Difference Between Open-Cell vs Closed-Cell Insulation - PURspray

Difference Between Open-Cell vs Closed-Cell Insulation

Are you curious how to explain the difference between open-cell vs closed-cell insulation? You’re not alone

Are you curious how to explain the difference between open-cell vs closed-cell insulation? You’re not alone. Aside from picking the right rig for spray foam insulation jobs, educating homeowners about the different options available is one of the most complex parts of spray foam contracting. Building profitable quotes that get customers to sign is always hard. And choosing between open-cell and closed-cell spray foam is a critical factor in price.

As a spray foam contractor, you’re probably well-versed in the differences between these two materials. But it’s still tricky to explain it clearly to homeowners. But it’s essential to explain the difference in layperson’s terms.

Here’s how to break it down:

What is spray foam insulation made of?

Before comparing the two types of spray foam, it’s best to describe what spray foam insulation is made of. And it helps set expectations and understanding around pricing. Spray foam insulation is more expensive. But it’s also made from high-quality ingredients, applied with high-end equipment.

Many homeowners are most familiar with loose-fill and batt insulation, usually made of fiberglass. They may have even attempted DIY-ing it before. But spray foam is less familiar since it’s always applied by a professional. Or they might equate it with bottled expanding foam products.

Spray foam insulation is typically made by mixing isocyanate and polyol resin. The chemicals are highly sensitive to moisture, pressure and other variables and require a robust rig of specialized equipment to ensure safe and reliable operations.

The compounds are stored in your ISO & RES (or Polyol) barrels, fed to your proportioner via transfer pump, heated and pressurized by your proportioner (with an assist from the heated hose), mixed in your spray foam gun and kept temperature stable with your air dryer. Not to mention the role of your generator, air compressor, electrical wiring – and more essential components!

Once these chemicals are mixed, heated, pressurized and dispensed, they expand upon contact with another surface to create an insulating foam that keeps air and moisture out of that cavity

You might notice your customer’s eyes widening as they realize the level of investment involved in establishing a spray foam contracting business. But trust us – it helps show why spray foam is a premium product that will keep their houses warm and dry.

Open Cell vs. Closed Cell Insulation

If both foam products are mixed and applied similarly, what’s the difference between open-cell and closed-cell spray foam insulation?

Open-cell: After being dispensed into a cavity, the foam mixture expands into the space. And its air bubbles form into small pockets – like a loaf of bread rising. The air bubbles trapped into this cake-like texture slow outside air from entering the insulated space.

What are open-cell foam’s qualities?

  • R-value – Closed-cell insulation typically offers an R-value of 3.6 – 3.8 per board-foot.
  • Permeability – The air bubbles in open-cell foam’s texture are not entirely closed off from each other, so it is semi-permeable.
  • Density – ½ lb per square foot
  • Vapour barrier – Offers low resistance to moisture
  • Sound barrier – Dampens but doesn’t block sound

Closed-cell: Whereas open-cell foam has tiny bubbles and pockets throughout, closed-cell feels more like a firm rubber. But why? And how is it made differently?

After the chemicals are mixed, the open cells are sealed by adding a chemical blowing agent powder - or sometimes a gas-forming ingredient. So instead of forming several small but inter-connected air pockets, the foam forms with tiny, closed bubbles that contain the blowing agent compound - rather than air.

  • R-value – Open-cell insulation typically offers an R-value of 6.5 - 7 per board-foot.
  • Permeability – The air bubbles in closed-cell foam’s texture are closed off from each other, so it is mostly impermeable.
  • Density –2 lbs per square foot
  • Vapour barrier – Offers good resistance to moisture
  • Sound barrier – Significantly reduces but doesn’t eliminate sound

What are the different uses for open-cell and closed-cell foam?

Given that closed-cell spray foam costs about three times more per board-foot installed than open-cell spray foam, helping your client pick the right type builds credibility.  And makes it more likely they’ll go with your quote.

Best uses for closed-cell spray foam

  • Projects with tight timelines. Open-cell spray foam can often be applied in one go, whereas closed-cell foam must be applied in layers that must dry in between.
  • Because open-cell foam is springier and more elastic, it’s often used in mattresses, car seats, pet beds and couches.
  • Areas with more nooks and crannies. Because spray foam is more flexible and expands well, it can get into small spaces much better than closed-cell foam.

You may notice that the different applications for open-cell and closed-cell spray foam extend well beyond residential housing projects. If you’re looking to grow your business, you might want to consider partnering with some commercial organizations.

Whether your client decides to go ahead with open-cell or closed-cell spray foam, there are considerations to keep in mind for both.

Most importantly, consider the chemical exposures from applying spray polyurethane foam. Always wear the proper personal protective equipment to protect you and your crew. And ensure that the homeowner is out of the house for several days to avoid exposure to off-gassing.

And while spray foam is incredibly effective for insulating, it can make it challenging to access any wiring in the same cavity. For your first few jobs applying spray foam around wiring, we recommend that you consult with an electrician beforehand to avoid having to re-do any sections. And in general, you should recommend that the homeowner consults with an electrician beforehand to ensure any upgrades or repairs are made before the insulation goes in.

What kind of equipment do you need for each type of spray foam?

The good news? You can use the same rig to apply both open-cell and closed-cell spray foam! The main difference is the use of a blowing agent to close bubbles in closed-cell foam, which can be mixed with all the material in a typical rig set-up.

If you’re an experienced spray foam contractor, are you using the most efficient tools for your projects? To ensure you’re capturing the demand you can during this busy season, you need equipment that assembles quickly, needs minimal repairs and operates efficiently. Perhaps it’s time to replace your ageing fleet of spray foam guns.

If you’re a contractor offering spray foam insulation for the first time in 2022, you’ll want to ensure you have the right equipment that is easy to use, quick to assemble and will stand the test of time.

Request your quote with PURSpray today to learn more about what equipment you need - at payment options that work for your business.