Meadow Gold Company was going to build a freezer in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Chet, the plant manager was a good friend of the local Butler dealer. The local Butler dealer and I had become good friends. A Butler building does not lend itself very well to a freezer if you are going to insulate the freezer with expanded polystyrene. So the three of us got together and planned a freezer that would accommodate the needs of Meadow Gold yet be built of a Butler building and be properly insulated. This was in my first year of spraying polyurethane foam, and at that time I believed all the literature and knew what we were doing was going to be just right. It turned out even better. The then current R-value table showed one inch of urethane equal to 2.5 inches of expanded polystyrene. So, I suggested we spray the metal building with four inches of urethane to replace the 10 inches of expanded polystyrene normally used by Meadow Gold for freezers.
I sprayed under the slab with four inches, the walls with four inches, and the underside of the roof with five inches of urethane (the fifth inch was added as a safety margin). Chet, the plant manager, was pretty worried, because he stuck his neck out going with this non-traditional insulation and the non-traditional building for Meadow Gold Company. Well, the building progressed on schedule, but the equipment to cool the building did not arrive on time. By summer only one of the two refrigeration compressors had arrived. Two compressors were needed (per the Meadow Gold engineers) to handle needs of the building based on using 10 inches of expanded polystyrene.
Chet considered one alternative to his predicament was to turn one of the older freezers that had been used as a cooler back into a freezer. Then maybe he could make a cooler out of the new building with the just the one compressor. It was not a satisfactory arrangement, but it maybe could work. The other thing Chet kept telling us was that he would know as soon as he turned on the freezer equipment whether or not the building would work. When I pressed him, he said that normally it takes five days to bring a freezer down to 10 F below zero — needed for ice cream. When he turned on the new freezer, with only the one compressor, the temperature dropped to 18F degrees below zero by the second morning. They had their freezer. It ran the entire summer using only the single compressor.
A few weeks after start up of the freezer, I was visited by a Meadow Gold engineer from Chicago. He wanted to know exactly what we had done to insulate the freezer. One compressor should not be able to hold the temperature as it was doing. I explained to him exactly what we had done. He seemed satisfied and he left. A few weeks later he showed up again with his boss. We went to the plant and verified with an ice pick the thickness of the foam. It was indeed four inches in the walls and five inches in the ceiling. Here again they reiterated that the building should not be operating as it was. What they were telling me was that even though I had used one inch of urethane to replace 2.5 inches of expanded polystyrene, the building was still requiring only 50 percent of the normal compressor power for cooling. As you can imagine, the experience made me a lot more bold, and I used the information to sell more freezer insulation jobs.
One of our largest freezer insulation projects was a sixty thousand square foot freezer at Clearfield, Utah. I was able to talk the general contractor into letting us insulate with spray-in-place polyurethane foam the brand-new all-concrete freezer he was building. This building was the 12th in a chain of freezers. My friend Bob, the contractor, had taken it upon himself to make the switch from the ten inches of expanded polystyrene to four inches of urethane with a fifth inch on the roof. The building was built with tilt up concrete insulated on the interior side of the concrete with spray-in-place urethane. We then sprayed on a three-fourths of an inch thick layer of plaster as the thermal barrier. Over the pre-stressed concrete roof panels, we put five inches of spray-in-place urethane and then covered it with hot tar and rock. (This is an old CPR-specification). I was on the job the last day. As we finished up the owner showed up. He had expected to see ten inches of expanded polystyrene, and here was four inches of urethane. I told him he would like the four inches of urethane as it would be even better than the expanded polystyrene, based on my previous experience. He told me he was sicker than a dog because he felt like there was no way that could be true. It was too late for him to do anything about it. If he could have, he would have changed the contract instantly, but he was stuck and felt stuck. They had 12 other similar size freezers, except the others were insulated with expanded polystyrene. The normal way of operating them was to use three large compressor assemblies. Two of the compressors would be needed all summer to
keep the building cold, and the third one would be a standby unit, in case one of the other two had problems. About a year later, I received a phone call from one of the managers. He asked me if I had time to insulate another sixty thousand square foot freezer in Clearfield, Utah. I assured him we had the time, the inclination, and the excitement to do it, but I thought the owner wanted nothing to do with urethane foam insulation. The manager explained to me that not only had the Clearfield freezer operated better than any other freezer in their line, it had operated for less than half the costs of any others. They were adding another sixty thousand square feet without adding more compressors. The compressor power available to them because of the urethane insulation efficiency allowed them to do it. The building had run very nicely through the hot part of the summer with just one compressor. Now they would be able to run two buildings off of two compressors and still have a spare.
Again, this is anecdotal evidence, but let me assure you that you will get the same results if you do the same thing as we have. I have insulated too many buildings now to know that this will happen in every case. Never can you use an R-value from a fiber insulation and compare it to the R-value of a foam insulation. Nor can you use the R-value of a foam insulation if it is in sheet form and compare it to the R-value of the foam insulation if it is spray-in-place. Spray-in-place polyurethane is an absolute minimum of three to ten times as effective as any other insulation available today. During the late 1970s, the FTC went after the urethane foam suppliers for misleading advertising especially with regard to fire claims. A consent decree followed. It destroyed a tremendous amount of confidence in the use of urethane. Up to that point, Commonwealth Edison would give Gold Medallion approval for homes insulated with 1.25 inches of spray-in-place urethane in the side walls of masonry constructed homes. True, that was anecdotal evidence, but also true, it worked. Much work was done in the early 1970s using a 1.25 inches urethane as a replacement for wall insulation in a home. Not only did it replace the wall insulation, it also replaced the exterior sheathing. The buildings are stronger and better insulated when sprayed with the 1.25 inches of urethane.
Understanding the two purposes of insulation gives a standard to measure the insulations: