Bobby Cotten, president and CEO of EcoFoam/Insulutions in Colorado Springs, knows there is nothing sexy about insulation.
For years Cotten and his business partner Tripper Gott have installed insulation in businesses and homes in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. And, for years they had one of the least exciting booths at trade shows.
“You see the plumbing manufacturer with all the fancy faucets and fixtures,” Cotten said. “But, there has never been a wow factor about my industry.”
Until now, he said. Polyurethane spray foam insulation — a product that has been around for more than 40 years — is suddenly in demand for residential construction and putting some ‘wow’ into the $4 billion industry.
The soft white stuff gets sprayed into place and sets into a firm but squishy foam that seals every nook and cranny in the walls and ceilings of a home or business. The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance says foam has one of the highest R-values of any U.S. insulation product. R-value is the standard of measure of determining energy efficiency.
“Foam is still a very small percent of sales, but its growth rate is fastest in the industry of all materials, said Daniel Austin, president of Insulation Contractors Association of America.
Cotten and Tripp have been singing the praises of foam insulation for years. The two previously worked for a national insulation firm that was reluctant to make the switch to foam, they said. Foam is more expensive, it requires more training to install and the capital expenses are not cheap — a foam rig for example runs about $156,000.
In June 2010, Cotten and Gott broke out on their own and opened EcoFoam/Insulutions with four trucks and 8 employees, installing a variety of insulation but specializing in foam for commercial and residential use. In one year, the company has tripled in size — EcoFoam now has 17 trucks and more than 30 employees. And, the company expects to move into a 10,000-square-foot building on Areoplaza Drive in 2012.
“I’ve been telling people in the industry for a decade, if you don’t evolve and get into foam, you will be an insulation business that goes under,” Cotten said.
Cotten got into the insulation business with his parents back in the 1970s in Florida when there were no regulations on insulation. Fiberglass batts were installed with almost no thought, he said. But, in 1979, Florida laid down some guidelines on insulation and became the second state to mandate insulation in new construction. Since then, all states have guidelines and regulations on insulation, which has helped the industry grow.
Until recently, foam insulation had been almost exclusively installed in commercial buildings because of its cost. For example, traditional fiberglass insulation typically makes up about 1 to 1.5 percent of total construction costs. Foam runs about 2 to 2.5 percent of total construction costs.
But, in recent years, there has been more interest by homebuyers and homeowners in energy efficient homes. Foam is billed as a product that can slash heating bills by more than 40 percent. The money saved on energy bills can make up the cost of installation within five years, Gott said.
It seems the numbers are adding up for local homebuilders and homebuyers. Last summer, foam represented less than 5 percent of sales at EcoFoam; today it’s more than 40 percent of sales, Cotten said. And, about half the company’s foam sales are in residential construction.
“It’s starting to make more sense from a financial perspective — the rate of return has been reduced so that makes it more attractive,” Gott said.
Other customers are seeking foam insulation because it seals the house, keeping out dust, moisture and outdoor allergens. Controlling air quality in the home is especially attractive to people with allergies or asthma, Gott said.
“In the last five to eight years, because foam is getting more popular and more people are using it, it’s driven a lot more research and development to make it even more eco friendly,” Gott said. “It’s gotten to the point where every traditional manufacturer is doing their own foams.”
EcoFoam/Insulutions is selling spray foam insulation to custom homebuilders and retrofitting existing homes with a combination of fiberglass and foam in the attic or ceiling. Cotten predicts foam will be the construction industry standard within 10 years, especially if consumers demand it.
“When we get a phone call . . . that says ‘our utilities dropped in half,’ we feel good,” Cotten said. “Now, we have a wow factor in the industry that we’ve never had.”