Spray Foam Insulation FAQ

Servicing Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Los Alamos since 1974

Why do you need coatings or coverings over SPF?

SPF is water resistant without other coverings, however, the surface of SPF can deteriorate under the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Typically, elastomeric coatings or aggregate coverings are used to protect the SPF against UV radiation.(note include other coating benefits.)

How long has SPF been around?

A: Spray polyurethane foam was first used commercially in the US in the 1960s for cold storage and industrial insulation projects. SPF roofing systems evolved from exterior applications to tanks and pipes in the late 60s to early 70s.

How does SPF reduce energy use in buildings?
  • SPF provides a continuous air barrier.
  • SPF prevents moisture infiltration through air leakage.
  • SPF minimizes dew point problems and condensation.
  • SPF avoids thermal bridging.
  • SPF resists heat movement in all directions.
  • SPF provides reliable performance under varying conditions.
What is the difference between a vented and unvented attic?

Unvented (conditioned) attics use air-impermeable insulation as a barrier to prevent moisture condensation on the underside of roof decks. Vented attics minimize condensation by allowing the escape of moisture to the exterior by air flow.

If you spray the underside of a roof deck with SPF insulation, should you vent the attic?

No, the application of SPF insulation to the underside of the roof deck minimizes the potential for condensation. The SPF insulation develops a thermal and moisture gradient that avoids the development of dew point conditions in the attic. Because of this, moisture won’t condense or accumulate and, therefore, does not need to be vented to the exterior.

Do you need a vapor retarder or a vapor barrier with SPF insulation?

It depends of the use of the building, the climate and the materials of construction. In normal occupancies and moderate climates, SPF insulation typically does require a vapor retarder. Extremes of climate and building use may require vapor retarders/barriers. Check with your design professional for specific recommendations and refer to SPFA technical document, AY 118, Moisture Vapor Transmission for further information.

Is SPF a good soundproofing material?

Both low and medium (2lb/cubic/ft) density SPF effectively reduce noise from outside sources by sealing cracks and gaps that allow sound to travel through the walls, floors and ceilings into the building. They are less effective against noise caused by vibration.

What is the difference between low density, open cell SPF and medium density closed cell SPF?
  • 1/2 lb Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF)
    Low density, open cell SPF refers to a generic spray polyurethane SPF that weighs between 0.4 to 0.6 lbs per cubic ft when fully cured. It is spray applied to a substrate as a liquid and expands about 100-150 times its original volume to form a semi-rigid/flexible, non-structural SPF insulation. The SPF has an R-value around 3.5 per inch and typically uses water as the blowing agent.
  • Medium Density, Closed Cell Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF)
    Medium density, closed cell SPF used in interior applications typically refers to generic spray polyurethane foam that weighs between 1.5 to 2 lbs per cubic ft when fully cured. It is also spray applied as a liquid to a substrate and expands about 35 to 50 times its original volume to form a rigid, structural SPF insulation with a compressive strength between 15 to 25 PSI. The SPF has an R-value of around 6.0 per inch (aged R-value) and uses high R-value blowing agents.
  • Similarities: Both products are excellent air barriers in buildings, provide great insulation, can assist in the control of condensation within buildings and have great environmental benefits.
How long does a spray polyurethane foam (SPF) roof last?

The oldest performing SPF roofs are over 30 years old. Because the physical properties of the SPF change little with age, how long the SPF roof system lasts depends primarily on the original application and long term maintenance.

How do you maintain a SPF roof system?

SPF roof systems should be inspected semi-annually and after events that could cause physical damage. Small (less than 3″ diameter) dents, cracks, punctures from dropped tools, wind driven debris can be repaired with an elastomeric sealant compatible with the SPF and coating system. More extensive damage can be repaired by reapplying SPF.

Typically SPF roof systems are re-coated every 10 – 15 years, depending on the type and thickness of coating used and factors specific to the roof (such as wind erosion effects, hail, foot traffic, abuse, etc.) Recoating extends the service life of the SPF roof system.

Where can I use a SPF roofing system?

SPF has excellent adhesion to a variety of substrates including, BUR, clay and concrete tile, shingles, metal, wood and concrete. Since they add little weight and can be applied in varying thickness to add slope and fill in low areas. SPF roofing systems are often used as recover system over existing roof coverings.

SPF roofing systems excel where:

  • Additional insulation is desired.
  • The roof substrate has many penetrations;
  • The roof deck is an unusual shape or configuration;
  • The roof is in a severe weather environment, (hurricanes, hail, etc)
  • Lightweight materials are required.
  • Slope must be added to provide positive drainage
  • It is desirable to keep existing roof covering
What are the environmental limitations of installing SPF roofing systems?

As with other roofing systems, SPF can be applied in a wide variety of climatic conditions. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for ambient conditions. The SPF and protective coating should not be installed when there is ice, frost, surface moisture or visible dampness present on the surface to be covered. Barriers may be necessary if wind conditions can affect the foam quality or create over-spray problems.

How do SPF roof systems compare in cost to other roof systems?

SPF roofing systems are cost competitive with other systems. Life Cycle Cost Analysis performed by Michelsen Technologies demonstrated that over a 30 year life span, SPF roof systems cost between 10% and 50% less on average than comparably insulated membrane roof systems. (Averages were based on SPF roof system recoats of every 6, 10 and 15 years. A copy of the Life Cycle report is available from SPFA.)

SPF roofing systems do not last.

Many research projects have been conducted to document the performance of SPF roofing systems throughout the United States. Among them, the National Roofing Foundation (NRF) conducted a series of surveys relating to the field performance of SPF roofs. The initial study was conducted in 1995, and a Phase II study was conducted several years later to look at unique SPF roofing details. Another study, which was performed at Arizona State University, documented the performance of SPF roofing in all parts of the United States. Over the course of several years, the customer satisfaction level was initially — and remained — very high for the roofing system.

SPF roofs can only be installed during very limited conditions.

SPF and elastomeric roof coatings can be installed in all geographic areas of the United States. Most applications occur when the target temperatures are 45°F to a very warm 120°F. Considering that solar gain on a dark surface will raise the temperature by as much as 35 degrees during a sunny day, this provides a wide temperature range for installations. Although it is true that moisture— such as rain, frost, dew, and snow— on the substrate will prohibit the application of foam or coatings; still, there are ways around this application barrier. The SPF industry has established guidelines stating that spray foam is not to be applied when the temperature is within five degrees of the current dew point. Applicators typically monitor the weather conditions through weather data and by using handheld electronic measurement tools.


Birds on top of roof systems are a common occurrence. Any slight surface imperfection caused by birds is very easily identified on SPF roofs, while these same damaged areas might not be so apparent with conventional roofing systems. In most cases, the peck will not cause a leak and can easily be repaired as part of routine maintenance or roof inspections. If necessary, a simple reseal of the bird peck with a sealant (compatible with the roof coating) will repair the spot. In recent years, the use of roofing granules embedded in the top layer of elastomeric coatings has brought about greater resistance to bird damage and even “bird damage” types of roofing warranties from several industry suppliers.

You can’t walk on SPF roofs.

The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA, www.sprayfoam.org) and National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA, ) are two industry trade associations that offer a great deal of information on SPF roofing. Both organizations agree that when used as roofing foam, the physical properties of SPF suggest the use of spray foam with a minimum compressive strength of 40 pounds per square inch or higher. This is a general guideline that will work in all parts of the United States. Less compressive strength foams are used where less foot traffic is anticipated or where the geographic area is not as hard on construction materials.

Insurance companies will not insure SPF roofing systems.

The SPF industry has spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars testing their roofing systems at independent laboratories. One such lab is the Factory Mutual Research Center (FMRC), which is owned by an insurance group. They do insure — as well as test — SPF roofing systems.

SPF roofs are soft and don’t stand up to high winds, fire, and hail damage.

The FMRC has tested several industry members’ SPF roofing systems for wind, fire, and hail resistance. The SPF roofing systems continue to provide some of the best results in this battery of tests for roofing systems as they relate to performance during extremes.

SPF roof systems are not green.

SPF has been in use for more than 35 years. As such, it was one of the early insulated roofing systems that promoted the use of insulation and light-reflective roof coatings to help save energy. The use of seamless insulation and white or light-reflective coatings have been in use for longer than most of the cool roof-type roofing systems that we find in today’s market place. Many of the industry’s SPF roof system components have been charter partners in the Energy Star Roofing Program to save energy. Several industry companies are active in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, among others. SPF insulation continues to offer some of the highest insulation value and performance per inch than any other type of insulation roofing material.

People tear off SPF roofs.

Usually tear-off of a SPF roof happens because of a couple of reasons. One is that the particular roofing contractor making this statement does not have the knowledge, equipment, or capability to install or repair the SPF roofing system. The repair of a SPF roof is normally a lower-cost solution than the removal of the SPF roof. If a roof contractor does not have this capability, he tears the SPF off and installs one he can do — just as SPF contractors do with other roofing systems. The second reason for this tear-off scenario is that the roof in question is a poorly installed, designed, or maintained SPF roofing system, and it may be best to tear it off and start over. Every day, I talk to many people who have very little knowledge about the SPF roofing systems, yet the industry has excellent documents on how to inspect, repair, and install these types of roofing systems. Most often, this myth occurs due to lack of knowledge about the roofing system. Most of the applications that I have seen over the past 35 years have been good-performing SPF roof applications. They are the norm rather than the exception.

You can’t get a good SPF roofing system.

Seeking the lowest priced system or the one with the longest warranty is most likely not the best way to buy a roof. Start by contacting either of the two trade associations and researching the requirements for the SPF roofing system to be correctly installed. Check out the SPF contractor, just as you should do with any roofing contractor or construction professional. Ask to see past work that can be visited, or ask for references that you can call. Design professionals can build up the best specifications with the best products, and yet the project may not be done by the best applicators. We have many applicators in our industry who have proven themselves and their workmanship for more than three decades or longer. They have a history of putting down good SPF roofing systems. Those that do not have knowledge of a product or system create myths. Those that compete against a particular system can create them. Those intending to either install or purchase the material or end product should understand the facts of any particular construction material, design, and proper application. Spend a little time and look into the system, and you will be very pleased with its performance when properly installed.

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What Is An R-Value?

R-value is a measure of thermal resistance

An R-value is a rating used to measure how well insulation can resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating properties and the slower heat and cold flows through it.

How Insulation Works

Insulation resists heat flow.

To maintain comfort in your home, the heat lost in winter must be replaced by your heating system and the heat gained in summer must be removed by your air conditioner.

Other Resources

THE Spray Foam Insulation, Roofing and Equipment Directory

Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance


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