As homeowners, business owners, real estate professionals, builders, and architects all became more focused on energy efficient building, focus is turning toward engineered building materials like spray foam insulation that stand up in both scientific testing in a lab and in real-world conditions over the lifespan of a structure. There are many diverse measurements for the “greenness” of a building material. Spray foam insulation, also known as SPF, meets the standards for:
- LEED®-H for homes
- LEED® for commercial buildings
- ENERGY STAR®
- ASHRAE Standard 90.1
- US Army Corps Building Air Tightness Requirements (ECB 2009-29)
- National Association of Home Builders Green Building Standard™ for homes
Here’s a little bit about each of these rating systems and how spray foam insulation stacks up.
The LEED Green Building Rating System™ is a voluntary, non-ANSI standard, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. The LEED program was created (and is managed) by the US Green Building Council (USGBC).
The LEED rating system offers four certification levels for new construction: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Each corresponds to the number of credits accrued in five green design categories:
- Sustainability in terms of ecosystems and water resources
- Water efficiency
- Energy and atmosphere
- Materials and resources
- Indoor environmental quality
Each LEED credit is assigned a number of points out of a 100-point scale. The weightings of the points for each of the credits are based on environmental and regional priority depending on their ability to impact different environmental and human health concerns in 13 categories.
- Certified 40–49 points
- Silver 50–59 points
- Gold 60–79 points
- Platinum 80 points and above
LEED standards cover new commercial construction and major renovation projects, interiors projects and existing building operations. Standards are under development to cover commercial “core & shell” construction, new home construction and neighborhood developments. USGBC says there are 40,000 projects certified in 130 nations and 1.5 million sq ft of building space certified daily.
How to Achieve LEED certification
The USGBC’s LEED website provides tools for building professionals, including:
- Information on the LEED certification process.
- LEED documents, such as checklists and reference guides. Standards are now available or in development for the following project types:
- New commercial construction and major renovation projects (LEED-NC)
- Existing building operations (LEED-EB)
- Commercial interiors projects (LEED-CI)
- Core and shell projects (LEED-CS)
- Homes (LEED-H)
- Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND)
- A list of LEED-certified projects
- A directory of LEED-accredited professionals
- Information on LEED training workshops
- A calendar of green building industry conferences
Arguably the most reputable and well-known of all green measures, the LEED program is a third-party system that acts as a benchmark for best practices in both residential and commercial buildings. Because it is the current standard for good building practices, homeowners who buy today recognize LEED certification will enhance the selling features of their houses in the future. LEED is quickly become less of an option and more of an expectation. Home and commercial builders are keen to gather LEED credits in their construction, and for this reason, they use materials that qualify—such as spray foam insulation.
While the prestige of LEED certification is certainly nice to have, the practical advantages are lower operating costs due to higher energy efficiency, increased structural strength, and improved indoor air quality. This is exactly what spray foam insulation offers. Spray foam:
- Acts as a thermal barrier
- Has a high R-value
- Expands during application to fill every little nook and crack of a cavity
- Adds strength to the structure
- Durable—lasts for the life of the building
- Air barrier—keeps out airborne particulates
- Water barrier/moisture vapor barrier—keeps out moisture
- Sound dampening/control
Energy Star is a voluntary program co-sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Energy (DOE) to help homeowners and businesses save money and protect the climate through superior energy efficiency. In order to earn ENERGY STAR certification, homes must meet guidelines for energy efficiency set by the EPA, making them at least 15% more efficient than homes that meet the 2004 International Residential Code (a previous benchmark). Features that qualify a building for ENERGY STAR include:
- High performance windows
- Tight construction and duct work
- Efficient HVAC equipment
- ENERGY STAR qualified lighting and major appliances
- Effective insulation (such as spray foam)
ASHRAE Standard 90.1
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) created a standard of energy efficiency that applies to all buildings except low-rise residential buildings. This rating system has been updated continuously since it was introduced in 1975, and has been adopted by many states in the US. It covers building systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, refrigeration, and sustainability.
The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) was developed in 2000 by the International Code Council—a member-driven organization devoted to building code and compliance. This code focuses on ensuring safe, sustainable, and affordable structures and has been adopted in 47 states so far, as well as the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
US Army Corps Building Air Tightness Requirements (ECB 2009-29)
Air tightness testing does just what it sounds like: it tests a building envelope for its level of air tightness and any leakage under controlled pressurization and depressurization. The US Army Corps mandates this sort of testing be done with any of its engineering projects. In 2010, the Army increased their air barrier requirements for all new and renovation projects.
National Association of Home Builders Green Building Standard™ for homes
The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) has its own green building standard for residential construction. The National Green Building Standard is a collaborative effort between the International Code Council (ICC) and NAHB, and is the only residential green building rating system approved by ANSI as an American National Standard.
The Energy Information Administration has optimistically revised its predictions about how much money consumers will spend on energy in the next several decades. They now estimate that consumers will spend $3.66 trillion less on energy between 2012 and 2030 than they projected in 2005. This is good news for the environment and homeowners and building owners, and spray foam insulation is helping lead the charge.