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Is foam insulation worth the price?


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By B in FL on 12/1/2004


Has anyone used foam insulation such as Icynene - icynene.com?

Thanks


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By John in Erie, CO on 12/2/2004


See the Icynene thread below - I am about to try it, because I want to use the new amendment to IRC code that allows unvented roofs. Ken S. also did a lot of research.

I think (IMHO) the summary is that they might be worth it if you have a compelling reason (unvented flat roof in my case, or perhaps an attic or wall that is thin and does not have enough space for a normal amount of insulation). Otherwise, it's probably not worth the extra cost.

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By Jon in Austin, TX on 12/3/2004


From the research I've done and insulation contractors I've talked to, the price is approximately three times that of insulating the walls with batt insulation and attic with blown insulation. However, the mold resistance of Icynene allows you to omit a house wrap, and the airtight seal you get with this product allows you to use smaller AC and heating systems. You can save about 30% on heating and cooling costs, and your home may qualify for an energy star rating (a big plus for resale). I'm still in planning stages, but this is a product I will most likely splurge on.

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/6/2004


I looked at icynene and one of their competitors. I found the installed price to be ~$1.20-1.33 per square foot of wall space to fill a 2x4 cavity (3-1/2"). Attic costs were higher, as was 2x6 framing, although I do not know how much. As a cost savings, the Icynene contractors around here recommend using a nominal 4" installation in the attic and then using a more traditional insulation to obtain the necessary R-value. In my locale, the code requirement for attic insulation is R-30 and the Department of Energy recommends R-49 as the best return on investment, so I was planning to use R-49. With this thin layer of Icynene, you obtain all of the benefits of making your house tight, without the costs for all of the material necessary to achieve required R-value in the attic.

Please note that I am looking at attic sealing and insulation only as I am using ICF construction for the walls. When you combine Icynene wall insulation with typical stick frame construction, you quickly realize that ICF is much more cost effective. I eliminated Icynene from the attic insulation because my ICF contractor (a custom home builder in his normal life, just a sub for me for the dry shell) guarantees EPA energy star 90+ point house, and he can achieve this by using more typical attic insulation. He does use one of the Icynene competitors occasionally, but he has always achieved 90+ points without either. I found installed price to get R-30 and vapor barrier to be under $0.40/sf of attic space. There is an upcharge for R-49, but I can't imagine it is very significant. Based on the heel of my trusses, I will probably only be able to achieve R-38 +/- near the eaves and still have adequate soffit ventilation, but this is still well in excess of code. 

When you consider that I am cooling 4,000 s.f. with three tons of AC (and this analysis was based on using R-30 attic insulation) and I still have head space, my house is plenty efficient.


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By Marc in Defuniak Springs, FL on 9/9/2005


Kenneth,

I too, believe I can achieve the same R results and not have the added cost of Icynene.

My question becomes, how much ventilation would be needed with a good solid R-38 lay-in (7/12) and using foil-based wrap down to the soffits. (Foil-based is not written in stone, I like the reflection properties and the cost is minimum). I had in mind a quality ridge vent with all around soffit vents. Would a thermostat controlled ridge vent be necessary?

House specs: ICF 5,200 s.f., 2,600 walkout, 48x60 20' elevation, efficient windows and doors.

Thanks


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By Karen in Tulsa, OK on 9/10/2005


What gives you the better insulating value on the roof? A radiant barrier or foam insulation? 
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/12/2005


You can't directly compare radiant barrier to foam insulation. You have to look at climate when considering whether radiant barrier will be cost effective. If you live in Canada, radiant barrier is a waste of time and money. Now in Arizona, radiant barrier is extremely cost effective.

Given that radiant barrier is a lot cheaper than foam insulation, if your climate is hot, radiant barrier is probably the way to go. This is only a generalization though.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/12/2005


The amount of ventilation needed is based on the amount of attic space being ventilated - there is a formula although I don't recall what it is (I'm not very helpful this morning). You want it about evenly split between the soffit and the ridge vent.
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By Mat in Rome, NY on 9/12/2005


I was looking at Icynene for my home. I'm still not sure if I am using spray foam or SIP panels. I did the research for the spray technologies, and Sprayed Polyurethane Foam (SPF) has much better R-value qualities (per inch) than Icynene. I believe it's R-7 per inch and you get the same sort of sealing properties.
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By John in Erie, CO on 9/12/2005


Technically, SPF, SIP, Icynene, icynene.com etc. are all variants of sprayed polyurethane - The difference (and difference in R-value) is open cell versus closed cell. Closed cell is much higher R-value as pointed out above. Beyond that, the differences are spray agents, etc. Some older variants of both used formaldehyde, but I believe the newer ones are well past that.

I looked at regular SPF, Icynene, etc., and ended up using bio-based, with an Icynene as my second choice. The one reason for me, I was insulating an EPDM roofed flat roof building (ICF walls) and wanted to air seal and insulate, but if I have a leak in the roof, polyurethane seals SO well that it will usually seal water leaks too. So if your roof (shingles, tile, rubber, asphalt) leaks, and you have an attic with SPF, you will probably never know it leaked, until you have to replace the roof and find the rotted roof sheathing...

Icynene and bio-based claim to allow the water to eventually get through - water vapor isn't a significant issue here, and since it met the IRC /IEC code, I didn't sweat it, but it didn't seem like it would let much water through...

Interestingly, the Icynene installer here in Colorado only does attics with 6" generally - All of the houses he insulates in Breckenridge (A mountain ski area, with a starter home at $2 million) he insulates with only 6". As he explained, the first 6" seals everything up and brings the inner surface up to room temperature (with an R3.7) via the drop across the foam. Each additional inch doesn't get you as much, because the temperature drop is smaller and smaller - So the ROI is less and less, to the point of being unrecoverable.

Well, I didn't have time during construction to figure it out with my thermodynamics, so I hired his competitor to spray 11" in, but I think he might be right... Let me do some looking and I'll follow up here.


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By Karen in Tulsa, OK on 9/12/2005


I am in South Texas south of Houston. The weather is hot and humid, so it sounds like a radiant barrier on the roof would be better for me. 
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By Jedon in Nevada City, CA on 9/12/2005


How does all this compare to using SIP panels for the roof? I have a large great hall (20x40) that I want to have timber framed cathedral ceiling but ICF walls, how do I do the roofing in that situation?

Thanks!

-Jedon


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By John in Erie, CO on 9/12/2005


Probably very similar, SIPs are probably more efficient. SIPs can have the benefit of providing most of the structural support too. (You still need beams/gluelams/timber trusses or whatnot to support the SIPs).

I evaluated both, and SIPs were significantly more for my project, enough more that I ended up doing trusses/sheathing/biobased (spray foam) for significantly less than doing SIPs.

If you are going to have exposed timber frame, then you'd come out way ahead to use SIPs I believe.
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By Jedon in Nevada City, CA on 9/12/2005


Thank you. Is there an attic in this case, or is it just timber framing with SIPs on top and then the roofing material? Would I need fans or something to circulate the air up there?

-Jedon


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By John in Erie, CO on 9/12/2005


I think you'd just have your timber frame, then lay SIP's down on the timber frame (perhaps with some sealant between the SIP faces and the timber frame, and then use the big long screws that comes with the SIPS to fasten them to the timber frame. Over that you put your roofing.

This then becomes an unvented attic. Nothing wrong with that in this kind of application, but you will need to dig up the 2004 IEC amendment to the 2003 IRC code book. A lot of research is showing many unvented applications to be very efficient, but obviously there is a tradeoff if you have a large unvented attic.

Now in your case, you will have a great tall ceiling - So putting a fan up there to push hot air down might make sense. At least rough it in and put a plate over it. If you are using radiant, radiant generally heats the people/objects, not the air, so it's not as much of an issue. I have a room with 16' ceilings, and a fan roughed in, but no need for it, as the heat in the floor makes it nice for people all the time.

When you install your SIPs, make very sure that all the gaps between the panels are sealed up good. Sloppy SIP installation will make your expensive panels perform worse than stick frame trusses/plastic sheeting vapor barrier/fiberglass batts. In extremely cold climates, water from inside can collect on the outside sheathing if the gaps are not sealed right, resulting in roof rot. 

But it's easy to seal them up. The panel supplier will provide a foam glue that you glue the panels together with, and it will seal these gaps up nicely.
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By Jedon in Nevada City, CA on 9/12/2005


Thank you very much for the info, I have a much better idea of what is involved now. I'll have radiant flooring so perhaps like you say a fan will not be necessary. Trying to get Chief Architect to do ICF walls with timber framed ceilings and SIP is quite challenging for a rookie like me!

-Jedon


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By John in Erie, CO on 9/12/2005


You might have your electrician wire for a fan (or fans) in that area and put covers over them, that way if you want to add one (say for cooling) you can, without trying to figure out how to get power up there after everything is finished.

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By Kathlyn in Orlando, FL on 11/1/2005


We used Icynene in 2000. About double the cost, but we are very happy. In Florida; no bugs, no mold, no mildew, no drafts. We would use Icynene again, or a similar product. Whatever is best at the time.
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By Leslie in Jacksonville, FL on 5/8/2006


Kathlyn,

My name is Leslie and I am in Jacksonville, FL. My husband and I are at our insulation stage and are about to purchase our SPF product to spray in our insulation. Did you do your spraying yourself or did you use a subcontractor? Was it very expensive and can you tell a difference in your energy costs?

Thanks for your help!


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By Kathlyn in Orlando, FL on 5/8/2006


Julie,

We built a 1,200 s.f. apartment over a garage that was 24x30 in 2000. The bid for batt insulation was about $2400, but I don't know how thick. The cost for Icynene was $4,500.

They filled up the 6" studs on the sides (I think the bid was for 4" but it's hard to get it exact, so they mostly filled the studs). They did the ceiling of the garage for fire protection and noise and pollution abatement, I think 4" thick (Icynene burns or smokes, but slows down a fire). They did 5" in the roof.

I home-school my children, so we are home all day. I make all my own food including baking bread. We keep the AC at 78* and open the windows when it's cool enough and dry enough. I wash my clothes with warm water. Two teenagers take long hot showers. We have a regular tank water heater (I want to try a tankless).

My electric usage for this year was:

Jan   1,288 kW     $144

Feb  1,168            $129

Mar    929            $101 (we were on vac. a week)

Apr  1,345           $151.

Our old house was built in 1927 and was 1,245 s.f. on the same lot. I think I am saving about $50 a month in electricity.

During the hurricanes we had no water damage. I also had roaches and ants in the old house, and I have no bugs in this house. We built with steel studs, so we won't have termites either. 

Our installer was in Daytona; I will look up his address if you are interested. We got two bids and they were within $100 of each other.

Lyn


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