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Spray Foam & Solar: The Energy Saving Duo

Today, builders, contractors, architects, and facility owners of commercial structures are all looking for ways to enhance the performance of their facilities. Not only are many producing more sustainability in general, but they are also focusing primarily on optimizing their buildings for long-term energy conservations, resistance against storm weather events, and, ultimately, developing an adequate return on investment.

As knowledge and materials have improved and building codes are becoming increasingly stringent, many are building to achieve Zero Net Energy or ZNE. Zero Net Energy structures, including both recently constructed and retrofitted buildings, generate as much or more renewable energy onsite as they consume. Thus, a ZNE structure lowers energy costs, eliminates fossil fuel dependence, and lowers the building's emissions and environmental footprint.

Spray foam insulation has played a prominent role in many of these projects and has started to gain recognition for it. As more people find out about it, an increasing number of contractors and manufacturers have brought a ZNE structure to fruition in the spray foam industry. 

The Joint Energy Solution

The solar component of these highly optimized facilities is often the first thing mentioned about them. Solar systems are commonly associated with Zero Net Energy structures for obvious reasons. But solar systems aren't as advantageous if the facility's envelope and roof aren't sufficiently sealed to provide the best possible energy efficiency. The roof becomes ever important in this equation as low-performing roofs, or roofs that are not energy efficient, are known to be prime locations for the escape of conditioned air.

It is becoming increasingly popular to join spray foam roofing with solar power on the roof. The spray foam acts as a resilient, efficient solution, and solar acts as a renewable power generator. We know that spray foam roofing shares the energy efficiency performance and benefits of its closed cell spray foam insulation brother while also acting as an efficacious roofing material and boasting wind uplift resistance as well. Together, this dynamic duo helps to achieve zero net energy in commercial buildings. Yet even if ZNE isn't the end goal, the joint system delivers incredible benefits to the owners and users of commercial structures of many types.

Tax Incentives and Long-Term ROI

The return-on-investment of a building with combined spray foam and solar power is significant, as the systems dramatically reduce the building's reliance on traditional electricity, as well as the monthly bills associated with it. With zero net energy structures, monthly energy bills are eradicated.

There are noteworthy tax incentives to consider as well. The Solar Investment Tax Credit has been an important federal mechanism to support the growth of solar in the U.S. Energy efficiency using the two methods of solar and foam count toward the tax incentive if done at the same time. So be sure to plan accordingly and have your spray foam sprayed when you install your solar. As solar is becoming more common, tax incentives have been lowering. Hence, it's important to take advantage of this incentive to help your overall cost. 

Considerations When Using The Energy Saving Duo

When joining these two powerful systems on the roof, important factors will ensure the highest performance and lifespan. Roof systems used as platforms for PV systems must be tough and durable. Typically, SPF's compressive strength increases as density increases, therefore higher density SPF is ideal, especially when a ballasted support system for solar will also be used. 

Where possible, select spray foam and solar systems with lifespans, or service life, that align. This will help to optimize the investment in both. 

Spray foam roofing is typically covered with a silicone or acrylic-based coating for waterproofing, UV protection, and to extend its lifetime. Coating selection is therefore important. When choosing, it's important to keep in mind the roof surface under PV panels may not dry as fast as uncovered portions. Therefore, a coating that withstands pooled water and biological growth is ideal. 

The primary type of solar panel employed in conjunction with spray foam roofing is CSI (i.e., crystalline silicon). Unlike other panel styles, CSI may be laid via rack installation. This is key as installing the PV panels directly onto the spray foam roof surface is not advised because solar heat and water may accumulate between the PV and roof coating, decreasing the performance of the coating. Additionally, panels laid directly to a low-slope roof will usually fail to align optimally with the sun.

Ballasted, rack-mounted PV systems can be difficult to reroof or recoat, under and around. Elevated racks with adequate space beneath may be left in place when reroofing. A solar system that covers a diminutive portion of the roof will be easier to move during reroofing than a system that covers a more extensive share of the roof surface. Facility owners and managers should be advised of future re-roofing and maintenance procedures, as well as costs associated with roof-mounted PV systems. 

Maintenance

A spray foam system will be tested during the installation process. Coatings and granules can help protect the roof during installation and ongoing maintenance. Keep in mind the addition of the solar system on a spray foamed roof will also lead to additional foot traffic over time. Heavily trafficked areas should be protected with additional coating and granules or walk pads. 

To maintain and service both systems, each must be accessible to workers. The solar system must not block access to drains, penetrations, flashings, mechanical units, or other equipment on the roof. Solar maintenance workers must also access wiring, inspect panel-to-racking connections, and properly clean top surfaces without stepping on panels. 

While there are definite technical considerations to the combination of spray foam roofing and solar power on the roof, the benefits to the facility owner and end-user are quite significant. The increasing number of applications of this dynamic energy duo on commercial facilities is proof that builders, architects, and contractors have caught on. If you want to learn more about becoming a spray foam applicator, click here to send your info.