Cutting Edge Insights
with Dr. Lee

More From the Spray Foam High Horse!

-Further into the weeds where nerd-ism dwells-

[High Horse: noun; an arrogant and unyielding mood or attitude.]

Yes, you will likely consider me as never having removed myself from the high horse on which I have ridden while pontificating about topics outlined with and exacerbated by ignorance in the real estate development and building science world.

I mean, when you know what you’re talking about and other professionals don’t even know their own product…


Last week I chronicled how one spray foam contractor didn’t have appropriate knowledge of its own product. Read it here.

Didn’t know whether it had access to closed cell foam with an HFO blowing agent.

So I called another. This one was an even larger concern, serving most of the State of Michigan. Names have been changed to protect the ignorant.

Receptionist:  “Thank you for calling ABC Foam. How may I help you?”

Me:  “I am looking for someone to install closed cell spray foam that uses HFO as its blowing agent.”

Receptionist:  “We use a very low off gassing spray foam.”  (What??)

Me:  “I know that you use products that contain minimal VOCs because I’m looking at your website. What blowing agent do you use with your closed cell installs?”

Receptionist:  “What?”


Receptionist:  “Let me have my manager talk with you.”

Manager:  “Hello, how can I help you?”

Me:  “I am wondering what blowing agent you use with your closed cell installs and whether you have access to an HFO blowing agent such as Honeywell Solstice.”

Manager:  “Give me a minute to look it up.”  Then,  “We use HFC25FA.”

Me:  “Okay, that a common hydrofluorocarbon. Extremely high global warming potential. I am wondering if you have access to Honeywell Solstice?”

Manager:  “I’ll have to call you back next week.”

Me:  “No problem. The project doesn’t break ground until Spring 2022.”

HFO blowing agents have been around for a few years and talked about since at least back in 2017.

I was even able to find and download the 40-page “Spray Foam Installer’s Handbook” from a spray foam product distributor (help yourself below; I have a day job) and the different blowing agents and their global warming potentials (GWPs) are documented in black and white.

And I didn’t even like organic chemistry in college. I mean, I liked the idea of knowing how things worked but I didn’t like having to memorize diagrams ad nauseam of where each carbon atom was in relation to the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Mind-numbing. Least favorite class in 1994-1995.

But I like knowing how things work.

And how things have worked, at least to date, is that CFCs were banned as blowing agents because they destroyed the ozone layer. HFCs were phased in at that time. They didn’t destroy the ozone layer and guess what, the ozone layer healed!

But HFCs contribute to global warming by trapping heat. Most sources will tell us that HFC25FA (referenced above) has a global warming potential that is 1,030 times greater than CO2, but according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (an organization that establishes comprehensive global standardized frameworks to measure and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains and mitigation actions) the 1,030 number came from the fourth assessment report (2007) and the fifth assessment report (2014) says that the actual GWP of HFC25FA is 858.

Q:  Hey, not as bad as we thought!

A:  Still 858 times worse than good old CO2.

Q:  How and why are HFO blowing agents so great?


1.  How:  Their GWP is 1.0, not 858, and their atmospheric lifetime is
measured as under 30 days, rather than about 8 years for HFC25FA.

2.  Why:  Their chemical structure involving a double carbon bond causes
more rapid breakdown. (Hey, a practical application of an organic chemistry principle!)

I’m not going to inundate you with evidence of climate change because I already have.

Did you know that Colorado’s Regulation 22 banned HFC-blown spray foam in that state as of 1/1/2021! I hadn’t until researching for this report. Colorado is leading the way!

But this blog isn’t about making my readers into tree-huggers.

If a tree is in your way, cut it down. But consider planting five trees somewhere else.

This blog is primarily about ignorance and misinformation.

A contractor who installs spray foam should know his product. Inside and out. Top to bottom.

Q:  Why memorize something when you can look it up?

A:  Good point. I agree. Seems like for every new thing I put in my brain, an old thing gets pushed out. But one should have immediate access to data on his own product.

The reason that a contractor who installs spray foam does not know his product could be laziness, or it also could be that he never gets asked.

The shame of the “green” assumption from energy efficiency while oblivious to the materials that make up that particular path to energy efficiency.

Yes, the shame. How pathetic.

Here’s another snippet from our conversation:

Manager:  “It sounds like you’ve really done your homework!”

Me:  “Well, any time we plan a new development project, it’s sort of like another chance to get it right. To make the project more energy efficient than last time. To make the build more earth-friendly than last time. To do all of the above at a lower cost than last time.”

And that’s what this article is really about. The idea of striving to do better, to learn from the past, to learn from our mistakes, to find better ways of doing things.

(And Bob the builder puffs out his chest and says, “I’ve been doing it this way for 30 years!”)



Good news from the climate change department:

Currently, the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference is underway in Glasgow, Scotland. One highlight I happened upon in the news is that some worst-case scenarios don’t seem as probable as they did a decade ago:  We thought we were going to warm the earth by 4° C or more by 2100, but an increase of 3° C seems more realistic and depending on the commitment and follow through from all the participating nations (and hopefully some of those that don’t participate will eventually feel the heat to do so, no pun intended), the upper limit could be as low as a 2.5° C increase.  There is hope.

And after all the misinformation, tomfoolery, and jackassery in my attempt to learn about availability of HFO-blown closed cell spray foam, can you believe that I’m actually considering whether open cell may be an equal or superior product for my upcoming application?

Open cell spray foam’s GWP is right around…nothing, since it uses water as a blowing agent.

It all depends on the intersection of the cost and building science curves for each product within an assembly. We need to manage the thermal, air, and vapor control layers at a reasonable cost.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to be an ambassador for factual and truthful information and remain on the “Know Thy Product” warpath.

For a “Cut through the fluff, what is the real story?” analysis of any building science, value engineering, or construction/development topic, simply email me at

And for a common sense approach to investing safely in real estate, download and peruse our eBook below.

Until next time,

Dr. Lee Newton


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More From the Spray Foam High Horse!


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