Built in the 1840s from barge board, Maria Lanas Bywater cottage is a perfect example of New Orleans vernacular architecture. It also wasless than comfortable during cold snaps.
It just never felt like it could get warm, Lana said. I could see the ground through the cracks in the floor.
Insulation was one way to make the home more energy-efficient. In 2010, Lana explored her options and hired a company to apply spray foam insulation under the floor of her raised home. It took a day and cost about $4,000 and the results were immediate.
The floors are not nearly as cold, Lana said. I remember looking at my energy bills in the winter and remarking, OK. That helped.
Almost 10 years later, Lana is still enjoying her snugger home, but there are a few things she wishes shed known before installing spray foam. For one thing, small bits of the spray foam fall off every time it rains. And when she looked into leveling her home, one construction company refused to work on her house because they couldnt see its beams, which were completely covered in spray foam.
You cant see my joists or my sills somebody would have to chip it away (at the foam) to see it, Lana said.
While the benefits of spray foam are multifaceted it can reduce energy costs, increase a homes structural integrity, create a moisture barrier and prolong the life of an air-conditioning unit it can also cause problems when improperly applied. Thats why its so important to weigh the pros and cons of spray foam and to hire a reputable company.
Its important that the consumer go with a licensed, insured company, and they need to provide referrals, said Brad Harris, owner of Star Spray Foam Systems. My recommendation to anyone that wants to go and retrofit spray foam into an existing building is to get an air-conditioning mechanic involved.
There are two kinds of spray foam insulation: open-cell and closed-cell foam. Both are made from isocyanate and polyurethane, but:
Open-cell foam can only be put in dark areas such as an attic or behind walls, Harris said. It cant be exposed to sun or water it will break down. But it can last forever if it doesnt see sun or water.
A study by the LSU Ag Center indicated that open-cell sprayed polyurethane foam is not reliable for raised floor systems in southeast Louisianas hot, humid climate. Thats because open-cell spray foam can transmit air and moisture.
Closed-cell spray foam is a better choice for keeping subfloor moisture at optimal levels, while open-cell spray foam is a better choice for walls and attics, because it allows homes to breathe.
Spray foam prices start at 85 cents per square foot for walls, $1.65 per square for roof systems and $1.90 per square foot for floors, Harris said. He recommends homeowners start with the floors in order to get the most bang for their buck.
You will see massive savings, he said. I have so many clients who come in we start with the floor, and thats it. Theyre completely happy. Once you start spraying an attic, youve got to get a load calculation and make sure youre not going to cause harm to the house.
Steve Thompson, owner All Ways Roofing LLC, says hes seen plenty of attic spray foam jobs gone wrong especially when nonbreathable closed cell spray foam has been applied.
Asphalt concrete shingles need airflow underneath them, Thompson said. When you dont have airflow, you turn the deck of your roof into a skillet. It absorbs all the suns heat in the summer.
"These asphalt shingles start peeling off the roof, and you get expansion. The expansion and contraction stretch the shingles, and thats what causes the nail heads to come up.
Thompson said that when retrofitting older homes with foam, homeowners should check their roofs warranty because spray foam can void it. Its also a good idea to talk to pest control companies, plumbers and electricians prior to installation.
Youre doing something irreversible, Thompson said. If you have a line leak or some kind of problem, first you have to dig your way through that spray foam to get to that problem.
Lana wishes she had done her due diligence before getting spray foam.
Thinking about it 10 years in, I would have checked all my sills and joists and made sure everything was in mint condition and worked around the electrical and piping systems. And I didnt think about the inability to see termite damage.
Covering the joists with spray foam can interfere with performing periodic inspections for termites. In an existing occupied home that is air-conditioned during the summer, installation would be best done during late fall, winter or early spring.
But as the winter months approach, shes glad to have a cozy, insulated home.
It does work, I have to say, she said.
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