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Next Generation Spray Foam

On January 1, 2021, Environment and Climate Change Canada prohibited any person to manufacture various foam products where a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) blowing agent is used, in a decision made as part of Canada’s commitment to The Montreal Protocol. This affects some types of insulation, including certain types of spray foam insulation that Great Northern Insulation installs across Ontario. It goes without saying that that’s a lot of complicated information to take in, so we’ll be breaking down what exactly a blowing agent is, what types of blowing agents are allowed, and what this change means for Canadian homeowners and home builders.

To understand what a hydrofluorocarbon blowing agent is, and what alternative will be replacing it, it is important to know what role a blowing agent plays in the creation and installation of spray foam insulation.

Image displaying the spray polyurethane foam installation process.

What is a "blowing agent"?

Unlike other insulation types that are manufactured in a factory before being transported to a job site and directly installed, spray polyurethane foam insulation (commonly referred to as spray foam insulation) is a manufactured-on-site form of building insulation. As you may know, spray foam insulation is best installed by a trained professional using proper protective equipment. This is because your trained insulation professional is creating the spray foam insulation on-site and installing it in place by combining two chemical components at specific ratios. Just as a teacher knows certain chemicals to create an impressive reaction in teaching chemistry, a trained insulation professional can combine an isocyanate and resin (the two types of chemicals that create spray polyurethane foam insulation) to create a long-lasting, effective form of insulation.

This on-site manufacturing process is the “spray” in spray foam insulation, and a big reason for its popularity and effectiveness. Unlike fiberglass batts or rigid foam board insulation, spray foam insulation is applied directly to a surface as a liquid and expands to fill every crack and crevice before curing. That expansion phase is caused by the last piece of the chemistry puzzle that is spray foam insulation – the blowing agent. A blowing agent is an additional gaseous ingredient that causes the sprayed foam insulation to expand up to 30 times its original volume and fill with ‘bubbles’ (otherwise known as ‘closed cells’) that add insulative value and rigidity to the foam.

Currently, many spray foam insulation types utilize a blowing agent that is a compound of hydrogen, fluorine, and carbon, known as a hydrofluorocarbon (HFCs). As part of the Kigali Amendment to The Montreal Protocol, Environment and Climate Change Canada has mandated that HFCs will become prohibited from use on January 1, 2021, and must instead be replaced by a compound with a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP).

Why were HFCs used to begin with?

Hydrofluorocarbons are not the first blowing agent to be utilized in foam insulation products. In fact, HFC blowing agents were created to be a more environmentally friendly blowing agent! Blowing agents have undergone constant improvements since the invention of rigid foam insulation in 1940s, with each revision aiming to be a safer, more environmentally friendly improvement over the last.

As part of this constant improvement, Environment and Climate Change Canada is transitioning away from HFCs and requiring individuals and companies to utilize a newer blowing agent that has less of an impact on the environment through its Global Warming Potential. For most foam insulation products, this means using hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) as their blowing agent. HFOs as a blowing agent have zero ozone depletion potential and an extremely low global warming potential, meaning this next generation of spray foam insulation products are far more environmentally friendly to produce.

Graph of blowing agents utilized in polyurethane insulation products through Canadian history.

How Does This Affect Canadian Homes?

If you have an existing home that was built with spray foam insulation installed by Great Northern Insulation that used HFCs as the blowing agent, your home was built with the best possible spray foam insulation technology available at that time. Regardless of the blowing agent, spray foam insulation still provides the best possible insulative value per square inch.

If you are looking to build a new home or renovate your existing home with spray foam insulation after January 1, 2021, the spray foam insulation used will still provide the best insulative value per square inch, but it must be installed using HFOs as a blowing agent for a drastically lower global warming potential to reduce global warming impact.

How Does This Affect Great Northern Insulation?

Great Northern Insulation has been a leading Canadian owned-and-operated insulation company since 1980 and has always kept up to date with the latest industry updates and products. In October 2020 we completed our full changeover company-wide to HFO-based spray foam insulation, ensuring we continue to provide our customers with the best products on the market.

Just as other forms of technology receive improvements and revisions to be better and more efficient, so too does the technology that creates your home’s insulation. This change from HFCs to HFOs as a blowing agent in spray foam insulation ensures that Great Northern Insulation and the spray foam products we utilize continue to provide the best possible insulation solution for your building while also contributing to a more energy-efficient, environmentally conscious Canada.

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