WASHINGTON — A Federal Trade Commission review of insulation marketing practices could result in tougher testing of plastic insulation, or stricter labels about its performance. At issue is how much insulation weakens as it ages, and how much manufacturers should have to tell consumers. At times, the debate has turned downright chilly.
The Foamed Polystyrene Alliance alleges that the polyisocyanurate industry "has not engaged in a good-faith effort" to measure the long-term performance of its products. FPSA wants the FTC to adopt a standard that measures performance at least five years out. Current FTC standards measure only short-term wear.
But the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association said the standard pushed by FPSA, known as ASTM C 1303, is not reliable. And it criticized some of its competitors for alleging that consumers have been duped by the current system.
The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance, part of the American Plastics Council, said it does not like the 1303 standard because it relies on laboratory tests. Instead, it favors a more real-world testing method.
The Expanded Polystyrene Molders Association, for its part, advocates stricter labeling that would warn consumers if insulation could lose its ability to retain heat, known as its R-value. EPSMA, based in Crofton, Md., said it wants better testing but favors tougher labeling.
As competing interests fight over what standards are best, the debate over aging could be the biggest flashpoint, and the toughest hurdle for the FTC.
"We've been beating our heads against the wall with the same issue [of aging] and a few others for 20 years," said Ken Howerton, an FTC staff lawyer working on the issue.
EPSMA said expanded PS does not lose R-value as it ages. EPS has a relatively low R-value of about 3.6 for 1-pound density.
Some polyiso products, by comparison, have an initial advertised R-value of 7.2. But roofing industry trade groups say that falls to about 5.6 over the life of the product, because air migrates in and displaces the gases used to make the foam insulation.
Extruded PS has a long-term, stable R-value of 5, according to Susan Herrenbruck, executive director of FPSA. FPSA is a unit of Arlington, Va.-based APC
But one polyiso maker, Celotex Corp. in Tampa, Fla., said extruded PS generally has an R-value of 4.2-4.7 over a 10- or 20-year period.
Celotex pulled out of PIMA in 1998, partially in a dispute over PIMA's position on aging standards. Celotex favors the 1303 standard advocated by FPSA and others, including the Department of Energy. That standard gives a lower R-value for some types of polyiso. Celotex said the roofing industry considers the lower rating more accurate.
"We felt if we came out with a more conservative number, you resolve the question in the minds of the design community, and that enhances the credibility of polyiso," said Douglas Gehring, Celotex assistant vice president.
Celotex also said it wants to draw a distinction between permeable polyiso, which loses R-value, and impermeable polyiso, such as that with a facing of aluminum foil. Impermeable polyiso has a higher R-value, generally about 7, he said.
Celotex makes both permeable and impermeable polyiso.
The polyisocyanurate industry, which by competitors' estimates has about 50 percent of the market for commercial construction, argues that the FTC should stick with the aging tests now in place for faced polyiso. The 1303 test is expensive and does not reflect real-world conditions, Washington-based PIMA argued in written comments.
PIMA officials could not be reached.
The FTC could make a formal proposal in several months, but does not anticipate a final decision until next year, Howerton said.