As NLJ's managing editor, I see lots of questions arrive in the inbox for the Healthy Home Q&A department in our Green Home Resource. Lately, I've been seeing lots of questions about spray foam insulation and Icynene[C] insulation in particular. In fact, too many questions about this topic have come to us to fit them all into one HH Q&A department article. So, this month, we're bringing you an expanded HH Q&A feature with the expertise of multiple locally and nationally based movers and shakers in the green building world.
Q: Here are a few of the questions NLJ has received about insulation over the past year:
* What exactly is spray foam insulation? Is it a good option for my green home?
* Icynene seems to be mentioned in almost every issue of NLJ. But I still don't know what it is exactly and what makes it a "green," insulation choice?
* "Tight envelope" seems to be a buzz phrase in green building now. Do I want to create a tight envelope?
* I've seen an advertisement in your publication before for a company who installs Icynene. In the ad. the installer is wearing a mask and special suit. Are there safety concerns with Icynene that I should be worried about? What about with other types of similar insulation products?
A: Spray foam insulations first showed up on the building scene in the 1970s. Isaac Savage, president and founder of the Asheville-based company Home Energy Partners, describes this type of insulation as "a site-mixed, spray-in-place foam plastic insulation." In other words, "the product goes into your home as a liquid then expands and dries in place," he says. This process allows the insulation to fill gaps and cracks permanently, creating a very tight seal, or envelope.
And the experts say that there are many advantages to creating a tight home envelope. "A huge amount of energy is wasted in the typical building as a result of air leakage," Isaac notes. "Since the building's envelope is what determines how much energy the house will require to maintain comfort, it makes sense to create the very best envelope you possibly can. The better the envelope, the cheaper your energy Bills." Isaac also adds that reducing air leakage in the top of your home improves the venting ability, and thus the safety, of combustion appliances such as water heaters and fireplaces.
Our experts also indicate that spray foam insulations are helpful in creating a healthy indoor environment. Cindy Meehan-Patton, an interior...