June 30, 2015

A Declaration of Independence from Foam Plastic Insulation (2015)

declaration of independenceIn the spirit of 1776, 475 High Performance Building Supply is proud to reprint an update to our Declaration of Independence from Foam Plastic Insulation, first published for July 4th 2013 (Treehugger).  Enjoy:

In BROOKLYN, NY, July 4th, 2015.

A DECLARATION.

WHEN in the course of constructing and renovating buildings, it becomes necessary for architects, consultants and builders to stop using materials and methods which have defined high-performance building in our time, and determine to set a new course separate and free from foam plastic insulation and the chemical companies that push it, the consideration of others requires that they declare the causes for this separation.

WE hold these truths to be self-evident, that building and renovating should be done with certain unalienable duties:  that among these are to promote the health and well being of construction workers and building occupants, while protecting our natural resources and biosphere, providing happiness today and for the generations to come.  That to secure these duties, choices are made by practitioners, deriving their powers from the best current science available.   That when any form of corporate domination becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of practitioners to alter their choices and institute new methods, laying a new foundation on such principles and organizing its means, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.  Prudence dictates that means and methods long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown that we are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right them.  But when a long train of abuses, pursuing invariably the same Objective evinces a design to hold building industry practitioners captive to their absolute deceptions, it is the practitioners right, it is their duty, to throw off such materials, means and methods, and provide new Guards for their future security.  Such has been the patient sufferance of practitioners, building occupants and our biosphere.  The history of the present foam plastic insulation industry, is a history of repeated injuries and deceptions, all having in direct object the establishment of tyranny over the building industry.   To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

  1.  It is made primarily from isocyanate, formed from methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI).  MDI is manufactured with benzene, chlorine compounds and formaldehyde leading to release of dioxins and furans –  bioaccumulative toxicants, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.  MDI is also a known allergen and sensitizing toxicant.  See here.
  2. Its catalyst is often an amine compound and can induce a wide range of debilitating effects, from  the skin to the nervous system.  See here.
  3. The hydrocarbon blowing agents used for closed-cell foam are a potent greenhouse gas and in many cases may cause more global warming than it can ever prevent.  See here. (GreenBuilding.com subscription)
  4. Flame retardants in it are made from halogenated organic compounds with chlorine or bromine bonded to carbon and are persistent bioaccumulative toxins which can be found worldwide in humans, wildlife and the environment.  See here.
  5. Its flame retardants don’t work, consequently we are poisoning our environment with them for the illusion of fire protection.  See here.
  6. It regularly greenwashes with claims of soy and other natural ingredients in the polyol – declining to mention the toxicity of the dominant and unaltered MDI. See here.
  7. It can produce unhealthy off-gassing, and forming the basis for multi-state lawsuits.
  8. It has forbidden its Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance.  See here.
  9. It is petroleum based and a fire accelerant, feeding fires, reducing effective firefighting response times, causing more damage, injuries and death.  See here and here.
  10. Its improper installation has started fires with deadly consequences.  See here.
  11. That burning it produces toxic pollution, dangerous to occupants,  first responders, and the surrounding environment.  See here.
  12. It has over stated insulating values.  Given the declining insulating value over time and often at colder temperatures of closed-cell foam, it has not provided accurate data on actual insulating values under conditions practitioners reasonably expect.  See here.
  13. It has undermined the resilience of assemblies:
    1. It is hygrophobic and doesn’t actively help manage moisture intrusion.
    2. It excessively shrinks and expands putting undue stress on connections.  See here.
    3. It is inflexible and prone to cracking.
    4. It provides weak and unpredictable air control.
    5. It can be a counterproductive vapor retarder/barrier, creating wet conditions at sheathing.  See pages 11& 12 of pdf here.
  14. Its on-site manufacture in spray form is hypersensitive, and regularly results in substandard and virtually unrepairable messes while gassing the building and environment with toxins.

WE therefore declare, appealing to our conscience as stewards for building contractors and occupants today, first responders, and future generations, That architects, consultants and builders ought to be Free of chemical company disinformation and the dominance of foam plastic insulation, with full power to make foam-free assemblies and foam-free deep energy retrofits that are more resilient, energy efficient and non-toxic.   That as Free and Independent practitioners, they have full power to Act in all manners to secure their sacred duties.

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One Response to A Declaration of Independence from Foam Plastic Insulation (2015)

  1. hugh September 18, 2015 at 10:25 am #

    This is quite a rant against spray foam insulation but the tone drifts into hysteria at times and I wonder at the motivation against foam insulation. I would like to lay out a gentle rebuttal of the declaration of independence. A disclaimer: I am a small builder and have no ties to any industry. I will also close at the end with my use of foam in building a tiny house rv. I live in a very cold part of Wyoming with -30-40 temps each winter. Sub zero nights are the rule in winter. Foam insulation here is the norm to achieve the high R values required by the county. Example R60 in the roof. This is easily achieved with conventional 2×10 or 2×12 rafters and the cavities filled with closed cell foam by an experienced installer.. I have built many houses and I have always lived in houses I have built myself since college. I have used batt insulation, rock wool and fiberglass, sheet foam and spray foam. All of these insulations have problems if done improperly. Our biggest problem with batts are rodent infestations, mice. Despite my best efforts the mice have moved into wall cavities, floor cavities and roofs. They have gotten into walls and set up house and collapsed the batts despite my best efforts to seal both sides with sheathing. In crawl spaces they have climbed into the batts and pulled them out rendering floor insulation moot. I have re insulated and stapled tight mesh chicken wire to hold the batts in place but the mice move in regardless. Inevitably even with tight mesh hardware screen they find the tiniest opening and move in. Anyone who has used fiberglass or mineral wool batts knows how toxic it can be to lungs and eyes and clothes, especially lying on one’s back in a crawl space. We have spay foamed our roofs and floors, walls and foundations(inside ) with closed cell foam and generally use 2+-4 ” of blueboard outside concrete foundations and under slabs. It is a fabulous way to achieve extreme high R values. It seals against air and water infiltration and provides amazing structural rigidity to walls, roofs and floors. I have never seen any fracturing or cracking as 475 has stated nor have I ever heard of such occurrences locally from fellow contractors. Windows are typically sealed with minimal expansion spray foam. The manufacturers state that if properly mixed and applied, CCF does not outgas and that has been verified by EPA. If improperly applied and mixed, I would bet that there would likely be outgassing especially with open cell foams. Polyurethanes are sensitizing chemicals chiefly to lungs and skin during application and that is certainly well established but once properly cured they are inert. Almost any man made material can outgas, even lumber. The plastics in your car will outgas virtually forever and the gas can condense on the inside of windows in a sealed car. Ditto for plastics and synthetics used in the home. A fireman friend of mine says he has read that carpets and their underlayments are extremely toxic during fires along with all the plastics used in building construction and interior furniture. When polyurethanes are burned they release toxic gasses. No doubt there what ever, but so do most the plastics, especially any with halogens used in their manufacture such as PVC pipe and vinyls, vinyl siding and the like which release dioxin in large amounts. All insulation and especially foam must be covered with wall board or wood which will give you time to flee. There is no doubt that the gasses released during application add to the worldwide problem with global warming but there are many gasses besides co2 that are released that are more potent at inducing global warming. Methane is said to be dozens of times more potent as a heat trapping gas than co2 and methane is released in large amounts from many activities like energy production and generation and even farting from people and animals. A single cow is said to release about 100 kg/year but co2 production from burning fossil fuels dwarfs these other gasses as a contributor and singling out foam installation as a big contributor is ludicrous. I was very intrigued by 475’s help in building the SURE house for the Jersey shore but the details involved in the many layers used to achieve a sealed and insulated structure seem mind boggling and fabulously labor intensive and expensive. Nowhere is there any mention of the costs of the method . There was no independent testing of the achieved R values and we will have to wait to see if the house if ever built will survive another Hurricane Sandy. Costs of super efficient highly detailed construction while interesting and laudable in motivation if too expensive are just not scaleable if they are too costly and require enormous detail and highly skilled labor.
    I am completing a tiny house RV using both wood and metal stud construction. There is no way to achieve decent R values in these small structures using 2×4 or 2x6s unless spray foam is used. Our wall and roof cavities are spay foamed and sheathed with plywood outside and t&G wood inside. 1″ foam board is applied to the outside of the plywood to mitigate bridging losses and covered with T&G cedar. This will yield nearly R40 in the roof and more than R 40 in the floor. The floor is 3″ of sheet of foam foam under plywood and strip flooring and 4″ was sprayed under the trailer to the decking entirely encapsulating the wood and steel channel. Foam is the ONLY method possible to insulate these small mobile structures to live in a climate with large thermal gradients. I am pleased to say that I am so far very happy with the Lunos EGO HRV from 475 which is absolutely mandatory IMO if you want to build an airtight tiny house. I have not tried to live in it yet and I certainly hope I am correct in my utilization of CCF as the sole insulation. If I end up with health problems as a result I will certainly share this with you fellow bloggers and repent of my sins and ignorance!

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