1940’s – Polyurethane Foam was developed by Otto Bayer.

1957 – First foamed roof. It was used on a rail car with VERY primitive equipment.

50-60’s – It was a machine developing time.

1963 – Fred Gusmer built the first dedicated foam machine.

60’s – Was a time of experimenting with foams & coatings.

70’s – Was a time of refining fire issues with SPF. The energy crisis made foam more popular during this period.

80’s – Was a period of growth in the SPF industry.

Professor Otto Bayer

Now, let’s talk about open cell. Until the late 80’s, open cell foam was used for packaging only. Closed cell SPF was the product of choice for sprayed insulation. It worked, and worked extremely well.

In the late 80’s a Canadian company, began riding a wave of environmentalism that was cresting in North America.

They moved into the neighborhood and demanded to be regarded as legitimate. They developed a water-blown insulation foam that was very soft, and only had about half of the R-value of R-11 closed cell foam (which was 7.14 at the time).

The sole virtue of this half-pound product was cost. Mark that. Some claim that the water-blown aspect was an advantage. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I suppose that has a place in an eco-hyper market. But I digress…

In the Eighties, another company, Stepan, was experimenting with a water-blown closed-cell foam, which they demonstrated at the SPF Convention in Hollywood Florida – 1989. It was interesting stuff, but it could not be used for roofs. They eventually scrapped the project after investing a lot of years & dollars into it.

The water-blown half-pound has several disadvantages which we will discuss here.

It forfeits the built-in vapor barrier that closed cell foam possesses at 2″. The means that plastic film must be used to provide a vapor barrier. The new kid raised his voice and shouted that his half-pound didn’t need a vapor barrier. Building code officials often think otherwise.

It has no strength. People who had already experienced a tornado or hurricane with their closed-cell homes knew firsthand what the silent strength of closed-cell foam could mean. It made a tremendous difference. Half-pound had all the strength of cellulose.

It has about 50% of the R-value of closed cell foams. Exceptions do exist, like Apex who has a 1.2 water blown with an R-value of 5. (A word about Apex. When they moved into the neighborhood, they did their job quietly and got along with people. That’s the proper way to join a community.)
With half-pound, the entire wall cavity had to be filled in order to squeeze out as much R-value as possible. Closed-cell foam only needs 2.5 – 3″ in a 2×6 stud-wall to do its job well. 2.5″ In 2×4 walls. This leave a dead air space for afterthought wires, and provides a bit of insulation itself (dead air space = 1.01) .

To carve a place in the SPF market, this (Canadian) half-pound company adopted a highly aggressive marketing strategy that criticized the other men on the block. This strategy seeks to do what Abraham Lincoln said couldn’t be done: “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.”

Nevertheless, through aggressive marketing, the water-blown half-pound is claimed (by themselves) to be better than closed cell in several unusual ways. This is simply not true.

These claims were designed to overwhelm the four advantages of closed-cell foam. But the facts cannot be explained away, or marketed away. Closed-cell foam is inherently superior insulation for the reasons cited above. Shouting louder will not improve the content of our words or product. It only creates disturbances in the neighborhood.

This rhetoric began an internal sword fight within the SPF industry, and it continues to this day (in varying degrees). To the discredit of closed cell foam, some (not all) began to stoop to the level of the half-pound company (companies by 1998) and fight back. Meanwhile, fiberglass sat back and chuckled, smug & happy.

So where do we go from here? I realize that this sounds like a lamentation. I would like to end with a suggestion. Open-cell foam should be marketed as a lower-cost alternative to closed-cell, for that is its lone virtue. This will keep open-cell foams (Two companies come to mind) from trying to profit off of closed-cell’s long years of success, and allow them to stand upon their own virtues, namely economic. This requires honesty.

A place exists for both foams in our world. We like the added flexibility of using open-cell foam for attic envelopes as a lower-cost alternative. We also like the extra sound retention of open-cell (but prefer Ultra-Touch generally).

It is good to have options in this industry. It is not good when new kids on the block yell louder just to convince the neighborhood that their poor grammar is proper English. Time will reveal that the best sales strategy is quiet confidence and honesty. This alone will help our neighborhood to flourish.

EnviroGreen credits Mr. Gerry Wagoner for his telling of the History of Spray Foam.

Gerry C. Wagoner

Gerry Wagoner is one of three owners of WRI which is a family-owned company in Piqua, Ohio that specializes in spray-applied roofing and insulation since 1985.

What you get when you choose EnviroGreen Spray Foam Systems:

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  • Best Building Methods with all accompanying literature and documentation
  • Lifetime Manufacturer Warranty on all Spray Foam Products
  • Energy and Building Performance Audits and Consulting
  • Works closely with the Louisiana HERO and New Orleans Energy Smart Programs
  • Accredited Member Better Business Bureau
  • Member Green Building Counsel and the GNO Builders Association



Unfortunately, much of the information on spray foam that companies and their sales people tell homeowners is wrong.

EnviroGreen takes an educational approach by encouraging homeowners to get a better understanding of the pro’s and con’s of all several types of spray foam products on the market.

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