Commercial Building Insulation

Applying under-slab R-13 closed cell foam insulation in Chardon, OH
Applying under-slab R-13 closed cell foam insulation in Chardon, OH

The building code defines residential construction as one, two or three family dwellings. Broadly speaking everything else is commercial. While the two codes have different requirements for insulation, the principles are exactly the same: a building must be properly air sealed and insulated to be economical to operate and comfortable to occupy. High insulation values mean little if outside air bypasses the insulation. This is true no matter what construction method is used.

Ohio uses the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code to govern requirements for the performance of commercial buildings. The 2009 IECC requires the use of continuous insulation on wall assemblies, which was a significant step forward, especially for metal frame buildings.

Unfortunately, the code does little to address air sealing. At Pure Seal we have seen the consequences of this omission and as a result, we pay great attention to proper air sealing on all our projects. Thankfully polyurethane spray foam allows us to insulate and air seal with one material.

Commercial buildings are many things. From factories to nursing homes, they come in all shapes and sizes and  are constructed in many different ways. Broadly speaking, we can look at metal, wood  and masonry construction. Sound insulation is another area where foam can make a real difference.

Metal construction

Metal is common in commercial buildings. Whether light gauge frame or structural steel, the metal presents an insulation challenge because of its high conductivity. Without a continuous layer of exterior insulation, metal will conduct massive amounts of cold to the inside of the building, which reduces the true r-value of the wall to a fraction of the nominal value of any cavity insulation. As if that wasn’t enough, the ice cold metal can cause condensation and freezing of air borne moisture, either inside the wall cavity or on the drywall. Condensation is also a very good reason why air permeable insulation such as fiberglass should not be used in buildings with an exterior metal skin. While common because of low cost, vinyl covered blanket insulation will let humid air reach the metal where it will condense and freeze in low temperatures. Closed cell polyurethane spray foam provides insulation and vapor control and is the product of choice for metal application.

Fiberglass in metal frame wall
It is a challenge to install fiberglass properly as this photo illustrates from an actual job site. We were asked to trouble shoot after the fact.
More fiberglass
We do not install fiberglass, which has little to recommend it.
Hunting air infiltration
The intersection of roof and wall is a very common trouble spot in metal buildings.
Close-up of deck on wall
Notice the dirt on the fiberglass? It is a sure sign of air infiltration, which fiberglass does not stop.
Sprayfoam
This generic shot of sprayfoam shows how it expands and fills the available space. It is excellent for air sealing and insulation both.
Air sealed wall penetrations
Closed cell foam on metal wall skin
The foam provides insulation and prevents condensation on the metal.
Closed cell foam on metal roof deck
The foam provides insulation and prevents condensation on the metal.

Wood construction

Commercial wood frame buildings mostly distinguish themselves from residential construction by their size. From an air sealing and insulation perspective there is little difference but the cost of a potential system failure is much greater; a ruptured pipe caused by a drafty floor cavity is much worse when it happens on the third floor of a nursing home.

A leaky floor plenum I
A nursing home in Cleveland experienced a catastrophic pipe failure due to inadequate air sealing in a floor plenum.
A leaky floor plenum II
No attempt had been made so seal between framing members or around penetrations. The resulting damage was substantial.
Air sealing with foam
Spray foam easily seals the structure and creates a draft free and comfortable environment
Spray foam wall insulation
Common area in multi-story residential complex
Spray foam wall insulation
Hallway in residential complex
Traditional attic insulation
The floor of the attic is air sealed with sprayfoam, then insulated with a thick layer of blown cellulose.
Conditioned attic space
Attics that are used for mechanical systems should be conditioned with the foam insulation applied to the roof deck.

Masonry construction

Brick, block and concrete walls are strong and long lasting but they must be insulated to provide any kind of comfort. In new construction, this is best achieved with spray foam, either on the outside of the structural wall or on the inside behind the drywall. In either case the foam should be continuous so it is important to leave a gap between any framing and the masonry to allow for insulation. In a retrofit situation, it may be possible to fill cavities inside a wall with foam.

Closed cell polyurethane foam on block wall
Closed cell sprayfoam is an excellent choice for continuous insulation. It has high R-value, is impervious to moisture and is often applied on the outside of structural walls before the finish cladding.
Furring out for interior foam insulation
Foamed wall ready for drywall
Block fill that doesn't shrink
We use Air Krete wall foam for block fill. It does not shrink, which sets it apart from competing products.
Air Krete in block wall
Non-shrinking Air Krete is cementitious and a perfect match for block walls.

Sound insulation

High-level sound insulation requires more than just wall cavity insulation. That said, we have achieved significant improvements in office environments by injecting Air Krete foam into the walls. Air Krete flows to fill all gaps and openings through which sound waves can travel; because of its mass, it also deadens the wall.

Office wall prepped for sound insulation
Injecting Air Krete foam