Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) sales topped $1 billion in 2015 by most estimates after another solid year of growth due to increased activity in construction and home improvement projects.
Manufacturers reported some 460 million to 490 million pounds of SPF, which is used for roofing and insulating, were sold last year in the U.S. and Canada, according to Rick Duncan, technical director of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA) of Fairfax, Va. At a cost of roughly $2.25 a pound, SPF reached the milestone of being a $1 billion market in 2015.
“It's difficult to give precise numbers but we've been seeing continued strong growth over the last decade,” Duncan said in a telephone interview, noting that the American Chemistry Council helps track sales by pounds of SPF chemicals sold and not dollars.
Duncan said he is still waiting for final numbers but it looks like residential insulation applications drove sales growth again.
“I have year-over-year data from 2013 to 2014 and we're seeing growth on the residential side on average of about 15 percent. If you go back to 2013 over 2012 it's about the same, about 16 percent,” Duncan said. “When you look at the housing market and the construction market, it's not growing at that rate so we're getting a lot of retrofit and we're gaining market share.”
SPF competes mostly against fiberglass and cellulose for residential uses, and against foam boards on the commercial side in the U.S. insulation market, which is projected to grow 6.6 percent a year through 2019 to $10.3 billion, according to Freedonia Group Inc., a Cleveland-based industry market research firm.
“Fiberglass and foamed plastic are by far the most prevalent types of insulation, together accounting for 93 percent of the market by value,” Freedonia analyst Nick Cunningham said in a news release.
Fiberglass will remain the market leader by weight, he added, pointing to a forecast that shows demand reaching 4.5 billion pounds valued at $4.9 billion in 2019. Demand for foamed plastic insulation is projected to grow to 2.4 billion pounds valued at $4.7 billion in 2019.
Unvented attics popular
The use of SPF in residential attics is one application that's on the rise. Homes have been built with ventilated attics — usually screened vent holes under the eaves — for centuries to allow warm air and moisture to escape and to keep the roof cold in the winter, which stops the formation of ice dams.
However, the acceptance of unvented, conditioned attics has been increasing since 2006, when the International Residential Code started permitting them, partly in response to builders wanting to locate HVAC equipment up there. SPF is one of the building products used to turn attics into conditioned spaces so HVAC systems can operate efficiently and, when installed to code, homeowners can pick up storage area that's about the same temperature as the rest of the house.
SPF comes in open- or closed-cell foams and either can be used for unvented attics. Closed-cell SPF, which is more rigid and stronger, often is recommended for the pitched part of the roof.
“Insulation is put right under the roof deck in the pitched part of the roof and spray foam is best for that because it adheres and stays in place,” Duncan said. “There are tens of thousands of homes now insulated that way and it can save about 10 to 15 percent on your heating and cooling costs. That's pretty substantial. And for places like Florida, California and Texas, where you have no basements, it adds a conditioned storage space to the house and people really like that. You can put stuff up there without worrying about candles melting or things getting ruined by the heat.
“Unvented attics have really helped our industry when we talk about that 15 percent growth. We're seeing that a lot of homeowners are using unvented attics as a retrofit.”
Sales of SPF for home improvement projects are strong enough to outweigh uncertainties about new home construction, Duncan added.
“We're seeing some information that the housing market is getting better and then we see other reports that it is not,” he said. “We're not too concerned because we're seeing a lot of growth from retrofit. People are staying in existing homes and saying let me make my house more efficient. How can I do that? And SPF in the attic is the easy way.”
Roof benefits, too