Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam insulation is a liquid product that expands and forms an excellent thermal barrier. It can be sprayed onto concrete, wood, drywall—you name it.

I think it’s the best possible insulation on the market—no question. Spray foam is effective overall at creating that complete thermal break in the building envelope. It covers everything so there’s no possibility of cold spots, voids or settling. There is no air movement between outside and inside, so there’s no possibility of condensation and, since it’s inorganic it won’t allow for mould growth.

Spray foam insulation must be applied by a professional installer.

Spray foams all need to have a barrier with a fire rating—like drywall—on the interior walls of the house. That’s because they release toxic fumes when exposed to flame.

There are two basic types of spray foam insulation: Open Cell and Closed Cell.
Open cell is softer and lighter and incorporates air for the insulator. It’s less costly than Closed cell, but it will retain moisture if it gets wet and it will require the use of 6ml vapour barrier—just like batt insulation.

Closed Cell is dense and rigid and will not retain moisture. I’m a huge fan of closed cell spray foam insulation. The best of all insulations on the market is closed cell foam. It wins on all counts—energy efficiency, indoor air quality and environmentally. It’s also its own vapour barrier (though you should check with local municipalities. Some inspectors still want to insist on vapour barrier, though they shouldn’t.)

There are two main kinds of spray foam—Polyicynene and Polyurethane. Both absolutely have to be applied by a specialized installer. Some CFCs are used in production and they off-gas for a time after application. All spray foam insulation is now being changed over to use eco-friendly propellants. 


Mike Holmes - The National Post
Apr 9, 2012

Don’t lose your cool at home

I’ve been getting emails lately from homeowners asking about R-value: What is it? What does it mean? How much do I need? How much is too much? How much is too little? I’m going to try to clear this up for everyone.

When we talk about R-value — usually insulation — we’re talking about a material’s ability to resist heat flow. The R-value of any material measures how well a material resists the transfer of heat if the temperature on one side of it is higher than on the other side. The higher the R-value, the better the material insulates.

Most people think R-value is important because it keeps our homes warm in the winter. But it’s getting warmer now, so should we forget about it until the fall?

Well, that depends. How warm does your house get in the summer?

Just as insulation’s R-value protects our homes from heat loss in the winter, it also protects it from cool loss in the summer, and we can’t go losing our cool!

We need to make sure our homes are properly insulated, so they can retain the cooler temperatures inside and keep the heat outside. If not, our air conditioners will work overtime, which isn’t good for the environment … or the wallet.

So what kind of insulation gives you the best R-value? I wish there were a clear answer, but there are a lot of things that affect a material’s R-value — No. 1 is the thickness and density of the material. But this, of course, changes all the time, for every single job.

For example, batt insulation (which is one of the more standard insulation materials in residential construction) usually has a rating of 2.5 to 3.5 per inch. Multiply that by the number of inches your contractor will be installing, and you’ll get the total R-value of whatever is being insulated, whether it be a wall, floor, roof or attic.

Does thicker mean better? Again, it depends on the specific material and brand your contractor is using, and how that material is applied. Let’s look at batt insulation again.

Batt insulation is usually made from fibreglass or mineral wool. Within it, there’s also a lot of trapped air. This air actually adds to the insulation’s R-value; it plays a huge role in the overall effectiveness of the insulation. That means that, if batt insulation is compressed, its R-value is going to decrease.

That’s why you never want to stuff as much batt insulation as you can into a wall. By crushing or pressing it, you damage it. And that means you’re wasting your money.

Here’s another question I hear all the time: Can you have too much insulation? The answer is yes, especially in the attic.

Loose fill or blown-in insulation has an R-value of about R3 to 4 per inch, about the same level as batt insulation.

It’s what most contactors use to insulate attics, and it’s crucial that a professional installs it. Why? Because non-experts tend to randomly fill in the attic space, covering the soffit vents and cutting off the ventilation in the attic.

Or some pile it so high, it fills the entire space, not allowing for air movement. If there’s no airflow in the attic, we’ve got big problems. This will lead to ice dams on your roof and downspouts, which will start to damage your roof. So more is definitely not better.

R-value is a helpful indicator, but it doesn’t tell you everything. For starters, R-value performance tests assume there’s no air movement. What does that mean? No matter how high a wall’s R-value, if you don’t protect it properly against drafts, the R-value has no value.

Moisture also has a huge impact on R-value. Even a small amount of moisture can significantly reduce a material’s R-value, making it about one quarter as effective as it should be. Most insulation has to stay dry. If moisture gets in it, it will compress the material, and we know that’s not good.

If R-value is what you’re looking for, closed-cell spray foam is king. Roughly, it has an R6-per-inch rating and it creates a complete thermal break in the building envelope. It covers everything, so there’s no chance for cold spots or air movement, voids or sagging (leaving some areas exposed), as you’d get from something like batt insulation.

Rigid insulation also has a rating of about R5 to 6 per inch, like spray foam. If you’re insulating a basement, this is the product you want to use for the floors and walls. It’s strong, gives us a thermal break, and it isn’t organic. So not only does it eliminate condensation that leads to mould, it’s also not a food source for mould. That’s smart.

Every home renovation or construction will, or should, have different R-value targets if insulation is going to be used. And these will be different in different areas of the home. For example, you may want a total of R60 in the attic, but R28 for a living-room wall.

I like spray foam, because of the R-value and the complete seal against air leakage. It’s a bit tough on the budget, but it’s a great investment in the long run, because of the energy savings. And these days, every bit counts.

Catch Mike in Holmes Inspection, Thursdays at 8 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit hgtv.ca. For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca.


Mike Holmes - The National Post

Sept 5th, 2011

Demand green features from your builder

When you buy a new house, before it’s built, you get to choose from the variety of styles and floor plans the builder offers, as well as options and upgrades on details and finishes. Depending on the builder, sometimes the options and choices of upgrades are very limited. Most times, those options are limited to finishes. Rarely do they offer green upgrades, or upgrades on what matters most: what’s behind the walls.

A lot of builders and building companies have model homes, or even a design centre you can visit to help you decide on the finishes and upgrades you might want to add. What’s on display is always finishes. It’s never the insulation, the drywall or tile underlayment. You’ll never see air purifiers on display or added as an extra appliance.

Energy Star appliances are standard now with new homes, and they are built to minimum code standards with regard to construction, building envelope, insulation.

But what about green upgrades?

Some leading green builders offer features such as solar rooftop photovoltaic (PV) and solar hot-water pre-heating rough-ins for those who want that option. And lots are coming on board with low/no VOC paints, and maybe some bamboo flooring. But that’s about it, I’m sad to say.

That’s all driven by consumer demand. Builders will build what sells, so it’s up to you to demand upgrades that will really increase the value of your home.

What do homebuyers think is important when they invest in their new homes?

Everyone is concerned about indoor air quality, and the effects of mould and allergens on their families’ health. But how many people are even aware of the upgrades they can have that will improve that indoor air quality? The type of insulation you choose, the type of cabinets and flooring, all contribute to the indoor air quality. What about adding an air-purifying system or premium HEPA filtration to your HVAC?

Some people will advise you to choose your upgrades based on future resale of your home. That’s fine, but who’s to say a brushed nickel faucet will still be fashionable when your home goes on the market? Will cherry cabinets be in, or will painted wood? Is your money better spent on a granite countertop or on a properly insulated basement and attic?

A finished basement is a popular one. But for me, this is one of the real traps of a “builder upgrade.” Guaranteed: If you opt for this upgrade, you will have a basement finished to minimum code. That’s all that’s required. And that will be a complete waste of your money — in either a short time or a slightly longer time — when you need to tear everything out because it’s tainted with mould.

Conventional wisdom says that spending your upgrade money on kitchen and bathrooms will repay you. But I say that every penny you invest in an upgrade that improves your home’s efficiency will repay you, too.

I say, when your budget is limited — and whose isn’t? — spend your upgrade money on the places you can’t get to later: behind the walls. You can always upgrade a standard finish to something pricier later, if you want to. But you can’t easily change your insulation or the underlayment beneath your tiles or replace your standard drywall with mould-resistant.

The consumer decisions always seem to be: Do you want the premium kitchen cabinets or the standard? Do you want a granite countertop or laminate? What kind of tile do you want in the bathroom?

People spend hours discussing choices of light fixtures, door handles, cabinet hardware, plumbing fixtures, paint colour, crown moulding and style of baseboards. Who cares? Seriously.

What about the level of insulation — code or above code? What kind of insulation — blown-in cellulose, batt, or spray foam? How good are the windows?Are they high-performance? BluWood or standard? Mould-resistant drywall or standard?

Can you choose sustainably sourced hardwood for your flooring?

Ask the questions. Make the right choices on your upgrades.

Catch Mike in his new season of Holmes Inspection, Thursdays at 8 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit hgtv.ca. For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca.


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