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New insulation product in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2002

Juneau residents have a new option for insulating new or renovated buildings.

Alaska Renovators Inc., a commercial and residential remodeling company owned by Alan Wilson and Chris Stahl, launched Alaska Insulators in November.

The new company will sell and install spray-foam insulation supplied by Corbond Inc., a company based in Bozeman, Mont. The water-based urethane foam is a plastic that when sprayed into walls solidifies within 30 seconds, Wilson said.

The product is healthier and more efficient than traditional fiberglass insulation, Wilson said, because it does not allow for air transfer between walls.

"If you think of conventional fiberglass insulation, it's really a big filter. ... It can get moldy and dirty," Wilson said. "That's because you have air movement going through your wall system. But foam is airtight."

Wilson and Stahl decided to offer foam installation after remodeling many commercial and residential buildings in Juneau and finding flaws in the traditional fiberglass insulation system.

"Our primary market is renovation work - remodels, repairs," Wilson said. "In a lot of these older homes there were 2x4 walls and they were leaking heat."

Solving the problem - which involved installing new fiberglass insulation, vapor barriers to prevent moisture transfer between walls, and wallboard siding - became too costly for Wilson to make a profit. He decided to look for an alternative to fiberglass insulation.

"I had some experience with spray foam and we decided that this is what we need to do," said Wilson.

Alaska Renovators bought spray-foam insulation equipment from Specialty Products Inc. in Anchorage, and began installing the insulation in Juneau buildings in June.

Wilson and Stahl formed Alaska Insulators in November as a separate business. Two new employees will install the spray foam.

About a dozen Juneau buildings have been outfitted with the foam since Alaska Renovators began offering the service. Alaska Insulators will install some foam insulation in the Juneau-Douglas High School renovation, Wilson said.

Spray-foam insulation costs less than fiberglass insulation and never has to be replaced, Wilson said.

A U.S. Department of Energy consumer document says spray-foam insulation has a higher heat-retention value than most other insulating materials of the same thickness.

The document also said that if properly installed, foam insulation may control air transfer between walls more effectively than other insulation.

Too little air transfer between walls, though, may be a problem in itself.

In a booklet entitled "The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels, causing health problems for some people.

With less outside air circulating in foam-spray-insulated homes, controlling indoor pollutants that can build up from coal, oil, gas, kerosene, tobacco products and cleaning supplies is an important concern.

Marquam George, a professor at the University of Alaska Southeast who heads the construction technology program there, said poor ventilation can occur in buildings with any type of insulation. More important than the material used to insulate is the ability of the company to install the insulation properly.

"You can take the best of materials and screw it all up," George said. Spray-foam insulation has become easier to install in recent years, he said. He owned a spray-foam insulation business here in the early 1990s, but said his company was ahead of the market.

"The equipment wasn't quite as advanced as it is these days," he said. "The market has really taken off."

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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