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Expanded polystyrene insulation board used on foundations:
This article discusses the question: which is the best foundation insulation to use below-ground. Accompanying text is reprinted/adapted/excerpted with permission from Solar Age Magazine - editor Steven Bliss.
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Underground use of Polystyrene Foam Insulating Board
The question-and-answer article about the below-grade use of expanded versus extruded polystyrene insulating foam boards, found just board, below paraphrases, quotes-from, updates, and comments an original article from Solar Age Magazine and written by Steven Bliss.
Watch out: where polystyrene foam bead insulation has been installed into brick veneer walls as an insulation improvement or retrofit, mold and mould-odors in building wall and ceiling and even floor cavities may later be traced to leaks into the cavity, especially for homes in humid climates such as areas in the U.K. and North America.
Recent news reports in the U.K. that "mould in wall cavities is caused by insulation" have not made the actual mould problem quite cleare. Insulation does not itself cause mould growth. Trapped moisture and perhaps temperature, mould growth will be encouraged in and on buildings.
If we combine leaks or moisture with improper placement of insulation, such as pumping or blowing styrofoam bead or other insulation into the air space between a brick veneer wall and the building's structural (usually wood-framed) wall, then yes, that's a recipe for trouble. Brick veneer walls are not waterproof and must be designed to permit water to drain out of the wall rather than into the wall interior.
Is Expanded or Extruded Polystyrene Foam Insulation Better to Use for Underground Foundation Insulation?
I am building an earth-sheltered home and discovered that I could save a great deal of money by insulating below grade with expanded rather than extruded polystyrene foam insulation
. Is it unwise to use the expanded polystyrene board, given its tendency to absorb moisture below grade? -- D.S., San Jose, CA
Our photo (above left) shows polystyrene foam insulating board below a concrete slab being poured in Two Harbors, MN.
Widely reported research by Dow Chemical Co. shows that their extruded polystyrene foam insulation, on average, outperforms expanded polystyrene (EPS) in below-grade insulation applications.
Due to the study's limitations, however, Dow cautions against using the findings to predict long-term performance of polystyrene foam insulation board in this application.
Interestingly, the foam board insulation testing found that the most common expanded EPS - 2-inch thick, low density (1 lb./ft3), material - held up about as well as extruded stock in both vertical and horizontal insulation board applications.
Both showed 2- to 13- percent increases in temperature conductivity after 6- and 18- month exposures.
Dow speculates that the poor performance of the high-density DPS was due to high void content and poor bead fusion. EPS manufacturers agree that good bead fusion is harder to achieve in high-density foam insulating board stock.
Here is a simple test of foam insulating board quality:
EPS should break through the beads, not around them. Because over 175 small companies make EPS foam insulating board products, quality varies considerably.
Our photograph of white polystyrene foam board insulation (below) shows broken foam boards at an indoor foam board insulation retrofit project.
Photo at left: styrofoam insulating board used indoors.
With well-drained soil, a low water table, [protection also from roof drainage spillage against the foundation wall], and a waterproof outer membrane (e.g. polyethylene), a good-quality EPS foam insulation board at least 2 inches thick should perform adequately.
To play it safe, some underground builders use EPS toward the inside and extruded insulating board facing the backfill soil around the building foundation.
Readers considering adding insulation inside or outside a basement foundation wall should also take a look
Question: What finishes are available to protect Styrofoam insulating board used for foundation insulation?
I will be insulating a foundation with Styrofoam. I understand there are masonry finishes available that can be applied directly to the foam or to an intermediate mesh, and that such a surface will hold up to weather exposure. What finishes are available to protect my foundation insulation? - Thomas F. Harter, Oakland CA
Reply: Several Ways to Protect Rigid Foam Foundation Boards
There are several ways to protect rigid foam foundation insulation boards, ranging from pressure-treated plywood to factory-applied stucco finishes.
One pre-finished foundation insulation panel is Thermboard, a 3/4-inch Styrofoam panel coated with a fiber-resin compound that has a stucco-like appearance. It costs [1980's prices] around $`.47 per square foot in the Wisconsin area where it is made. Thermboard is distributed by Georgia Pacific Corp.
Another pre-finished foundation insulation product is Styrofoam FP Panels, distributed by Dow Chemical and available at many lumber yards. The finish is a cementious coating that looks something like concrete.
For a field-applied finish to protect foundation insulation boards, you can trowel on your own stucco to the foam over expanded metal lath, or brush on a finish designed for this purpose, such as Styrofoam Foundation Brush-on Coating (also available from Dow Chemical).
It comes in a kit consisting of a dry polymer cement mixture, liquid additive, and fiberglass reinforcing tape [use at seams between foundation insulation boards].
You mix the components with water and apply directly to the foam foundation insulating board. The insulating board is scratched-up to promote good adhesion. It dries to resemble concrete. The cost of this foundation insulation board coating is around 40 cents per square foot. [1986 prices].
[Solar Age 8/86]
Here we include solar energy, solar heating, solar hot water, and related building energy efficiency improvement articles reprinted/adapted/excerpted with permission from Solar Age Magazine - editor Steven Bliss.
Solar Age Magazine was the official publication of the American Solar Energy Society. The contemporary solar energy magazine associated with the Society is Solar Today. "Established in 1954, the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is the nation's leading association of solar professionals & advocates. Our mission is to inspire an era of energy innovation and speed the transition to a sustainable energy economy. We advance education, research and policy. Leading for more than 50 years.
ASES leads national efforts to increase the use of solar energy, energy efficiency and other sustainable technologies in the U.S. We publish the award-winning SOLAR TODAY magazine, organize and present the ASES National Solar Conference and lead the ASES National Solar Tour – the largest grassroots solar event in the world."
Steve Bliss's Building Advisor at buildingadvisor.com helps homeowners & contractors plan & complete successful building & remodeling projects: buying land, site work, building design, cost estimating, materials & components, & project management through complete construction. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven Bliss served as editorial director and co-publisher of The Journal of Light Construction for 16 years and previously as building technology editor for Progressive Builder and Solar Age magazines. He worked in the building trades as a carpenter and design/build contractor for more than ten years and holds a masters degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Excerpts from his recent book, Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, Wiley (November 18, 2005) ISBN-10: 0471648361, ISBN-13: 978-0471648369, appear throughout this website, with permission and courtesy of Wiley & Sons. Best Practices Guide is available from the publisher, J. Wiley & Sons, and also at Amazon.com
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