Spray foam building codes and standards

Spray Foam systems are recognized by the national code organizations, ICC, ICBO, CABO, BOCA, SBCCI and NFPA.

The (ICC) International Code Council’s (IRC) International Residential Code and the (IBC) International Building Code has specific sections for what is called “Foamed Plastics.” This is the category that SPF usage falls within.

As with any foam plastic, SPF, unless otherwise noted, must be protected by a 15-minute thermal barrier in interior applications unless fire testing and formal results specific to the application demonstrate that it can be used safely without a thermal barrier.

Exterior SPF roofing applications are required to pass roof covering fire tests such as UL 790 or FM 4880, UL 1256 or others.


Testing Standards

Standards prescribe levels of acceptability or approved modes to be used in building construction (including roofs) as bases of comparison. Test standards dictate specific methods for testing. Standards can also define minimum acceptable results of the prescribed test. Design standards set the minimum criteria of contruction or design.

Rating standards define a baseline methods of measurement so similar products can be compared on an “apples to apples,” or similar basis. The following organizations set these criteria for the construction, roofing and insulation materials:

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
Factory Mutual Research (FMR)
Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL)


Recent Code Modifications

Recent changes at the annual International Code Congress hearings held in Detroit, MI from September 28 – October 2 2005, approved several modification positions supported by the SPFA. The code changes affecting the SPF industry were in the International Energy Conservation Code and the International Residential Code and fell into 3 main topics. These changes are very accomodating to the specific identification of SPF in construction and its approved usage.

The hearings complete this 3 year cycle of code hearings and the new ICC codes will be published and in effect in 2006.

1. Labeling and marking attic insulation
2. Total prescriptive R-values of wall and ceilings
3. Venting of attics and crawl spaces


Labeling and Marking Attic Insulation, International Residential Code:

SPFA submitted a code change to exempt SPF from a new section that required depth markers for spray or blown-in insulation in attics. The new section was approved at the 2004 code hearings to address blown-in cellulose and fiberglass insulation settling over time. The markers are used to show the actual depth and insulation value of blown-in cellulose and fiberglass insulation during a visual inspection. SPFA believes this section could be misinterpreted by building code officials to require depth markers for SPF applications. SPFA’s position was that markers cannot accurately gauge the depth of SPF applications and since SPF does not settle over time, are unnecessary. The ICC Advisory Board agreed with SPFA’s position and the code change was adopted without opposition.

Prescriptive R-values, International Energy Conservation Code:

The SPF industry is in favor of performance-based evaluation of a building energy performance in lieu of higher prescriptive R-values of wall and ceiling/roof assemblies. During the 2004 hearings a proposal from the Department of Energy was adopted with a modification that increased R-values in wall assemblies in some regions from R-13 to R-15 and in other regions from R-19 to R- 21. SPFA opposed this increase and supported a building code change at the 2005 hearings that would roll back the R-values to the DOE proposed values. The code change was initially recommended for disapproval by the ICC Advisory Board in an earlier hearing in Cincinnati. In order to overturn the Advisory Board recommendation, a 2/3 margin was required. The National Association of Home Builders coordinated a successful coalition of industry organizations that convinced the building code officials that the higher R-values “were not cost-effective and would not have provided significant energy savings to new buildings.” The final vote was 271 to 68.

Side Bar:

What’s wrong with higher prescriptive R-values? Energy saving measures such as reducing thermal bridging, stopping air infiltration and reducing convective currents is not recognized effectively in the prescriptive code. The modification raising the prescriptive R values from 13 to 15 and from R-19 to R-21 would have potentially excluded the use of low density insulation in 2” x 4” constructions and 2” x 6” constructions and provided a poorer competitive position for medium density SPF as well. The fiberglass industry lobbied hard against the code proposal since they have a fiberglass batt that can achieve an R-15 within a 2” x 4” stud wall and an R-21 within a 2” x 6” stud wall.

Venting of attics and crawl spaces International Residential Code and International Energy Conservation Code:

A code change was proposed by the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association to eliminate the section allowing unvented attics or cathedral ceilings. SPFA supports conditioned attics and unvented cathedral ceilings when using SPF in those applications. Experience demonstrates that SPF is most effective in controlling moisture within a building when venting is not included in the design. The code body approved the Advisory Board’s recommendation to keep this important section allowing unvented attics.

Some companies even have a qualified engineer’s written approval that can superceed building codes called a Legacy Report.