation such as fiberglass if wet during construction, it will need to be replaced prior to installing the interior finish. Closed-cell spray foam can be exposed to water during construction and still maintain its integrity. It is also mold resistant. It does not need to be replaced over the lifetime of the building, compared to other types of insulation that may need to be replaced.
  4. It removes the risk for condensation. During construction, building project steps may vary in sequence as it relates to the air barrier and vapour barrier. Depending on the approach taken, this can sometimes lead to condensation in the wall assembly and some materials may have to be replaced.
  5. Spray foam leaves no room for errors during the installation process. Other air barrier and vapour barrier materials need lengthy and meticulous installation. Often, a primer and roller are necessary to apply pressure on the membranes, even tape to complete the barriers. This means errors and gaps can happen, and they can be avoided with spray foam.
  6. Think wind load resistance. Closed-cell spray foam has been tested with the highest wind loads, demonstrating its high performance and resistance during extreme winds. Other materials are more sensitive to high winds and may need to be replaced during construction.
  7. Spray foam stays in place because of its adhesion capabilities to most building materials.
  8. Thinner wall assemblies. With its high R-value, closed-cell spray foam insulation can reduce the thickness of the wall assembly (steel studs, Z-bars …). This saves on cost and allows for more square footage for the interior apartments – allowing clients to sell more square footage per building.
  9. Continuous insulation is now required to remove thermal bridging. Closed-cell spray foam is an easy option for continuous insulation for both the exterior application and interior application.
  10. Low global warming potential. Some SPF manufacturers have a product specific EDP, that demonstrates that SPF has a much lower GWP than any other type of insulation products.
Huntsman Building Solutions spray foam in large building
Image courtesy of Huntsman Building Solutions

Much more is on the horizon for spray foam insulation as it relates to efficiencies and cost savings, a trend we are experiencing is around U-value and effective R-value. Experts in the industry are progressing and talks around total R-value are easing because thermal bridges need to be considered. Spray foam already has set results for U-value and different thicknesses allow building designers to choose the U-value they desire – making the buildings more efficient.

An internal shift to D-Max Wall assembly

Spray foam is also contributing to large new building application methods. One that is on the rise is the D-Max Wall assembly. This revolutionary method is done in combination with closed-cell spray foam (ccSPF) product applied directly on the wall that is composed of regular steel studs, horizontally installed Z-bar on the studs and then the sheathing is applied on top of the Z-bars. The traditional way of installing the exterior sheathing directly on steel studs is not as cost-effective, especially during colder months. The D-Max Wall application in combination with Heatlok Soya HFO creates a space between the studs and the sheathing, allowing the foam to insulate between the two, and removing the thermal bridge. It’s like the insulation is on the exterior of the structure, but it’s applied from the interior of the building.

Residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural builders and construction professionals recognize the various strains they are up against. Therefore, when it comes to the building envelope, the demand is high for the most energy efficient, eco-friendly, and innovative spray foam technology. They also appreciate that spray foam insulation will endure and perform for the life of the building or home. Huntsman Building Solutions continues to pioneer innovations to create efficiencies in process and cost, while contributing to high-performance and healthier spaces.

Maxime Duzyk with Huntsman Building Solutions

Maxime Duzyk is the director of building science and engineering with Huntsman Building Solutions. He holds a background in architecture and has been in the spray foam insulation business for the last 10 years. Maxime is involved with different building envelope committees and associations in North America like CSC, SFC, SPFA, CCMC and ULC Standards.