I remember working with my dad and going up into our attic on occasion as a child. There were fluffy pink batts of insulation between the boards, and I was warned not to step on them, touch them, or get any of the fibers in my eye. This traditional insulation is very itchy – ask me how I know. :-)
Fast forward a few decades and the latest in insulation technology is spray foam. Which is just what it sounds like. It’s a Styrofoam type product that is sprayed between the studs of your home. Because it’s sprayed, it can get into nooks and crannies that traditional insulation cannot, therefore providing a superior outcome.
First up, the installer went through the house sealing up any noticeable spaces between the boards, and around the doors and windows. The stained concrete floors were covered with rosin paper to protect them during the spraying. Then the foam was sprayed on the ceiling – remember those ice house roof panels?
And on all the exterior walls.
Obviously, the foam doesn’t spray nice and neat, but instead in – well – blobs.
Therefore, the installer has to go back and cut off the protruding blobs of foam to make the insulation flush with the studs, in preparation for drywall.
But before drywalling (that’s a verb, right?) can commence, there’s one more crucial step. We had an air infiltration test conducted to determine how “tight” our house was. To be considered Energy Star efficient, homes must have a rating under 1,500 for an air infiltration test equivalent to a 30-mph wind on every side of the house.
A rating between 500-1000 was what we were looking for, and we were told most homes first rate at approximately 4,000. Before sealing the leaks, we were at 1,300. That means our house was already pretty tight to begin with. After using “smoke sticks” which were held near doors, windows, and the duct work – basically any spot that might have a leak – any leaks found received additional spray foam and we received a subsequent rating under 1,000. This is not actually completely accurate for us as we still had one place where there was no wall and a plastic tarp was used as a temporary wall. After drywall is put up, the house will get even tighter.
Our air infiltration testers repeatedly emphasized that this is the time to conduct the test – before drywall. It’s much harder to find the leaks and fix them once the walls are up.
With a house sealed so tightly, there’s a concern that air quality would be diminished. To accommodate for this, we are installing an HRV – a heat recovery ventilator. This device exchanges stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air. In the winter it will also warm the cold air coming into the house and in the summer it will cool the hot air coming inside. Pretty nifty, huh?
There are other benefits to spray foam insulation as well. It works to minimize sound, it’s environmentally friendly, it doesn’t settle, and it provides a solid level of insulating that traditional products can’t match. It’s also more expensive, at least up front. But savings from energy expenses can definitely outweigh increased installation costs over time. Many times utility companies also offer rebates if you’re looking to improve the insulation in your home. Be sure to check yours out before installing.
That’s our contractor, Melvin, in the photo with us. He’s awesome.