13 Reasons to Plan a Foam-Free Enclosure

Spray foam has been the subject of much discussion in green building circles.  Whether the concern is installation safety or global warming potential or better energy performance, it seems there’s no shortage of debate.  Along these lines, the guys at 475 High Performance Building Supply, a Brooklyn-based provider of products for high-performance projects, have a list describing 13 ways foam fails, starting with the “dangerous toxic ingredients.

1.)  Dangerous toxic ingredients
2.)  Irredeemable global warming potential
3.)  Unacceptably high fire hazard
4.)  Hypersensitive on-site manufacturing
5.)  Intolerant of adverse job site conditions
6.)  Unhealthy off-gassing
7.)  Counterproductive vapor retarder/barrier
8.)  Terribly hygrophobic
9.)  Weak and unpredictable air control
10.)  Inflexible and prone to cracking
11.)  Excessive shrinkage
12.)  Difficult to identify and repair air leaks
13.)  Degrading thermal insulation values

So therefore why not go “foam free” in the building enclosure, says architect Ken Levenson with 475 High Performance Building Supply. What do you think about this list? If not foam free, then why?

[+] Foam Fails by 475 High Performance Building Supply.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/lynnelynne Lynne Oper

    It also seems to make electrical wiring rather permanent. It’s insulative properties cost future building adaptability.

  • ADBurt

    I would take this more seriously if they linked to studies or articles that support their list of failures.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=521847894 Iikka Keränen

    This list reads rather like one of those websites ranting against vaccination. Maybe they have something to substantiate it somewhere on their website, but frankly this just sounds bizarre. Why is having a vapor barrier “counterproductive”? How is foam worse at controlling air leakage than alternatives such as fiberglass batts or loose-fill cellulose? Just what type of foam are they talking about, anyway? I presume there are more than one product on the market that can be described as “foam”.

  • dbull

    I love Jetson Green but this is the most dubious post I can recall ever
    making the editorial cut. I built our office with foam. Not only are
    some of these assertions plain wrong but there is a LOT of hyperbole
    here. Perhaps they got a hold of Spencer Barns Filofax and were using
    some of his power words…

    • disqus_7ekgc8SXd1

      It makes no sense in the long term to make an energy efficient house out of fossil fuels when we are trying to reduce fossil fuel usage worldwide. The work in LCA will soon show what houses are truly green. Also, these foams are full of HBCD, PBDEs, and other endocrine disrupting chemicals and known carcinogens, mutagens, as recently discussed in the Scientific American http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/11/28/the-environmental-fallout-of-greener-buildings/

      • ibilisi

        That Scientific American “blog post” is wrought with similar issues as the above list. I expect more from The Scientific American. I understand it is a guest blog post, but I would think there would be some curation, fact-checking, bias-checking and general editorial analysis of all posts.

        I agree with dbull and Iikka. I can hardly read this list without cringing. Many items are just wrong or heavily dependent on type of product, building design, installation and product handling. What are we comparing to anyway?

        I did look at their page and see that they have an “above-the-fold” link to Gutex Fiberboard Insulation Products. I’m guessing Gutex succeeds in all areas where “foam” fails?

        • disqus_7ekgc8SXd1

          I suppose you think cigarettes don’t cause cancer either or that clean coal can actually exist and we all know climate change is a hoax too right? That’s certainly your right, but it’s also mine to not touch the spray foam and I agree with this blog.

          • ibilisi

            I’m not sure why you attempt to link cigarettes, coal, or climate change into this discussion. Those topics can stand or fall on their own merits and have nothing to do with the current topic. We are discussing the linked list of reasons spray foam “fails” and the cited blog post, neither of which are examples of well-supported/vetted editorial content.

            I personally believe that ALL insulation options have their place and application. However, one size does not fit all and each can be mis-applied by poor design, installation, product handling, etc. Blanket statements that are sensational or heavily biased do nothing to educate the consumer.

            Congrats on not wanting to touch spray foam, however I would hope that before singing merits or faults of any product thorough research from unbiased sources, allowing a more complete picture of the landscape, be performed.

          • disqus_7ekgc8SXd1

            If you believe climate change is real, you know we need to reduce our reliance on materials made from fossil fuels. Climate change obviously changes the conversation, that is if you believe it to be real. There are legitimate concerns that the same people (bought off scientists) hired to say cigarettes aren’t addictive or cause cancer, have been hired to help big oil convince people that climate change is a hoax. And as far as clean coal, same thing goes, some people can be bought off and will say anything if the price is right. Big oil has big pockets and spray foam is one of their products…

      • ChKen

        “The work in LCA will soon show what houses are truly green.”

        Can they please hurry up? How can we know what acronyms to avoid if they don’t tell us before we build?!?

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      Thanks for the love. Just sharing a perspective that’s out there on spray foam. All discussion on the topic is on the table in my view.

      • http://twitter.com/sprayfoamsucks greenwashed

        Preston, your article is much appreciated from many of us families who have lost our homes and health to failed(toxic) SPF. I am constantly being contacted by families that are forced to move out of their home or who have become sick (or both in most cases). We are fighting a hard battle but believe me, we of all people know the failures and reasons behind building foam free. For more info or to add info, please visit http://www.sprayfoamdangers.com

  • WS528

    This has to be the absolute worse post on JG ever. I had expected more from JG but perhaps I was wrong.

  • http://www.green-talk.com/ Anna @GreenTalk

    Preston, I have to weigh in on this list. I honestly have no idea if Ken was talking about closed vs open cell insulation since they are very different. Also, I have open cell and was there when they installed back in 2004. I didn’t notice any off-gassing and I am highly sensitive. That being said, I really don’t understand Ken’s list. My foam is 9 years old and don’t have those problems with the exception of the issue that it is made of a fossil fuel product. I haven’t had any trouble with repairing air leaks, water, etc. And it hasn’t shrunk to the best of my knowledge. (Some areas are exposed where I can see the foam) As for fire retardants, closed cell is supposed to be behind sheetrock and not exposed. I am watching the reports as to the chemical concerns and would love to hear a definitive answer about the chemicals used. I too would like to see back-up to Ken’s claims. I will be the first to admit that building green can be a balancing act. Love to see a LCA on open and closed cell foam.

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