Bad insulation advice leads to mold and termite infestation

Like most energy conscious homeowners, Bill Hurley of New Orleans was excited by the multiple benefits of spray foam insulation. Unfortunately, his first experience with the state-of-the-art insulation material was not a positive one.

While many southern Louisiana contractors claim to be spray foam experts, few are certified by a third party organization like the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance. The information they provide is often based on their own financial needs rather than on the actual needs of their customers. Consequently, bad advice isn’t uncommon.

In the case of Bill Hurley’s house, a previous contractor had recommended he encapsulate his home’s subflooring with open cell spray foam. While crawlspace encapsulation provides numerous advantages to homeowners, including moisture, mold, and insect infiltration, subflooring should only be insulated with closed cell insulation – not open cell insulation.

Closed cell insulation provides an airtight barrier against moisture and air while also sealing away one of termites’ favorite food sources – hardwood flooring. Closed cell spray foam’s impenetrable nature makes it the best solution for crawl space insulation, especially in flood-prone southern Louisiana. Applied to a roof deck, on the other hand, closed cell insulation would allow water to sit on the roof, under shingles, and worsen leaks.

Open cell spray foam allows moisture and vapor to pass through, making it an ideal insulator in attics, where it is applied to the roof deck. Should New Orleans’ summer storms loosen shingles on Hurley’s roof and expose a leak, Hurley will know about it, thanks to open cell spray foam’s porous nature.

Applied to subflooring, however, open cell polyurethane allows moisture to travel up from the damp earth of the crawl space into floorboards. In Hurley’s case, the open cell spray foam applied by amateur contractors led to an enormous problem with termites and mold, specifically.

Replacing mold, termites with closed cell spray foam

Hurley contacted the SPFA-certified mold remediation experts at Sunlight Contractors when he was ready to give his house a fresh start. Sunlight’s contractors always begin projects by performing a blower door test, which measures the airtightness of a building. This allows the homeowners like Hurley to make data-driven decisions rather than relying solely on the word of any one contractor.

In Hurley’s case, the blower door test and other inspections led to a number of startling revelations. Hurley’s home was losing large quantities of conditioned air while absorbing high quantities of moisture. This latter problem was compounded by the discovery of termites taking advantage of the vulnerable wood. Termites had virtually destroyed six rafters in Hurley’s crawl space by eating into the pressure-treated wood.

Once they understood the problems faced by Hurley, Sunlight Contractors began addressing them by removing 1190 square feet of open cell spray foam from beneath Hurley’s home, a process that took four days. It was during this phase of the process that the contractors discovered nests of termites burrowing into the subfloor area.

Always willing to go above and beyond, the contractors at Sunlight set to work repairing the damaged rafters and ridding Hurley’s home of termites. They applied a borate solution on the subfloor area on three separate occasions, set termite traps around the subfloor, and sprayed artificial nematodes around the property to prevent future infestations. After, they applied two coats of Sherwin Williams’ Pro Block paint and an additional heavy coat of oil paint to further protect the home from termites.

After giving the subfloor time to air out, the contractors applied two pound closed cell spray foam to the entire subfloor area, including the rim joists and sill plates. As the spray foam expanded, it filled in gaps and voids around pipes, wires, and cross-bridging, creating a continuous, monolithic seal against vapor, air, and heat.

In Hurley’s attic, Sunlight Contractors completed the project by installing 1190 square feet of Gaco Western Fire Stop 2 open cell spray foam at an average thickness of 6 inches, fully covering rafters, top plates, eaves and soffits. The open cell spray foam was applied in layers to the bottom of Hurley’s metal roof deck and gable end walls, sealing the perimeter of his ceiling.

Energy efficiency and moisture control with spray foam insulation

By pairing a super-insulated airtight cap on top of Hurley’s home with a moisture-repellant seal beneath his home, conditioned air is prevented from leaking out and summer heat from infiltrating via the roof or the crawl space. That mean’s Hurley’s home is less drafty and more comfortable year round, creating a more energy efficient and more affordable home.

More importantly, however, Hurley’s home is protected from the slow and inevitable destruction created by moisture and termite damage. While a home with poor insulation may be a drain on financial resources, a home that’s falling apart due to rampant infestation from moisture, mold, and termites can spell financial ruin for a family.

In a recent Google+ review, Hurley spoke from personal experience when he said that “a lot of contractors would have left me hanging but you got it done.”

At Sunlight Contractors, we base our recommendations on the actual needs of our customers as well as our years of experience and professional expertise. No problem is too big for our team of licensed contractors, and we’re glad when customers like Hurley say, “You showed me that you do business the right way and that means a lot in your business. It’s not easy to find someone responsible and dependable.”