SPF & Building Science

Have you heard of building science? Do you know what it is?

Building science is the study of how building materials and building systems perform and interact with their physical surroundings for the purpose of optimizing building performance and understanding or preventing building failures. This includes how the building envelope, HVAC (heat, ventilation & air conditioning), indoor air quality, other building systems and individual products respond to weather conditions (temperature, humidity, sun, wind, rain) and internal building physics (thermal transfer, condensation, vapor pressure, air pressure, etc.) and the resulting energy consumption, sustainability and occupant comfort. From this perspective, buildings are a series of systems with many variables that affect their overall performance.

So what does this mean for the SPF contractor? They key here is first understanding what the building owner wants, then determining the best way to show the decision maker how your spray foam solution will help them, and basic building science principles can assist you in this process.

The end user, typically the building owner, generally cares about a few key items related to the building science benefits of spray foam: energy savings, indoor air quality and comfort.

You know that SPF changes the way buildings work, right, by applying spray foam insulation around the building envelope, it provides multiple design elements in a single application. It goes on as a liquid adhesive and expands in place to provide a complete air seal and insulation system, improving air tightness, providing superior thermal performance and reducing the impact of exterior contaminants like heat, moisture, allergens, etc.

What does your customer want?

The number one benefit most people associate with spray foam insulation is energy savings. If your customer is money motivated and driven by the dollars and cents of things, then you should steer the conversation toward payback period and ROI (return on investment). And this is supported by various energy benefits of spray foam insulation: thermal performance of the installed R-value, reduced air leakage and moving ducts into conditioned space.

If your customer’s hot button is indoor air quality, healthy living and a clean environment, then you want to guide the conversation in a different direction. Your focus will be more about how the air barrier qualities of the spray foam separates the interior environment from exterior contaminants like heat, moisture, pollen, ragweed, dust and other allergens. And when the structure is sealed tight and ventilated right, the building systems can maintain interior relative humidity between 40-50%, where even dust mites cannot grow; this also reduces the potential for condensation and lowers the risk of mold growth.

And the surprise desire of almost all of your customers is comfort, but most of them don’t know it, so it is not as simple as just asking. They don’t know that the building envelope (what you do) and the HVAC system work together to determine how they feel inside the building, so this typically does not come up in conversations with you, but both of these systems affect interior temperature and humidity.

Put yourself in their shoes, they are in the back bedroom and are not quite comfortable, it feels stuffy, so they go to the thermostat and see it set at 72F and measuring 75F, and immediately think WOW that is warm, let’s turn it down to 68F, that will cool it off faster (not quite right, but that’s another discussion).  Many times the problem here is the relative humidity, because even 75F can be comfortable, if it is 40%RH. Overall, your spray foam building envelope seals the structure tight, so the HVAC system can ventilate it right. They work together to provide optimum performance and meet your customer’s comfort desires (hint: work closely with your HVAC colleagues to make sure the installed building envelope matches the building envelope design in their HVAC calculations).

This is a quick look at how SPF and building science work together. You can use some of these concepts to build value with your customers because the building owner cares about energy efficiency, the indoor environment and interior comfort and this is the science behind what you do. Just remember to keep it simple and not over complicate things.

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