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Alternative insulation products enable new design options for more livable space and greater building efficiency

In the past dozen years, building professionals have been looking for ways to reduce energy losses from forced air conditioned systems located in the attic, with little additional cost or loss of precious saleable floor space. One method is to change the nature of the attic from a hot humid vented space to a quasi-conditioned one.
The unvented or sealed attic design places the insulation at the roof plane instead of at the ceiling. This brings the entire building envelope within the thermal and air barrier. Research has shown that there are many benefits to this method. By locating the air, thermal and moisture barriers at the same plane, the attic space is sealed from the surrounding climatic conditions and reduces the entry of dusts, pollutants and moisture. The space is turned from a hostile environment into a quasi-conditioned space.

Alternative insulation products can be used for applications and designs where the use of conventional insulation would be cost prohibitive or inadequate. These include the family of expanding soft foam spray insulations that are field applied and create not only a thermal barrier, but also an impressive air barrier.
Traditionally, attic insulation in residential buildings is placed on top of the drywall ceiling, whether it be blown-in or batten. Additionally, the attic space is vented by either passive venting or actively with the use of fans. In the hot and humid southern climates, the thermal protection is designed to prevent smothering attic temperatures (in excess of 120?F) from reaching the living spaces below. If installed properly, all is well – well almost. The probability of air movement across the ceiling plane must also be dealt with. The excessive attic temperatures coupled with infiltration of moisture laden air can lead to a myriad of problems associated with indoor environmental quality, building durability, comfort and energy efficiency.

Water vapor can be transported by two mechanisms: vapor diffusion and air leakage. Under most circumstances, the dominant mechanism by far is air leakage and vapor diffusion is relatively minor. Since Icynene® controls air leakage so effectively, a vapor barrier is usually not required in addition to Icynene®. However, in extremely cold climates (climates colder than 7,500 heating degree days eg. Madison, Wisconsin or colder), swimming pool areas, refrigeration rooms, insulated air conditioning ducts, or any other condition were the vapor drive is high a vapor barrier would be required. We also recommend to apply a vapor barrier to the surface of Icynene® in unvented attic applications in cold climates and to Icynene applied underneath floor decks in crawlspaces located in hot and humid climates. In some areas a vapor barrier is required by the building code. A vapor barrier paint is usually the simplest solution in cases where a vapor barrier is needed. The surface of the drywall can be painted with this paint or the paint can be sprayed directly onto the surface of Icynene®. It is important that the vapor barrier be placed on the warm side. Product data sheets of some vapor barrier paints are provided as a reference. These are only examples and any similar products can be used. Since most building inspectors are accustomed to polyethelene vapor barriers, it would be recommended to discuss this alternative method with the building inspector prior to application.




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