Attic and crawl space insulation are some of the most common applications in the spray foam industry. A critical component in each of these applications is the installation of a thermal or ignition barrier to separate the foam insulation from the interior space of a building. However, spray foam products can be installed in attics and crawl spaces without an ignition barrier, provided they passed specified testing requirements. In recent years, a number of new ignition barrier-forgoing SPF insulation products have hit the market, allowing contractors to take advantage of substantial savings on materials.
THERMAL AND IGNITION BARRIERS
Because spray polyurethane foam is a flammable material, thermal and ignition barriers are crucial to the safety of building occupants in the event of a fire. International Building Code (IBC) 2603.4 and International Residential Code (IRC) R316.4 both stipulate that plastic insulation like spray foam must be separated from the interior space of a building, and there are numerous ways in which separation is implemented.
In most cases, code-prescribed thermal barriers such as half-inch-thick drywall will cover SPF, while other products like fire-protective coatings can get special approval to do so. Approval is obtained via testing, specifically through completing a NFPA 286 fire test, sometimes called the room corner burn test, while meeting code-specified criteria.
In attics or crawl spaces where access is restricted, ignition barriers like 3/8-inch drywall can be used in lieu of thermal barriers. Non-prescribed materials like fire-protective coatings can be approved as ignition barriers by completing a Modified NFPA 286 test and meeting criteria outlined ICC-ES AC 377 Appendix X, which is the relevant Acceptance Criteria of the International Code Council Evaluation Service.
AC 377 Appendix X also pertains to exposed spray foam insulation, which can be tested under the same protocol and, if specified criteria are met, approved for use as a code-compliant alternative assembly without an ignition barrier. Essentially, the foam offers the same fire protection as an ignition barrier alternative, but without the need for installing an additional material.
APPENDIX X APPROVED SPF
Spray foam insulation products that have received Appendix X approval offer some serious advantages in the marketplace.
For contractors, these SPF products allow attic and crawl space applications to be completed more expediently by removing a step in the installation process, which means less time on the job site and a quicker route to getting paid. More important, contractors benefit from having one less material expense to incorporate into their bids, thereby reducing the overall price and increasing the likelihood of landing the job.
The end user (i.e. homeowner) obviously stands to benefit from a less expensive application, which reduces the payback period for their insulation investment. The homeowner can be furthermore assured in the overall safety of the application, as the foam itself has met code-compliant criteria for fire protection.
Manufacturers currently marketing Appendix X approved products also have an edge in terms of the products’ inherent benefits, as well as an increased ability to bring on board new contractor partners looking to install cutting-edge products.
SAVINGS IN CONTEXT
The savings are certainly the most tangible benefit for Appendix X approved SPF products, but how much savings are we really talking about? It’s worth noting that these products are typically more expensive than the average SPF insulation products, so it’s definitely worth comparing the additional cost of installing Appendix X approved foam with that of a typical ignition barrier.
As detailed in the breakdown below, the additional cost of the Appendix X approved foam (in this case, Profoam Pro-X) is negligible while the added cost of an ignition barrier plus labor is roughly three dollars per square foot. In the application example, the added cost of the ignition barrier exceeds that of Pro-X by $750 ($1,500 for the homeowner).
Of course, the numbers shown in the breakdown and application example, while realistic, are rough approximations. Specifically, with regard to yield, there can be substantial variance between an Appendix X approved SPF product and normal foam. It’s not unheard of that Appendix X approved foams offer underwhelming yield performance (not to mention odor issues and unwieldy process parameters). However, an open-cell foam product like Pro-X actually offers better yield than a typical open-cell foam product, as well as easy processing, reliable substrate adherence, minimal odor, and sustainable sucrose-based polyols.
Yes, Appendix X approved products offer so many advantages with regard to code compliance in restricted-access attics and crawl spaces, but some products, like Pro-X, offer so much more than that. Isn’t it time you demanded more from your open-cell foam?