FOAM-TECH’s Position on the Environment
Decisions about insulation are among the most important you will make relative to the environmental impact of buildings. Because insulation reduces energy consumption, it provides environmental benefits throughout a building's life. More energy can be saved by conservation than by improving the efficiency of heating systems. FOAM-TECH has been dedicated to energy conservation since its beginning in 1982. Utilizing the best quality insulation systems which incorporate air sealing and vapor control allow us to provide the most energy efficient building envelopes. Advanced technology provides a rigorous quality assurance program to maximize the energy performance of our installations. We have also been involved in work on alternative fuel, low-emission vehicles, and we are dedicated to reducing waste, greenhouse gases, and fossil-fuel by-product generation.
FOAM-TECH is committed to providing the most energy efficient and environmentally conscious products and installations possible. While the polyurethane industry as a whole has gone the route of replacing the CFC-11 with HCFCs, only FOAM-TECH has moved to introduce (1993) the first field-applied, closed-cell foam with a non-ozone-depleting hydro-fluoro-carbon (HFC). SUPERGREEN FOAM uses HFC-134a as the foaming agent. This product is available for both spray and cavity-fill applications.
FOAM-TECH was also among the first installers of Sealection 500 which uses a mixture of carbon dioxide and water as the foaming agent for this open-cell product. This material completely eliminates polyurethane's HCFC-related environmental impact, but it has a lower R-value. Like closed-cell polyurethane, Sealection 500 is foamed into wall cavities, but the resultant open-cell foam is soft, not rigid. Its advantage over loose-fill insulation is its air-sealing characteristics. This product can also be injected into closed cavities.
This combination of environmentally safe products allows us to provide "green" products for any type of building envelope application.
The polyurethane foam insulation industry uses recycled material in its products. The Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) says that almost all products today meet the EPA procurement guidelines for federally funded buildings, which call for a minimum 9% recycled content. Rather than using recycled foam, however, most foam manufacturers buy polyol chemical components with recycled content. The industry used some 20 to 30 million pounds of recycled post-consumer chemicals in 1993, according to Jared Blum of PIMA. In fact, according to the AIA Environmental Resource Guide, the industry is one of the largest markets for mixed-color recycled PET beverage containers, which have traditionally been difficult to recycle. In addition, about half of the raw materials used in producing the polyurethane foam are sustainable organic resources (usually sugar based). Our commitment to material conservation and recycling extends throughout our operations.
FOAM-TECH used to use as many as six steel 55-gallon drums (containers) of material per day in our energy conservation processes, amounting to between 600 and 700 drums per year. While the steel can be recycled, we consider cleaning out the drums, stockpiling them, transporting them, and even the recycling process to be a waste of resources that can be avoided. Our goal as a company that uses and advocates green, sustainable, and energy-efficient products is to eliminate any components of our total business process that generate waste or unnecessary energy use.
To address this issue, we have built a fleet of permanent refillable containers (tanks or vessels). When empty, they are returned to the supplier to be refilled. By replacing disposable drums with refillable containers, we save over 15 tons of steel per year and over 3000 pounds of unusable product (residue).
Our study shows that this is a cost-effective program because we have eliminated using disposable 55-gallon drums, the waste of the unusable material, and the cost of cleaning and recycling the steel. For these efforts, FOAM-TECH was awarded a waste-reduction program grant by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation for our commitment to the environment.
Another recycling issue for the construction industry is what to do with leftover waste from the building process. Our approach is to avoid having to recycle waste material by working with our clients to plan projects to prevent overfilling, thus reducing trimming waste and disposal costs. Because our foam product is installed directly into the building, there are no cut-offs or trimmings from non-standard bay sizes and shapes. Matching foam system R-values to fit into framing sizes can virtually eliminate overfilling, trimming and related waste.
our injection techniques, among FOAM-TECH's unique capabilities, also produce very little waste.
Health and Toxicity
Polyurethane foams are safe, having very low levels of emissions. There are no formaldehydes in urethanes. The American Medical Association has sponsored tests of urethanes and given them a clean bill of health. Some individuals have acute chemical sensitivity to the very small quantities of chemicals that off-gas from nearly all common insulation materials. The binders used in conventional batt insulation, inks from the recycled newspaper in cellulose, and VOCs released from foam insulation are examples of such off-gassing. We work with clients who have these high-level sensitivities to all types of chemicals and have developed a system of construction detailing that takes advantage of foam's superior air sealing capabilities to prevent migration of chemicals from all standard building materials into the living spaces.
Indoor Air Quality
Though indoor air quality issues are different from environmental issues, they are related and should be considered at the same time. Concern about the health effects of insulation materials dates back to the 1970s, when improperly installed urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) caused high levels of formaldehyde emissions in tens of thousands of homes. No insulation materials in use today exhibit indoor air quality problems approaching those of UFFI, but the rapidly growing interest in healthy homes is spurring a close examination of health impacts.
Some argue that the fibers released from fiberglass insulation may be
carcinogenic, like asbestos. A number of recent technical articles about
the carcinogenicity of glass fibers has been damaging to the image of the
fiberglass industry, as has the requirement for cancer warning labels.
Durability of building materials, including insulation, is a very
important environmental consideration. Clearly, more durable materials are
environmentally superior to less durable ones. Most insulation materials
will perform very well over lifetimes measured in decades or even
centuries. There are exceptions, however, and various factors affect
performance over time.
Other concerns with loose-fill fiber insulation are settling, displacement as a result of wind, and infestations of rodents. It is also possible that, over many decades, dust and dirt accumulation could reduce the R-value--either by compressing the insulation or by filling air pockets.
Insulation materials that rely on reflectivity for their thermal performance are prone to reduced performance as accumulating dust reduces the reflectivity. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has published a number of studies on impact of dust on radiant barrier performance.
Polyurethane foams are the most durable insulation material. Foams are not soluble, they bond to substrates, and they are often used as structural components in structural panels and other building systems. Rigid foam insulation materials that are produced using low-conductivity blowing agents (HCFCs) can be prone to R-value drift as the blowing agents leak out of the cell structure and air leaks in. Most foams come from the factory with an insulating value over R-8 per inch, but that may drop as low as R-5.6, according to some estimates. "Aged R-values" are insulation values that predict R-value drift. These published test values vary from product to product depending on density, "skin" effects, the substrate material, the application, and installation practices. Reductions in R-value may take from several years to a century or more. Aged R-values should always be used in planning thermal envelopes.
It surprises a lot of people to learn that a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient, passive-solar house built today may consume less heating and cooling energy over 30 or even 50 years of operation than was required to build it. This means that if our society wants to continue the impressive gains that have been made over the past 20 years in reducing energy use, we will need to focus attention on embodied energy as well as operating energy. While the embodied energy of insulation materials is usually quite low compared with the energy a given amount of insulation will save over its lifetime, it is nonetheless important.
Embodied energy is the energy required to produce and transport materials. If two insulation materials insulate equally well and other manufacturing impacts are comparable, the one with lower embodied energy is environmentally preferable. The key here is "insulate equally well". Insulation value should not be measured by laboratory tests. Real-world performance is the only accurate measure of insulation value. Air sealing, extreme temperatures, and high wind conditions can significantly reduce batt insulation performance. When the performance of the thermal envelope as a complete system is factored into the equation, high-performance materials, like polyurethane foams, are on a par with other insulating materials in regards to environmental payback.