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The History of Spray Foam Insulation

To most homeowners, spray foam insulation is a relatively new invention. Even newer is the availability of DIY spray foam insulation kits. Spray foam insulation as we know it today first emerged in the 1980s, though the technology was beginning to be developed as early as the 1940s by a chemist named Otto Bayer.

Otto Bayer was an industrial chemist. He began working with polyurethane – the main component of spray foam insulation – in Germany. The technology crossed the ocean and came to the U.S. thanks to David Eynon, the president of Mobay. Eynon was involved in the war effort and is noted for partnering 2 of the biggest chemical companies of the time, Bayer and Monsanto. Otto Bayer worked for the Bayer Corporation, but was not related to the family.

Polyurethane was originally used for military and aviation purposes. The war machines of World War II demanded high-grade plastic polymers and polyurethane was a prime candidate. In the 1950s, polyurethane found its way into home insulation applications. With the invention of the Blendometer, expanding foam was made a possibility. The Blendometer was the first machine known to be able to mix the components of spray foam insulation in a safe and reliable manner. The machine was created by Walter Baughman in 1953.

The Blendometer worked by strategically mixing chemicals together to create a type of expanding foam. The foam was liquid when applied, but quickly thickened and hardened. The process at this point was still partially manual. Human assistants were needed to tilt the trays of chemicals in order to mix the foam. The Blendometer made it possible to use the blended chemicals in home applications, though it had a ways to go to become the instrument modern homeowners use.

In the years following the creation of the Blendometer, polyurethane found its way into the auto industry. The lightweight and durable material was the perfect component to strengthen and insulate car parts. It wasn’t until 2 decades later that the foam would truly be appreciated for residential uses.

In 1963, Fred Gusmer took it upon himself to add to the technology of the Blendometer. The inventor was one of the first people to tackle the issue of the partially manual operation. Technical advances made spray foam insulation an easier to use and more affordable product, which made it a viable candidate for home use.

In the 1970s, consumers also faced an energy crisis. This made the idea of a super insulated home popular amongst builders and homeowners. New ways to improve energy efficiency emerged in response tot he crisis. During this time, new technology was being rapidly developed, laying the foundation for the modern spray foam applicator. The invention of an advanced spray nozzle changed the way spray foam insulation was viewed.

The advanced nozzle allowed for the foam mixture to be mixed just before application. The nozzle has 2 separate hoses connecting to it, so components are never prematurely mixed and the canisters holding them are never contaminated. The chemicals are mixed just seconds before being sprayed.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, spray foam insulation became the subject of much controversy. Many companies developed marketing schemes and promoted various gimmicks to draw in consumers. Savvy shoppers debated the r-value of spray foam, touting closed cell varieties as far superior due to its insulating power.

Since spray foam insulation has become more mainstream, it has found its way into the list of building requirements for homes in hurricane and earthquake zones. Spray foam can actually improve the stability of a structure, allowing it to withstand greater external forces. Today, many homeowners choose affordable and durable spray foam insulation and the trend shows no sign of slowing.