Achieving safe spray foam insulation applications

Photos courtesy Huntsman
Photos courtesy Huntsman

By Monica Karamagi
Sprayed polyurethane foam (SPF) is gaining global recognition because it provides superior insulating properties by creating a tight building envelope that reduces unwanted air infiltration. Achieving a tight building envelope is the foundation for an energy-efficient building. According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN), “air leakage represents 25 to 40 per cent of the heat lost from an older home.”  (For more information, visit oee.nrcan.gc.ca/residential/personal/documents/air-leakage-eng.pdf). Creating a tight, well-insulated building envelope by insulating and air-sealing with SPF will reduce energy bills significantly when compared to traditionally insulated buildings.

Polyurethanes have been safely used in consumer products such as mattresses, shoes, and car seats for decades. Sprayfoam insulation has been used in building construction for more than 50 years. When properly applied in adherence with safety regulations, it is a safe, higher-performing alternative to using traditional fibrous insulation. (For more on sprayed polyurethane foam, see “The Future of Closed-cell Sprayed Polyurethane Foam Insulation” by Mark Nelson, and “Increasing Energy Efficiency with Insulation” by Mike Kontranowski in the September 2011 issue of Construction Canada. To read, visit www.constructioncanada.net and select “Archives.”)

Safe and proper SPF application can be achieved when builders and developers select good contractors. Additionally, all parties need to work together to create a safety culture that follows application best practices.

Choosing a contractor
The National Building Code of Canada (NBC), created by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC), outlines the requirements for both sprayfoam materials and application. While it must be adopted by a province or territory to have true impact, NBC serves as the model throughout the country. Specific modifications can be made to the code on a province-by-province basis.

Safe contractors will not only adhere to NBC, but they will also install products supplied by manufacturers who have secured a Canadian Construction Materials Centre (CCMC) evaluation report or listing. This provides proof that SPF meets both NBC’s standards and intent.

When choosing between sprayfoam contractors, one must first start with a simple checklist:

  • are they certified to apply sprayed polyurethane foam and do they have a current license?
  • are they experienced in installing SPF in a specific market?
  • do they have the proper insurance?
  • do they have qualified references?
  • in their current work, are they using the correct personal protective equipment (PPE), including respirators, protective clothing, and gloves?

When it comes to insulation application, the bid price cannot be the only consideration. Even after a contractor has been selected, it is crucial for one to maintain oversight and have a project manager onsite. This will help verify the contractor is upholding the safety processes within the NBC. In some cases, it is as easy as dropping by the worksite to check if the crew is wearing the required PPE.

A sprayed polyurethane foam (SPF) contractor prepares a home before application.
A sprayed polyurethane foam (SPF) contractor prepares a home before application.

The industry recommends wearing personal protective equipment. Once a safe worksite is established, workmanship becomes the priority.

Gloves
To avoid direct skin contact, fabric gloves fully coated with nitrile, neoprene, butyl rubber, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) must be worn while applying SPF. Tape may be used to seal arm and feet openings as needed.

Work boots
To avoid foot injury, steel-toed work boots covered by disposable over-boots should be worn in most work areas. In cases where over-boots present a slip/fall hazard, they may be eliminated.

Respirator/eye protection
To avoid inhalation and eye injury caused by foam aerosol or mist, a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved, full-face or hood-type supplied air respirator (SAR), operated in either positive pressure or continuous flow mode, must be used.

Closed-cell SPF being applied to concrete in a basement.
Closed-cell SPF being applied to concrete in a basement.

Protective clothing
To avoid direct skin contact, disposable coveralls with an attached hood and disposable over-boots with skid-resistant soles must be worn. In cases where heat stress may be a concern, a lightweight, disposable coverall should be considered.

Hard hat
A hard hat should be worn to avoid head injury. An approved hard hat must be worn in areas where there is a risk of falling objects.

Quality assurance
A requirement of the NBC’s national material standard––Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (CAN/ULC) S 705.1, Standard for Thermal Insulation–Spray-applied Rigid Polyurethane Foam, Medium Density: Material Specification––is the manufacturer identifies a third-party site quality assurance program (QAP) organization that will be responsible for contractor accreditation, installer certification, and site audits.

Additionally, the manufacturer must agree to only sell product to accredited and licensed contractors, who in turn, use trained, certified, and licensed installers. The manufacturer has input into the requirements and agrees beforehand they are acceptable; it then relies on the installers to provide proof (every three years) the CCMC standard is being met for installation. The QAP includes a third-party warranty program that comes into play if the contractor is ‘unable or unwilling’ to correct defects. This prevents the manufacturer from being held responsible for a contractor’s mistakes.

Currently, the Canadian Urethane Foam Contractors Association (CUFCA), Exova (a provider of laboratory testing, advising, and assuring services), and Morrison Herschfield provide QAPs for a variety of sprayfoam manufacturers.

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