Is there anything soy can't do? The bean is turned into soap, ink, plastics, and food. For construction, soy is available in roof coatings, adhesives, carpet backing, and insulation. The most common soy insulation (which has other components and is not entirely soy-based) is a foam sprayed into walls and other spaces. Unlike blown-in loose-fill insulation, spray foam insulation sticks to walls and framing, then expands to 100 times its original size. It creates an airtight seal and is particularly ideal for window jambs, light fixtures and other small spaces where batts and loose-fill insulation are not effective. Energy savings per inch are roughly equal between soy insulation, other spray foam products, and fiberglass batts. However, soy insulation brings environmental and health benefits and one major disadvantage.
Advantages of Soy Foam Insulation
- Soy insulation is healthier than some types of insulation. It does not contain any formaldehyde, and manufacturers say it does not emit volatile organic compounds. Formaldehyde is a major component of some fiberglass insulation brands, as well as the urea-formaldehyde foam insulation that was popular in the 1970s.
- Soy insulation is relatively eco-friendly, as compared with other spray foam insulation. It replaces some of the petroleum-based ingredients with renewable soy. Most soy foam insulation is also blown into a space using water, rather than synthetic chemicals. To be sure, soy foam insulation still contains chemicals and petroleum byproducts. Soy alone could not create the seemingly magical expansive and adhesive qualities. The most eco-friendly insulation is still recycled cotton and cellulose, in either batts or as loose fill material.
- Soy insulation may prove more effective long-term than some other products. The most popular type of insulation is the fiberglass batt, which may fall away from the wall or fall apart over time, particularly when poorly installed.
- Finally, soy foam insulation is resistant to mold and mildew, and does not attract rodents. This is true of most other insulation, but there are rumors to the contrary regarding soy insulation. Anyone who has let mold ruin tofu might assume soy either always attracts mold or would make for a tasty, high-protein mouse treat.
Disadvantages of Soy Foam Insulation
- It must be installed by a pro: Most spray foam insulation products are only available through certified installers. Call professionals rather than trying to use technical installation equipment. You may end up spending even more time and money by spraying in too much foam, then cutting away the excess once the foam expands. Soy products cost roughly the same amount as similar petroleum-based spray foam alternatives. Fiberglass or cotton batts cost less for the same amount of insulation value, but homeowners lose some advantages of the rigid sprayed products. BioBased Insulation briefly sold Soy Seal, a soy-based DIY option - a canned foam that homeowners could use around door frames or for other small projects. Such canned gap sealers are certainly impractical and overpriced for whole-house insulation. Regardless, as of October 2009, the product was no longer listed on the company Web site or available at major home improvement chain stores.
Spray foam insulation is yet another use for soybeans. Though expensive, it is a healthy, eco-friendly, and effective insulator.
Photo credit: Thomasnet.com.