Why We Stopped Spraying Attics With Foam Insulation

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It’s time I cleared up the confusion surrounding our decision to “get out of spray foam”. We are constantly being asked why we “don’t do foam”.

For many, many years we provided homeowners with a spray foam insulation retrofit service.

This is where we removed the old attic insulation, and sprayed the roofline and any gable walls with open-cell spray foam insulation.

My guess is, we’ve done many hundreds and hundreds (thousands?) of these projects, going all the way back to 2006 when we first got involved with foam insulation.

At first, we contracted with owner/operators who had their own rig. There were only a handful of guys in the Atlanta market with spray rigs, and the market was small.

Ultimately, we purchased our own rig, and trained a crew. We ran our rig for about 4 years, before deciding that owning and managing a spray foam rig wasn’t in the cards for us.

It was around 2020 when we completely got out of spray foam for attics. And here’s why:

My TOP Reason for getting out of spraying attics with foam insulation

We cannot control who will be annoyed by a lingering odor.

Regardless of how good we are, how excellent the foam is, how nice we talk… from time-to-time there is a person who is not happy with the odor in the home.

When you spray an attic with foam insulation, the attic is completely sealed-up. No ventilation whatsoever. So as the foam chemical cures, any odors have nowhere to go. This is why we began installing exhaust fans in every sealed attic, with no exceptions. We called our fans, Odor Mitigation Systems.

Regardless of the age of the person, lingering spray foam odors are a very real issue for that family. I remember being called back to a job because of a small child suffering from headaches – that were being blamed on the foam we sprayed in the attic.

We’ve been called back because the wife was pregnant, and now smells a foam odor, and refuses to stay in the house. (This one ultimately resulted in a lawsuit).

May I comment about Contractor’s Liability Insurance?

When we were sued, our company spent thousands of dollars trying to satisfy our client. We installed exhaust fans in the attic, and vented to the atmosphere. We sent foam core samples to a lab in Texas for testing. The samples (19 samples) were all proven to be good foam, properly cured, with no off-gassing.

We had a company install data-loggers and perform air-sampling – and the results were negative regarding anything we had done wrong. Chemicals in the air (inside the home) were inconclusive regarding if they were linked to our foam, or the kitchen cabinets, carpet, furniture, etc.

Yet, my client (the homeowner) refused to drop the lawsuit. When I turned this over to our liability insurance company, they did nothing! They said, “Bob, Bird Family Insulation hasn’t done anything wrong. We’re sending them a letter that basically says, ‘We’ll see you in court!’

So, if you are a homeowner, and you think you’re protected just because your contractor has insurance – think again. In my experience, your better play is to work with your contractor.

Even after this nightmarish experience, we continued spraying attics with foam.

We had sprayed an attic in a beautiful, custom home just before the Thanksgiving / Christmas season. And in May I get an email, that they now (suddenly) smell the foam odor in the baby’s room.

We immediately returned to the house, and installed a 2nd odor mitigation fan in that attic. We had installed the first unit when we sprayed the attic.

To our relief, the 2nd fan handled the odor issue. And I kept my fingers crossed until we’d passed our 1 year warranty period!

As the months went by I found myself literally trying to talk homeowners out of spray foam for their attics. I’d ask hard questions about respiratory issues, and if they planned to get pregnant within 12 months of our work. Talking like this scared some, and angered others – and threw me off my game.

“Bob, we’ve got two other quotes, and none of those companies have mentioned this. And my brother got foam in his attic, and he didn’t complain about odors…”

My God-given temperament is to be transparent and honest with all my dealings. So I was having internal conflicts with some of my appointments. I was simply growing uncomfortable selling spray foam attic insulation.

Reason #2, Why We Stopped Spraying Attics with Foam Insulation

Our guys (spray foam crew) just never got efficient at maintenance with our rig. Hard as they tried, we simply never got to the “expert” level for repairing breakdowns and servicing the guns.

And rigs breakdown. Those reactors, the hoses, and the guns – are complex systems with circuit boards, sensors, connections, etc. Add a huge 40 KW diesel generator and air compressor, air dryers and PPE – and you see it’s a mobile science lab that we bring to your home. And it has to work perfectly, to make perfect foam.

Breakdowns were a huge inconvenience for our clients, and expensive for our company. And very frustrating for our crew. No one wants to be spraying in an afternoon attic (130+ degrees), wearing PPE, because they had to spend 2 hours repairing a breakdown during the cooler hours of the morning.

Or worse, reschedule the job because we had to put the rig in the shop, and wait our turn for service. No one wins! And our client is definitely unhappy living in a house with no attic insulation, while waiting for us to return.

When the rig goes to a repair shop the entire calendar gets bumped – not good. Homeowners have made plans to vacate their house for 24 hours, (requirement) – and now we’re asking them to move their plans down a few days. Not good for five-star reviews! And the homeowner who’s attic we were working on, now has to add another (future) date to vacate for 24 hours – which sometimes resulted in our company being responsible for that expense.

Reason #3, Why We Stopped Spraying Attics With Foam Insulation

This is purely a business reason. We didn’t make any money with it.

I’m being totally transparent with this. Although our rates were among the highest in the Atlanta retrofit market, we simply weren’t adding profit to the bottom line.

When you add-up every expense for the rig, the crew, and the cost of material… it simply did not make any sense to continue owning and operating a spray foam rig. Not for us.

Reason # 4, Why We Stopped Spraying Attics With Foam Insulation

Scheduling jobs became a nightmare.

After selling our rig, we returned to contracting our spray foam services. Because we had really, really ramped up our marketing for spray foam, we had tons of work. Afterall, when you own a foam rig, you have to keep it busy, or it costs even more money to maintain it. Soon thereafter, about 3 or 4 months, we needed a 2nd spray foam contractor to keep up with our schedule.

Because I wasn’t the only company they worked for, (I completely understand), scheduling our jobs would become a challenge for Savannah. We’d end up with gaps in our calendar as we waited for a spray foam crew. We didn’t want to remove the old attic insulation, only to have our client uncomfortable for a few days with no attic insulation, while waiting for the foam crew to arrive.

 

The Big Decision…

Because we’re a family business, we’ve always held our company meetings around the dinner table. One such time, when all of us were together, we talked it through.

I’d asked Courtney to help me do a “deep dive” into the expenses of our rig, and job profit and loss for the last 5 years of spray foam jobs.

We compared that with documentation of our cellulose attic jobs, and it was a very clear picture for everyone in our family.

It was a unanimous decision for the Bird clan, to get out of spraying foam insulation in attics, once-and-for-all.

Any one of these 4 reasons is enough for a company to drop-out of spray foam. We held the line, and persevered as long as we felt it made any sense.

Here’s the bottom line for you: It just wasn’t a good fit for us; for our family business model.

The Exception

If you are a contractor that has a crew who is expert at maintaining the equipment, and you as a company leader are comfortable with ignoring appeals from homeowners for issues in their home that are “distantly” related to your services, you may do very well owning a spray rig.

So there you have it! Four basic reasons why we aren’t spraying foam insulation in Atlanta’s attics.

Thanks for reading!

Bob Bird

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