I have one of those changes for 2021 and it has to do with XPS (Extruded Polystyrene) Rigid Insulation. This is one of those changes that could be very disruptive in the market. Here is the change — the government is mandating that XPS blowing (hydrofluorocarbon HFC-134a) agent be changed to something that is a little safer. The XPS industry has known this has been coming for a long time and has done many things to try and slow it down. They have been successful at getting several reprieves.
Why is there such push back from the XPS Rigid Insulation Industry? Isn’t reducing “harmful” chemicals into the atmosphere and reducing global warming a good thing to help with climate change? It is unless it changes the effectiveness or stability of your product. That is why the XPS industry is fighting so hard. Whether they will admit it or not, this EPA rule change for blowing agents will result in dramatically lowering the XPS product effectiveness.
As mentioned it takes time to sort out all these changes. We do know that the alternative blowing agents will reduce the R-value of the product to be more in line with EPS (Expanded Polystyrene). XPS has always claimed that its R-value is 5R/inch. Some reports have the new XPS coming in at 4.3R - 4.5R per inch. It will be interesting to see if the XPS Industry will be truthful about the R-value change. They have billions of dollars at stake.
The other element is the stability of the product. Will it shrink more? Will it collapse? What happens long-term below grade? Will water affect it differently? What about flammability? Some elements will be seen right away, others may take years to sort out. No wonder the XPS Industry is pushing back so hard. It is a scary time for them. I have even heard rumors of a manufacturer stock piling old formula product to buy more time to figure things out.
With all these changes, what should you do? Not knowing what you are going to get for XPS it is probably wise to use the “Safe Insulation” - Engineered EPS. Yes, it has a lower r-value per inch (4.35R/inch Type IX) than old XPS but you know exactly what you are getting. You know that Engineered EPS Rigid Insulation is safe and stable. (Learn more about Engineered EPS Insulation) For some, the change may mean shifting over to EPS but that maybe a very good change for your business.
The most widely used green building certification program, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), recognizes buildings that contain products with favorable environmental impacts as determined through EPDs. Recognition as a preferred product requires that the product demonstrate an environmental impact less than the industry average in at least three of the following categories: global warming, ozone depletion, acidification, eutrophication, smog formation and total energy. For polystyrene foam insulation, EPS is less than the industry average in four of the categories, thus meeting the optimization requirement. From a LEED perspective, EPS is a preferred product in the polystyrene foam insulation category.
(Full Technical Brief)
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Bidding a project and Wondering why XPS 250 (R-10)
is specified for foundation insulation?
XPS (Extruded Polystyrene) and EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) are both closed cell rigid insulation that have the same compressive strength abilities. Many Specifiers and Contractors do not really understand the difference. You should! There is a BIG cost difference.
Many Specifiers and Contractors believe that XPS insulation provides a consistent R-value of R-5/inch in foundation insulation. Not even close. Two reasons: One, XPS uses a blowing agent that provides additional R-value that escapes and over time lowers the R-value. In fact, the federal government has now stepped in and mandated XPS rate their product using the R-value method of LTTR (Long-Term Thermal Resistance) as of October 2019 (see Full Disclosure Article). According to new research by the EPS-IA, XPS insulation’s 50 year age adjusted (LTTR-50) R-value is estimated to be 4.3 R-/inch. Two, research has shown that XPS placed below grade loses 48% of its R-value. This is due to the cell structure and manufacturing process of XPS. The study concluded that once XPS takes on water it has a hard time breathing it out.
Insist on Plymouth Foam Engineered EPS
The technological advancement for Engineered EPS is truly amazing and the new research is showing why you should insist on using Engineered EPS Foundation Insulation on your project. EPS’s R-value stays consistent over the life of the product and we guarantee it! EPS Type IX (250) has a R-Value of 4.35/inch. EPS is a greener product as it does not off-gas a harmful blowing agent and it is 100% recyclable. Want to save money on a project? Ask your specifier to value engineer and use Plymouth Foam Engineered EPS. The saving will surprise you.
Need more help convincing the specifier that Plymouth Foam's Engineered EPS is the best product? Ask us for our substitution package.
Ever since I saw my first bullt-up roof blister caused by off-gassing of Polyisocyanurate Insulation (1988), I have been analyzing and studying R-values in insulation. My major concern and conclusion was that R-value was not being stated correctly. This made predictive energy modeling and utility cost estimating not very reliable, not to mention over paying for overstated R-values. I believed that full disclosure through a method like LTTR (Long-Term Thermal Performance) would help with give a more accurate accounting. (LTTR - Read Article)
This October 2019, the US Federal Trade Commission will finally close a loophole in regard to Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) and their avoidance to “fully reflect the effect of aging” on their product. “The final rule, though not mandating a prescriptive LTTR method, requires that manufacturers publish R-values” that are more accurate.
The EPS Industry Alliance in a recently published paper, (Polystyrene Foam Insulation in Long-Term Building Applications, Effective R-Values) provided a method to estimate effective R-value for polystyrene insulation. This has started to address my two biggest issues with Effective R-values - 1) “Long-Term” and 2) testing temperature of 75ºF.
Long-term testing statements in insulation should not be 5-15 years (we don’t build building to last 5 years) but rather 50 years. So what is the average R-value over 50 years in a building? Fifty year testing is more reflective of homes and buildings insulation life cycles. Even though the Federal Trade Commission is mandating LTTR for XPS, they are still leaving a loophole by allowing “open” LTTR test methods and not requiring a 50 year prescriptive method. It will be interesting to see what the XPS industry comes up with for R-value. Will it be 4.3r/inch like the testing showed from the EPS Industry Alliance?
The issue of “Testing Temperature” has bothered me for years. Why test at 75ºF? Who needs R-value at 75º? In the Northern States, where heating is a concern, it is more realistic to look at R-value testing temperature at 40º, if not 25º in some states. The opposite is true in the South during summer where 90º may be a more reflective testing temperatures. Knowing the R-value performances of insulation, at various temperatures, is critical for designers to make important R-value decisions. They would have the ability, based on their climate, to select the most appropriate insulation. However, the current testing temperature approach of 75º is really a “one shoe fits all” approach and is not very helpful and leads to poor energy conservation decisions.
It has taken over 30 years to see a more accurate accounting of what the R-values of rigid insulation really is and I applaud the FTC for one more step forward. Just 2 more to go - 50 year LTTR and Variable Temperature Testing Disclosure. Accomplish that and we can finally focus on a really important issue — moisture in insulation and its effects.
John Calkins - JC Edison and Associates
A few weeks ago, I noticed an item in a foundation specification that I have been glancing over without any real thought. “Rigid, cellular thermal insulation with closed-cells and integral high density skin, complying with ASTM C 578.” What caught my eyes was integral high density skin. Are they trying to call out a specific for Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) Insulation because standard Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) would not naturally have a skin without adding it?
This triggered a technical conversation about skins on Rigid Insulation.
Does rigid insulation need a skin? What are the advantages or disadvantages of having a skin?
It is always helpful to go back and review the main function of insulation. Insulation’s main purpose is to insulate and provide R-value. Knowing the main purpose of insulation, do insulation skins provide more R-value? Skins can add R-value and skins can reduce R-value. A foil faced insulation could add R-value when it is used in the right circumstances such as a gap behind a masonry wall. Some skins like a clear poly laminated has no effect on R-value. Does an integral high density skin in XPS offer additional R-value? No, in fact according to newer research, it may have the opposite effect. How can this be? Why specified it as something important?
During a manufacturing process, XPS creates a type of skin during the extruding process and some call this an integral high density skin. This skin is maintained on the face and back of the board but the sides and the ends are trimmed during the manufacturing process. Many believe that trimming the sides actually expose and opens the board to moisture infiltration at a higher rate. The face and back have this skin but the ends and sides are open. Interesting, when you consider below grade insulation and how water moves down the foundation wall, water hits the top part of the insulation and water wants to enter in, however the top end does not have the integral high density skin. We know by testing, when XPS insulation is installed below grade, it takes in moisture and its R-value is reduced by 48%, from 5 R/inch to 2.6 R/inch. Some believe this phenomena is caused by water entering in easier at the edges and partially trap in by integral high density skin. So specifying this integral high density skin as a benefit, ultimately points out another reason not to use XPS below grade. Why pay a huge premium for XPS Insulation and get 1/2 of its R-value performance?
What about skins on EPS? Standard EPS does not naturally have a skin, however another advantage of EPS Insulation is that skins can be added. Many different types of skins with different properties can be added. A few examples of skins are ones that can be reflective, skins that allow permeability, skins that are vapor retarders and even skins that can provide high strength. In foundation insulation, where EPS is more effective, a permeable skin could be added to give even more strength. This skin could be even more effective against rough backfilling and fastener pull. This type of product would function great allowing any moisture that enters into to the insulation board to flow freely out and not trap the moisture in.
In this case, the specifier thought that XPS insulation with an integral high density skin would be a better product for below grade application. Unfortunately, it's not. With research showing that XPS insulation can loss 48% of it’s R-value below grade, Engineered EPS Insulation is a much better, safer choice.
Many myths about rigid insulation have been spread over the years, especially concerning EPS. Some of these EPS myths refer back to an extinct product called bead board. Modern day Engineered EPS is so different and technologically advanced, it’s amazing some still get confused. EPS have made major advancements in chemistry, fusion, expansion, steam quality and TQM. Plymouth Foam, the leader in foam, has state-of-the-art proprietary manufacturing technology to make the product even better.
Lab and field research have lead to new conclusions about the two rigid insulations especially in below grade applications. EPS rigid insulation is certainly been found to be superior to XPS in so many ways. The following is just 12 reasons why.
1) Higher R-Value Retention:
EPS does not suffer from the same plight as XPS in regards to “Off Gassing.” XPS has blowing agents that initially give it a higher R-value, but these gasses escape over time, lowering the R-value.
Engineered EPS can be made in various densities and can achieve compressive strength up to 8,640 lbs/ft and flexural strength up to 10,800 lbs/ft. It is amazing that such a light product, that is 98% air, is so strong.
3) Moisture Management
EPS insulation is non-hygroscopic and does not readily absorb moisture from the atmosphere. Its closed-cell structure reduces the absorption of moisture into the insulation material yet it can readily expel any absorbed moisture.
4) 100% R-Value Warranty
Due to the R-value stability of EPS, Plymouth Foam offers a lifetime limited 100% R-Value Warranty. XPS offers a 90% R-value warranty.
5) No Harmful Chemicals
EPS does not have VOCs or other harmful chemicals in its product. XPS use of chemical HFCs has been deemed to have a high GWP.
6) Cost Advantage
R-value cost per inch is far less in EPS insulation vs XPS Insulation. Value engineering can be used to save $1,000s on projects.
7) Superior Bonding
Due to the manufacturing process, EPS and XPS provide a far different exterior surface. EPS cell structure provides superior bonding.
8) Made in USA - Made in Wisconsin
Plymouth Foam’s EPS is made in Wisconsin and brings jobs, reduces taxes and helps create a better economy for our state. Made in USA.
Engineered EPS is superior in customizing thickness, lengths, shapes, tapers, chases and can even have reflective laminates attached.
10) Smoke Development
ASTM E84 test method for burning characteristic show that typically EPS has a lower smoke development than XPS.
11) Lower GWP
EPS, the safe insulation, has a lower Global Warming Potential than XPS. Transportation costs are usually lower also lowering GWP.
12) Recycle Accessibility
With over 200 EPS recycling centers in the United States it is easy to see that not only is it 100% recyclable, but it easy to do.
(Learn More about these 12 reasons)
As EPS continues to grow even more popular and gain market share, competitors have continued to spread these old myths. The bad news for them is these myths have been BUSTED. Numerous studies done around the world are proving that EPS is not only “the safe insulation” but that it holds its R-value better, is extremely durable, great in freeze-thaw cycling, has great drying potential and outperforms all other rigid foam insulations.
(Get the 12 Reasons Brochure)
You’re bidding on a project and EIFS (Exterior Insulated and Finish Systems) is specified in the building package. Who do you rely on that it specified, bid and installed correctly? Where does the buck stop?
EIFS has make huge advancements in technology, systems and installation details. The biggest advancement for our northern climates has been drainage or moisture management. Advanced design EIFS systems use a drainage cavity to move unwanted moisture out. This concept is monumental and removes many of the old design flaws with EIFS.
Here is where knowledge can lower your risk and pay off for you. Insist that your EIFS system only uses EPS insulation. Why?
Good building practices and todays advanced EIFS systems' goals are to discharge any stray moisture as quickly as possible. What about when that moisture finds its way into the insulation? Good Question! We know from studies that XPS (Extruded Polystyrene) insulation has a difficult time discharging moisture. Moisture in EIFS systems can cause serious system failures such as cracking, blistering, peeling paint, structural rotting and even mold. EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) insulation, on the other hand, has the ability to breath and release off moisture much quicker. In test situation, EPS also has the ability to hold most of its R-value, where XPS losses 48%.
EPS Moisture management is a great reason to insist on EPS insulation in your EIFS system but here are a few more:
- EPS can be made into a variety of shapes
- EPS can be made in various thicknesses
- EPS can be made in various densities
- EPS offers a consistent R-value
- EPS is the Safe Insulation - no harmful HFCs
- EPS is 100% Recyclable
- EPS is a Better Value and Lower Cost
This is one of those cases where a less expensive product is much better and can lower your risk.
Learn more about EIFS
The biggest concern of condensation and its effects can be quit worrying for building owners and construction professionals. Water that forms in a system can cause damage such as:
✓ Corrosion of metal panels and components which can structural weaken the system
✓ Degraded and wet insulation reducing thermal performance
✓ Mold and/or mildew growth that can increase health risks
✓ Insect infestation which can contaminate systems
Condensation tends to occur in noticeable quantities and cause problems at surfaces where there is a sudden change of permeance, which causes an increase in local relative humidity sufficient to create dew point conditions. Condensation in metal roofs can be caused by air leaks around units, holes in vapor barriers/retarders, gaps in insulation just to name a few and no system is bullet proof. “Moisture moves by several mechanisms, including bulk drainage, diffusion (absorption), surface diffusion (absorption), capillarity, osmosis and convection.”
Condensation can occurs on a hygroscopic surface, such as wooden sheathing or insulation, then moisture is absorbed, lowering the vapor pressure and increasing the vapor pressure gradient, driving more moisture toward that surface.
Picking an insulation that is resistant to moisture and help stop condensation is important, but no insulation is 100% waterproof. When Polyisocyanurate (Polyiso/ISO) or Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) gets wet, they dramatically loss their thermal effectiveness. Engineered Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) has the ability to resist moisture but when it get wet has the ability to expel moisture. Most metal roofing systems are not waterproof but rather watersheds. Therefore, air can travel and flow through the upper metal roof system allowing drying to occur. Learn More Here is the Secret: EPS is the BEST Insulation Solution for Metal Roofs because it can expel moisture caused by condensation. EPS's R-value will stay stable and be an overall better value.
View our Metal Roofing Products
Foundation insulation may be easy to overlook as many building professionals may be going under to old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The serious reality is that in cold weather climates any structure that has a foundation that touch soil such as basements or frost walls needs to viewed differently in regards to moisture management.
Foundation insulation can be used for a variety of reason but the most important is R-Value. This is where it gets interesting - what does Moisture Management have to do with R-Value? Its all about building performance in real world applications.
We can explore permeability and the Laws of Thermodynamics and go very technical but for now most people know that when insulation gets wet, the R-Value of the insulation is reduced. This lowering of R-Value is a performance issue.
A new way to view and understand foundation insulation comes from a moisture study. This study looked at the two most commonly used insulation for below grade - XPS (Extruded Polystyrene - pink or blue) and EPS (Expanded Polystyrene - white). Three relevant items of note come from that study. First, XPS lost about 1/2 of its R-Value below grade and EPS held almost all of its R-Value. Second, it was found and further studied that EPS takes on a little more moisture than XPS but EPS insulation has the ability to dispel it. Third, for some anomaly in physics, that we don’t quite understand, EPS even with moisture, tends to hold its R-value. (Learn More from the research)
So now that we know what happens to insulation below grade how does that all tie back into Moisture Management? If you are not going to 100% envelope or water proof your below grade insulation or below grade wall system, EPS insulation should be used 100% of the time. Remember, the goal of Moisture Management - keeping a building lasting longer and performing properly - Its all about performance. If you want your below grade insulation performing properly and its going to be left “unenveloped," the best Moisture Management choice is EPS.
GROWING PRODUCT SEGMENT: EPS
The article, “North America Building Thermal Insulation Market Worth $10.75 Billion By 2025” by Grand View Research states that there will be a growing insulation demand in residential and commercial applications due to the increasing energy costs driving the demand. In 2015, the North America building thermal insulation market was valued at $7.09 billion creating an increase of $3.66 billion over the next nine years.
How can the rising demand for thermal insulation reduce energy costs?
In the sense every building product associated with residential or commercial applications help reduce energy cost; thermal insulation materials assist in reducing heat buildup within the buildings, cutting down on the dependence on air conditioning.
EPS has been a popular product in Europe and now has good attention in North America; expecting to be the fastest growing product segment because of the excellent thermal insulation properties and longer life span. EPS accounted for 23.5% of share by volume in 2015 and expected to increase 1.5% by 2025 (shown in the image below).
Product market share, by revenue (USD Million), 2015 (USD Million)
Having new construction and implementation of energy efficiency codes are likely to result in high industry rivalry perceiving slow but stable growth in the industry.
Breaking away from the norm and thinking out side the box is what Lumber Sales & Products, Jackson, Wisconsin strived to accomplish. Using a wood stove and in-floor heating is beyond normal construction and took special design and engineering.
Instead of using the traditional pink or blue XPS insulation, Engineered EPS was used as the insulation beneath the concrete to dramatically help save energy. Not only does the EPS work better, but the cost savings was almost 30%. The cost savings for just the insulation was over $15,000. In addition, the saving on the supply lines, using EPS, was $7 per linear foot.
Often these types of projects are specified using XPS insulation because of the myth that EPS is not as good or somehow the hot water running through the pex will melt the insulation. The reality is EPS is a far better product in this application and the cost saving is just an additional benefit. Once the merits of Plymouth Foam Engineered EPS systems are reviewed, the substitution is usually welcome and accepted. Read the entire Job Profile
In high school, I remember watching the track team race around the track. One runner Peter, a farm kid, was fascinating to watch as he always grabbed the early lead. Peter always looked so fast but in the end he would typically finish in 3rd or 4th place. In that moment, early in the race, Peter looked like a world class athlete that would easily win gold at the Olympics. In those early moments, that frozen time, the measure of performance was perfect.
Thirty-six years later and I see the same thing happening in the rigid insulation market. Its like watching Polyiso, and XPS insulation running just like Peter, getting off to a tremendous lead regarding R-value, but then fading out at the end. That perfect moment in time is when that R-value gets measured and they look like superheroes but in reality they just “blowhards.” Pardon the pun as the blowing agent escapes and lowers the r-value. (LEARN WHY)
When it comes to below grade or roofing insulation, Polyiso and XPS start out with really good R-value numbers but they don’t last (LEARN MORE). Unfortunately, you pay for these early performance numbers, sometimes as much as 50% more. Paying for performance isn’t bad but not knowing that the product will fade out is a different matter.
The old idiom, “slow and steady wins the race” really holds true in insulation. EPS might start out slow (or lower r-value) but is consistent through its life and ultimately wins the race. Not only does EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) have a steady consistent R-Value but when compared with XPS and Polyiso, it also performs better in the field. XPS and Polyiso, when wet, hold the moisture and loss much of its r-value. EPS has the ability to hold its r-value and even expel moisture under exsiccate conditions.
Next time, when you’re looking to specify or install insulation on a project, remember that Polyiso and XPS look great at the beginning but EPS is the steady performer and the best value in rigid insulation. Your customer deserves the winner - EPS.