Expanding The Possibilities In Open Cell Spray Foam Insulation

written by Emily Best, North America Marketing Manager, Built-In

“The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.” -Helmu Schmidt

The Trend: Polyurethane Spray Foam Insulation

The quest for improvement is the catalyst that leads to some of the world’s greatest innovations and product developments. This quest is not lost on homeowners, commercial architects, or building material manufacturers. In fact, one of the hottest (or coolest) trends in the building materials market right now is the use of spray foam insulation. Home owners are constantly searching the internet for ways to lower their energy bills and regulate the temperature in their homes. Existing homes built towards the beginning of the twentieth century that have not been updated or renovated, commonly have large fluctuations in temperature due to improper insulation materials and leaks or cracks around old windows. Commercial architects and builders that are using the highest quality materials and the latest trends in energy efficiency and sustainability are winning contracts for the big jobs all around the world. These are just a few reasons why 60% of builders are currently using polyurethane spray foam insulation, and 16% of builders are looking to start using it in the future.

Polyurethane foam insulation can be spray applied and is commonly used to seal cracks and gaps and insulate buildings. This application of PU foam is widely recognized to reduce heat transfer and unwanted air that seeps in through cracks, seams, and joints in building construction. Open cell and closed cell foams offer various levels of density and porousness which affects the level of air flow or moisture vapor that can infiltrate the foam insulation.

Closed Cell Spray Foam vs. Open Cell Spray Foam

Some key differences between open cell spray foam and closed cell spray foam are composition, moisture permeability, and R value. Let’s explore each!

Closed cell foam is more rigid and dense. It doesn’t expand as much as open cell foam does when it is sprayed, but it does have advantages over open cell spray insulation foam. Density foams like closed cell offer a thicker and less permeable barrier so they actually help to provide structure and create a more rigid building envelope than flexible foams like open cell. Closed cell spray foam is commonly found in large commercial building applications.

Closed cell spray foam insulation has a higher R-value than open cell spray foam insulation. R-value is a measurement of thermal resistance and measures the ability of heat to transfer from one side of an object to another. Interestingly enough, three inches of open cell spray foam will provide the same R-value as two inches of closed cell spray foam. The more you know!

Armacell is a manufacturer of engineered foams and the world leader in the market for flexible technical insulation materials

Open cell foam is more porous than closed cell foam, so it is more susceptible to moisture permeation. When open cell foam is sprayed, it expands up to 100 times more than closed cell foam and provides excellent thermal insulation. Flexible foams like open cell combined with the increased expansion rate make open cell polyurethane foam a great choice for areas like crawl spaces because the insulation will expand its way into many nooks and crannies that closed cell foam will likely not get to. Because open cell foam is vulnerable to moisture, mold and mildew growth can become an issue.

A No Brainer: Antimicrobial Open Cell Spray Foam

Rigid and flexible polyurethane foams provide assistance as a vapor barrier and air barrier, and some spray foams on the market today are even flame retardant, but there is still a very important variable to be considered when talking about open cell polyurethane spray foam insulation. The fact the moisture can get into this type of spray foam insulation means that the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew is a very realistic threat.

The constant precipitation and humidity in many parts of the world that pound against buildings and homes is a major issue that leads to common structural problems related to mold and mildew. The most concerning part about microbial growth in open cell foam insulation is that we can’t see it most of the time. Wall and ceiling insulation is hidden from plain sight so most of the time when a mold or mildew problem is discovered within the insulation material, it’s too late. As building specifications become more stringent and call for improved levels of durability, architects and specifiers are looking for products that feature innovative, proactive solutions that enhance durability.

Incorporating antimicrobial technology into open cell spray foams in a no brainer and there is currently a gap in the industry where this need isn’t being met. With over 20 different antimicrobial actives in house, Microban® engineers have the ability to choose and customize antimicrobial solutions for your specific foam formula. Depending on your process and final use pattern of the products, Microban, with the knowledge and experience of our engineering team, works with your manufacturers to provide enhanced protection and durability to your foam products. Our technologies are registered in the United States with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are registered in Europe with the Biocidal Products Regulation as safe to use in a variety of foam applications. None of our actives are considered nanotechnology, of which pros and cons are still not fully understood.

If you’re a foam manufacturer looking to enhance your products and provide additional value to your customers, contact Microban today.