Sculpting the Future: How Spray Foam Insulation Enables Unique Architectural Designs


Written by Maxime Duzyk, Director of Building Science and Engineering at Huntsman Building Solution

The world of architecture, akin to art, remains in perpetual evolution, shaped not only by the visionary minds of its frontrunners but also by the materials at their disposal. Over the decades, as architectural endeavours grew bolder and more intricate, the demand for innovative materials escalated. Enter, spray foam insulation – a seemingly mundane material with transformative capabilities. Beyond its well-acclaimed insulative properties, it has emerged as an unsung hero, granting architects the flexibility to mould their futuristic visions into tangible structures. This article delves into the fascinating intersection of architectural prowess and the versatile properties of spray foam insulation.

The rise of spray foam in architecture

Historically, architecture’s primary concerns were stability and functionality. Over time, with advancements in technology and materials, aesthetic vision began taking a more dominant position in design conversations. Spray foam insulation, introduced in the 1960s primarily for thermal insulation, has steadily evolved beyond its original mandate. Its initial appeal lay in its superior R-value – a measure of thermal resistance – compared to traditional insulation materials. But architects and builders soon began to realize its broader potential.

By the late 20th century, spray foam’s unique properties, such as its ability to expand and fill irregular spaces, its lightweight nature, and its air barrier properties, started revolutionizing not only the insulation industry but architectural designs as well. Traditional insulation materials often posed limitations when accommodating unusual architectural designs. In contrast, spray foam presented an adaptable solution, enabling architects to explore designs that were previously unfeasible.

Buildings with curved walls, intricate geometries, or unconventional spaces found an ally in spray foam. Its ability to be sprayed into cavities, corners, and curves allowed for a seamless insulation solution, regardless of the design complexity. Not only did this mean enhanced energy efficiency for these structures, but it also signified fewer design compromises.

Moreover, the urban push for space optimization meant that architects were looking for ways to minimize wall thickness while maximizing insulating capabilities. Spray foam insulation became the go-to solution in such scenarios, as it provided a thin, yet highly effective, barrier against thermal transfer and air infiltration.

In the present day, with sustainable architecture taking center stage, the attributes of spray foam continue to align with shifting paradigms, further solidifying its place in the annals of architectural history.

Flexibility and adaptability – the twin pillars

In the domain of architectural design, flexibility and adaptability are paramount. Modern structures are no longer just about providing shelter; they’re about making statements, pushing boundaries, and crafting experiences. Two core attributes of spray foam insulation – flexibility and adaptability – have integrated it as an essential element in realizing these avant-garde design objectives.

Flexibility in form and function

Spray foam, by its very nature, is fluid at the point of application. This enables it to seamlessly adapt to any shape, nook, or cranny it encounters. Unlike rigid, pre-shaped insulating materials, spray foam doesn’t impose constraints. This flexibility empowers architects to explore designs featuring non-traditional geometric forms, with the assurance that insulation won’t hinder their vision. From undulating facades to domed ceilings, the fluidity of spray foam has bridged the gap between the architect’s vision and the functional necessity of insulation.

A good example of this is the Quartier Sud apartment complex in Quebec City. The Quartier Sud apartment complex in Quebec City features several unique building design elements that contribute to its distinctive appeal and functionality. When it comes to modern architecture, Quartier Sud boasts a contemporary architectural style that seamlessly integrates with the urban landscape of Quebec City. Spray foam contributed to some of its sleek lines and geometric shapes, and use of high-quality materials helped create a visually stunning facade. Sustainability is a significant focus in modern building design. The apartment complex incorporates eco-friendly features such as energy-efficient lighting, spray foam insulation, and heating systems. The use of sustainable materials and green spaces within the complex adds to its eco-conscious appeal. Some spray foams provide up to 50 per cent in energy savings and are developed and created using renewable and recycled materials. Tons of plastic waste are diverted from landfills and used in the development of some spray foam products.

Adaptability across environments

One of the standout features of spray foam is its adaptability. Whether it’s a desert home requiring robust insulation against searing heat or a coastal residence needing resistance to moisture and salt-laden air, spray foam rises to meet the challenge. It’s not just adaptable in terms of climatic conditions; its application is versatile across a range of construction types. Whether it’s timber, steel, or concrete, spray foam adheres with equal effectiveness, ensuring consistent insulation performance. This adaptability has expanded architects’ horizons, enabling them to choose from a diverse range of construction materials without concerns about insulation.

Additionally, the evolving formulations of spray foam have allowed it to meet specialized requirements. For example, specific blends offer enhanced fire resistance or improved soundproofing, further enriching the material’s versatility.

The combination of flexibility and adaptability has positioned spray foam insulation as more than a mere material choice – it’s a catalyst for design. By breaking free from the constraints of traditional insulating materials, spray foam has granted architects the liberty to sculpt spaces that are as functional as they are aesthetically captivating.

Challenges and solutions

Like all innovative materials, spray foam insulation isn’t without its challenges. However, acknowledging these challenges and the industry’s response to them paints a complete picture of its evolution and adaptability.

1. Health Concerns:

Challenge: Over the years, there have been concerns about the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released during the application of spray foam insulation. Inhaling these compounds could pose health risks to workers and occupants.

Solution: The industry has responded proactively by developing low-VOC formulations, improving the safety protocols during installation, and ensuring spaces are adequately ventilated post-application. Furthermore, extensive training programs for applicators have been instituted to ensure safe and efficient installations. UL Greenguard Gold is the most stringent recognized standard used to ensure indoor air quality in accordance with the California Department of Public Health Standard Method for VOC Testing. Several spray foam products are UL Greenguard Gold-certified and comply with Canadian standards for VOC testing, which ensures the products present no harm to health after their application. The products also contain no formaldehydes. There are standards in place for both the product and its application to make sure manufacturers, applicators and building owners follow a safe process. All manufacturers also need to work with third parties to train their applicators, ensuring a complete and unbiased training.

2. Environmental Impact:

Challenge: Spray foam insulation, especially closed-cell types, contains hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which, while effective as blowing agents, have high global warming potential.

Solution: Research and development are in full swing to find alternative blowing agents with lower environmental impacts. Some manufacturers have already transitioned to hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), which have a significantly reduced global warming potential compared to traditional HFCs. In Canada, the transition from HFC to HFO was regulated on the federal level. Environment and Climate Change Canada has established nationwide restrictions on the manufacture and use of HFCs starting January 1, 2021. The result is that manufacturers of spray foam and rigid insulation products needed to reformulate with new-generation, low-GWP technologies such as HFO blowing agents.

3. Cost Implications:

Challenge: Spray foam insulation, given its numerous benefits, often comes at a premium cost compared to traditional insulation materials, potentially deterring budget-conscious projects. Perception of higher cost of the product; misguided focus on first cost when a discounted cash flow analysis (life-cycle cost) is the proper way to evaluate a long-term productive asset like insulation.

Solution: When considering the lifecycle cost of a building, spray foam often proves to be more economical due to its superior insulative properties, longevity, air / vapor barrier properties and the resultant energy savings.  The capital cost of buying and installing insulation is only a small percentage of its true life-cycle costs. Energy efficiency and yearly energy savings with spray foam can provide some of the best returns on investment (ROI) available to building owners. Energy efficiency improvements with spray foam become permanent operational cost reductions for buildings and therefore are more important than the short-term gain of buying a cheaper product. A better strategy is to consider the total benefits and cost of an investment over the effective lifetime of the product. If a cheaper but less durable and energy efficient product needs replacement every 15 years, then that product’s life-cycle cost needs to reflect the added investments of replacing that product several times. On the other hand, spray foam insulation is one of the most durable insulation products on the market and has an effective lifetime of 50 years without ever needing to be repaired or replaced. So, its life-cycle cost needs to reflect that longevity. This is in addition to the energy cost savings made possible with spray foam’s seamless thermal and air barrier properties compared to cheaper products. (Source: HBS & The National Institute of Building Sciences).

The industry is also working on innovations to bring down production costs, making the material more accessible to a broader range of projects.


The journey of spray foam insulation, from its nascent stages as a mere insulative material to its present stature as a cornerstone of innovative architecture, is nothing short of remarkable. Despite enduring challenges, the industry’s dedication to progress and sustainability carries the potential for further pioneering applications in the times ahead. In this convergence of design, functionality, and environmental awareness, spray foam insulation proudly emerges, shaping not only our structures but also the path of our future.

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Sculpting the Future: How Spray Foam Insulation Enables Unique Architectural Designs

About the Author

Maxime Duzyk is the global director of building science and engineering with Huntsman Building Solutions. He holds a background in architecture and has been in the spray foam insulation business for the last 13 years. Maxime is involved with different building envelope committees and associations in North America like CSC, SFC, SPFA, CCMC and ULC Standards.

Sculpting the Future: How Spray Foam Insulation Enables Unique Architectural Designs

About Huntsman Building Solutions

The Huntsman Building Solutions business is a global leader in high-performance, sustainable building envelope solutions. Its systems and solutions are widely utilized to optimize commercial and residential structures worldwide in both new construction and retrofit applications. Formed in 2020 with the acquisition of Icynene-Lapolla and its combination with Demilec, the Huntsman Building Solutions business capitalizes on legacy industry technologies, environmental stewardship, and the power of the Huntsman brand. For more information, visit

About Huntsman

Huntsman Corporation is a publicly traded global manufacturer and marketer of differentiated and specialty chemicals with 2020 revenues of approximately $6 billion. Our chemical products number in the thousands and are sold worldwide to manufacturers serving a broad and diverse range of consumer and industrial end markets. We operate more than 70 manufacturing, R&D and operations facilities in approximately 30 countries and employ approximately 9,000 associates within our four distinct business divisions. For more information about Huntsman, please visit the company’s website at