Soy Foam Insulation

The magic bean offers a healthier, slightly more eco-friendly insulation alternative.

Posted by Steve Graham | Oct 07, 2009
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Is there anything soy can't do? The bean is turned into soap, ink, plastics, and food. For construction, soy is available in the form of roof coatings, adhesives, carpet backing … and now (tada!) insulation. Energy savings per inch are roughly equal between soy insulation, other spray foam products, and fiberglass batts. However, soy insulation brings both environmental and health benefits and some disadvantages. Read all about it here.

What is Soy Foam Insulation?

The most common soy insulation (which actually is not entirely soy-based, since it contains other components as well) is a foam, which is sprayed into house walls and other spaces. Unlike blown-in loose-fill insulation, spray foam insulation sticks to the walls and framing, then expands to 100 times its original size. It creates an airtight seal and is particularly suitable for window jambs, light fixtures, and other small spaces where batts and loose-fill insulation are not effective. 

Advantages of Soy Foam Insulation

  1. Soy insulation is less of a health hazard than some other types of insulation. It contains no 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.

  2. Soy insulation is relatively eco-friendly, compared with other spray foam insulation. It replaces some of the petroleum-based ingredients with sustainable soy. Most soy foam insulation is also blown into a space using water, rather than synthetic chemicals. To be sure, soy foam insulation does contain some 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, either in batts or as loose fill material.

  3. Soy insulation may prove to be more effective long-term than some other products. The most popular type of insulation is currently the fiberglass batt, which may fall away from the wall or fall apart over time, particularly when poorly installed.

  4. 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

  1. Soy foam insulation requires hiring a professional contractor. Most spray foam insulation products are only available through certified installers. In addition, the installation equipment is complicated. Even the most intrepid weekend warrior might end up spending even more time and money trying to go the DIY route -- by spraying in too much foam, then having to cut away the excess once the foam expanded.

  2. Although 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 do lose some advantages of the rigid sprayed products). 

Spray foam insulation is yet another use for soybeans. Though expensive, it is a healthy, eco-friendly, and effective insulator.

 

Photo credit: Thomasnet.com.

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