Baby, It’s Cold Outside! Tips for Applying Spray Foam Insulation in Cold Weather
With temperatures dipping down below freezing for weeks at a time through most of the country, spraying foam insulation in winter is a lot tougher than in the warmer months. Jobs take longer, foam starts popping and shrinking, and breakdowns seem to be more frequent. There are, however, many things you can do to ensure the success of your jobs.
Correct Material Grade for Substrate Temperature
Let’s make sure you are using the right material in the right environment when applying spray foam in cold temperatures. Closed-cell foams can be formulated into winter blends that are designed to withstand colder environmental and substrate temperatures. Open-cell foams, however, cannot be formulated this way. Therefore, creating a suitable environment in which to apply OC is critical for product performance. Always check the tech data sheet for product-specific temperature ranges.
Correct Chemical Temperature
Now that we have the correct material, let’s make sure we are properly conditioning that material before you start applying the spray foam insulation in cold weather. This basically means maintaining the right temperature on those drums.
At what temperature should spray foam be sprayed and applied at?
For best results out of all spray foam products, drums should be stored and used between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the recommendation of IDI’s insulation experts, but, as always, check your tech data sheet for specifics. Most OC products will work great at these temperatures, but there are some that require drum temps to be in the 90s. For closed-cell foams in the wintertime, the closer they are to 80 degrees, without going over, the better. Just keeping your rig “in the shop” isn’t going to cut it.
Tips to keep your spray foam drums at the optimal temperature:
- Put a thermometer on the wall of the rig so you can monitor the air temperature.
- Use a laser thermometer to monitor drum temperature.
- Lay some 2x4s under the drums to get them an inch and a half off the floor. This will allow warm air to get under the drums and warm them from the bottom.
- Heated blankets are also available to help heat the drums.
Please keep in mind that the drums should be warmed no faster than 10 degrees per 24 hours, so if you have material that is 50 degrees, it can take more than 3 days to get them to the right temperature.
Adjusting for Ambient Temperature
The next step is to make sure we keep the material at the right temperature all the way to the gun when spraying foam insulation in winter. Using a “doggie door” — a small door in the rig just big enough for the hose — instead of leaving a large door open will help keep all the heat in the rig. (This comes standard in all rigs purchased from IDI.)
Next, let’s look at the hose. If your hose is over two years old, the insulation on it is probably not performing as it should. Contact your IDI sales rep and ask them about the Sidewinder insulated hose wrap. Not only does it provide added insulation to your hose, but it also does a much better job of protecting it from damage.
Make sure to keep the hose off the snow, ice, and concrete. These will draw the heat out faster than the machine can warm it up. Park the rig as close to the building as possible so there is less hose exposed to the elements.
On those extremely cold days, going down one size on the mix chamber in the gun can help. This slows the flow of material just a little, keeping it in the heated system longer and allowing it to reach the desired temperature. Spraying the foam in thinner lifts can also make the foam a little more stable in cold temperatures. If you are spraying a foam that allows 4” per lift, try spraying it in two 2” lifts instead.
Heaters should be used to warm up the substrate prior to spraying foam. Indirect heaters are always recommended, but the most common heaters used are “torpedo heaters.” These heaters can work well when properly monitored, but it’s worth noting that they rely on fossil fuels that produce moisture. The moisture level of the substrate should not be allowed to exceed 18%. A simple moisture meter will help determine the moisture level.
It is also important to make sure the heaters get turned off prior to spraying foam insulation in winter. If the fumes from spraying get drawn through the heater, it can put off toxic fumes. Heat should be maintained in the building for at least 24 hours after spraying to allow the foam to complete the curing process.
Job Costing Considerations
The bottom line? It’s going to cost more money to do SPF business in the winter than it does in the summer. As the temperature drops, so does the yield. Fuel for the heaters is an additional expense, and employees seem to move slower in the cold. With all these factors working against you, it’s important to charge a little more for jobs that are done in the winter. Just know that you’ll have the entire IDI team to help you through.