Spray Foam 101 for the Consumer

Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) is a durable and high performance plastic insulation.  There are a variety of SPF types including low density insulation (commonly referred to as “open cell”), medium density insulation (commonly referred to as “closed cell”), high density SPF typically used as commercial roofing material, and low pressure “kits and cans” which are typically used for smaller insulation jobs.

Roofing SPF is usually a solution for larger commercial, industrial or apartment properties, managed by a construction professional, and is detailed on the Construction Industry section of the SPFA website.  If you have a residential property with a flat / low-sloped roof, SPF is still a great roofing option for you and you are encouraged to review the information elsewhere on this website.

Although “kits and cans” are less complicated and able to be employed by a knowledgeable user, in almost all cases it is recommended that SPF be installed by a trained, experienced, and skilled professional.  The installation of SPF requires the user to be familiar with installation techniques, product health and safety guidelines, principles of building science and other considerations.

SPF has fantastic primary performance attributes including high R-value, reduction of air and moisture-infiltration, sound attenuation, durability and increased strength of the structure it is installed in or on.  The unique aspect of SPF is that in most cases, this product can deliver all of these performance attributes in one product instead of combining several.  That means fewer opportunities for failure stemming from multiple product dependency, multiple trades working on your project, and from individual component failures.  SPF is a one-stop-shop in most cases for consumers looking for a high performance building solution.  It is a tried and tested product in use since the early 1960s.

SPF is the best solution when access to the installation area is unobstructed.  That means all new commercial/residential construction insulation and roofing, along with attics and crawlspaces in residential renovations (which also happen to be the points where the greatest energy savings can result).  If you are looking to have SPF in the exterior walls of the building envelope for an existing building, SPF makes a great choice if you are planning to undergo a deep and detailed upgrade to the building.

It is widely recognized that SPF is a more detailed installation than some other insulation types, but the list of benefits for SPF over other types is considerable.  Its proper and safe installation calls for knowledge, skills, and abilities possessed by an experienced professional installer.  The product must be installed properly to realize the greatest performance characteristics.

Your home or building is likely your greatest investment and you need to make the right improvement choices for it. SPF should have a great impact upon your property in the way of energy savings, sustainable longevity, performance, value and comfort. But the installation is a skilled craft – despite how easy it may look on a video. Your property is going to temporarily be turned into a manufacturing site for the SPF, and you will be expected to remove yourself, family, and pets from the jobsite until the established re-entry time is past (typically 24 hours).

  • For additional Homeowner/Consumer information on SPF, click HERE for a partner site.

Additional Consumer Information


With premium performance admittedly comes a premium cost. SPF can be slightly higher in cost than competing inferior insulation and roofing technologies, but your investment is quickly paid-back through exceptional energy cost-savings from the SPF. To further reduce your investment cost, many times federal, state or municipal utilities or efficiency organizations may offer a tax incentive, or other credit for efficiency improvements. Consider the information from these sources and how they may apply to reduce the cost of your project:

Installation, Performance & Benefits

SPF has a multitude of performance benefits. For the consumer SPF brings a high R-value and air-sealing product all-in-one. The product is also known for sound-attenuation within the building, as well as adding “racking strength” to walls and increasing the durability and attachment of roofs when SPF is in the attic under severe weather/wind conditions. The R-value and air-sealing capabilities vary based upon the product and the manufacturer. For example, low-density SPF (or “open cell”) has a comparatively lower R-value per inch and slightly less air-sealing capability than medium-density SPF (or “closed-cell”), but if your project calls for capabilities of low-density SPF the solution could result in some project cost savings. However, if your project calls for a combined vapor, moisture and air-barrier with higher R-values per inch, or the cavity to fill is not large enough for low-density SPF to reach the specified R-value, closed-cell could be your solution. For particularly challenging geometric installations such as an attic, cathedralized ceiling or crawlspace, SPF’s ability to conform to the shape of the surface it is sprayed to is an unrivalled benefit.  Additionally SPF can be delivered through a variety of equipment, ranging from high-pressure professional contractor rigs, to low-pressure “kits & cans” that are designed to satisfy smaller projects. Every product and project will be different so the solutions will be different. It is impossible to predict every scenario where you may want to use SPF as a solution, which is why working with a knowledgeable and experienced contractor is recommended.  The flexibility in use of SPF is one of its greatest attributes.

For more consumer benefits information on SPF consider visiting these partnering websites:

Energy & Environment

SPF can offer important benefits reducing energy consumption and improving the environment. Energy use reduction from better insulated and air-sealed buildings means less pollution from energy production. But SPF impacts energy and the environment in other positive ways as well. By sealing the building and utilizing your HVAC system for ventilation, the indoor air quality (IAQ) can improve by reducing interior pollution and allergens. Properly installed SPF, which includes use of a vapor barrier, can control the transmission of moisture in the building to reduce the likelihood of mold growth. Plus, SPFA performed a rigorous, third-party ISO-standard compliant Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), and corresponding Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). These documents confirmed what the industry and satisfied customers have always recognized, that SPF has rapid payback and is environmentally conscious from “cradle to grave”. The SPF industry is very proud of the product’s performance, now verified in a way that no other insulation industry has gone to these lengths to produce.

  • Visit SPFA’s Energy and Environment page HERE for more information.

SPF Health and Safety Information

SPF is a polyurethane (plastic) product, along with bowling balls, mattresses, your automobile dashboard and the sole of your sneakers. But SPF is created in your building rather than a factory. It requires a detailed installation process using a variety of materials and equipment operated by a knowledgeable and experienced professional contractor. Once the SPF is properly installed, cured and inert, occupants are able to return following a period of time, typically twenty four hours, having allowed the SPF professionals to complete the installation and ventilate the area.

SPF uses two containers of materials that contain chemicals and additives necessary for the reaction that produces SPF, just as other plastic products require multiple components to be properly manufactured. The installation crews typically wear body suits, hoods, gloves and respirators as required PPE. The reason for this is simple – during the installation process the materials used, by themselves, represent possible respiratory hazards for the installer.

Particularly with professional high-pressure SPF equipment, the type used to insulate rooms or entire buildings, the SPF materials are heated and pushed through hoses to the tip of the gun where the reaction first takes place. The SPF begins to rise before it even hits the wall. Due to the pressure of the SPF some of the material is temporarily aerosolized around the installer, which is the reason for the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and mechanical ventilation. This is also the reason why customers are not allowed in the spray area or the building during and soon after the installation process. With the recommended twenty four hours (consult with your contractor for specific manufacturer recommendations) before re-entry, curing is able to take place and ongoing ventilation allows for any odors or vapors to vacate the premises.

The SPF professional should be familiar with these topics and be able to discuss with consumers what the expectations are for the project. If the contractor has completed the SPFA Professional Certification Program (PCP), the basics of essential health and safety are covered even at the entry-level Assistant Certification.

  • Visit SPFA’s Health and Safety page HERE for more information.
  • Visit this partnering website for more information on installation expectations.

In the case of low-pressure “kits and cans” that are typically used by both SPF professionals as well as weatherization professionals or experienced Do-It-Yourselfers (DIY), it is still important that proper precautions are taken, the manufacturers recommendations are followed for use and handling, fans and ventilation are utilized, and PPE is worn. The “low-pressure” at which these systems operate means that the materials coming from the SPF gun or can are not being delivered at the high pressure of professional equipment. However, the material components are similar to high-pressure SPF and users are recommended to wear PPE as well, or hire a professional.

  • For guidance on low-pressure installation and related PPE, click HERE.
  • For a free instruction video on safe use of low-pressure SPF, click HERE.

SPFA Professional Certification Program

The SPFA Professional Certification Program (PCP) is oriented toward professional contractors, and covers information most-critical to that community. An SPFA PCP Certified Assistant, Installer, Master Installer and Project Manager will have demonstrated their competencies on health, safety, handling and installation of SPF, for either insulation or roofing. Having such an industry credential allows that contractor to differentiate themselves from the competition and adds to the value delivered to the consumer.

The SPFA PCP was created and operates according to rigorous and demanding international ISO—17024 standards. The PCP addresses at various appropriate levels information relating to the health, safety, installation quality, code compliance, building science and other aspects of a professional SPF installation. Passing an active-spraying Field Exam is required at the Master Installer level, and additional requirements and experience declarations are required at various levels.

SPF installation is a typically professional’s job. SPFA hopes that industry credentials such as PCP, among others from related industries, are a useful resource for consumers looking for contractors that have demonstrated their knowledge, skills and abilities in order to achieve these certifications.

  • For more information on SPFA’s PCP Certifications, click HERE.

Fire Performance

Like many building products, SPF is an organic, combustible material, and requires proper treatment to reduce the risk of fire. During installation a professional SPF contractor will typically place a “No Hot-Work” sign after installation before fire protective coverings or coatings are installed. No Hot-Work means that before installation of the protective coatings or coverings, no welding or open flame sources should be near the SPF. Welders, plumbers with soldering torches, and other intense flame-producing activities should proceed cautiously and be certain the SPF is protected from the flames.

Once the SPF is installed, building and fire codes (IBC Section 2603 and IRC Section R316) require that building assemblies using foam plastics, including SPF, must have the same fire performance as assemblies using other building products. Building codes prescriptively require that all foam plastics be separated from the interior space with a 15-minute thermal barrier. This requirement is typically met using ½” gypsum wallboard on walls and ceilings and ¾” plywood on floors. In lieu of these prescriptive coverings, intumescent paints can be used as an alternative thermal barrier, provided that these coatings, when applied over a specific foam product, pass a series of full-scale room corner fire tests.

In certain attic and crawlspaces not regularly accessed or used for storage, the foam must be covered with an ignition barrier. The codes prescribe several ignition barrier materials, and alternatively allow intumescent coatings or even bare foam if the assembly passes a special room corner burn test defined in Appendix X of .International Code Council Evaluation Services (ICC-ES) Acceptance Criteria AC-377. To be sure of the thermal or ignition barriers meet the building code requirements, check with the ICC-ES Evaluation Service Report or other 3rd-party product evaluation reports for details. It should be noted that these limited access attic and crawlspaces still need to be separated from the interior with a 15-minute thermal barrier.

Regardless of the thermal or ignition barrier requirements for the foam used, it should be addressed in the project scope and planning. It is essential that the consumer be aware of which product is being used in their building and ask the contractor for an ICC-ES report is available. In the absence of an ICC-ES report, the contractor should be able to advise the consumer if an ignition or thermal barrier is required for the installation. For more information on fire safety, as well as ignition and thermal barriers for SPF, please review SPFA’s AY-126 guidance document on this topic.

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