Phenolic Foam Insulation


Phenolic foam insulation was a short-lived innovation developed in the early 80s in response to the energy-crisis driven demand for greater insulation efficiency. As regulations required higher R-value insulation in roofs, a demand arose for material which offered both fire resistance and high R-value, while not requiring a full roofing re-build to accommodate its thickness.

This seemingly cost-effective solution turned out to have major problems which manifested in less than ten years time, resulting in one of the largest class-action settlements in the history of the roofing industry, filed in 1996.

Phenolic foam insulation is usually found in conjunction with built-up roof membranes, also known as BUR and commonly referred to as “tar and gravel” roofs, which are generally found on low-slope commercial buildings. It was manufactured in board form in thicknesses ranging from 1″ to 3 3/5″.

Installed in at least 6,000 roof systems, it was most popular in the Midwest, East Coast and Texas. Hundreds of systems were installed in Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.

Over time, the critical flaw was obvious: when the compound got wet, it broke down, creating a corrosive acid which damaged the metal deck. Damage ranged from severe surface rust to large holes. The corrosion created the potential for equipment or people to fall through compromised areas.

While roof systems containing phenolic foam roof insulation may be in good shape, it is important to repair and remediate decks as soon as possible. Once a property is identified as part of the class-action lawsuit, it becomes an issue should the owner sell the building. While the lawsuit will cover some remediation costs, the owner will be liable for expenses as well.

The remediation project is more complicated than a typical roofing project, because of structural issues as well as legal conditions demanded by the class action lawsuit. Extra training, safety measures and documentation are necessary.

Briefly,  a phenolic foam remediation project demands these steps:

  1. Removal of existing roofing materials and insulation down to the deck. Only a day’s worth of work should be undertaken, to avoid leaving the building vulnerable to the elements.
  2. Remove all corrosion from deck by wire brushing.
  3. Compare deck condition to the standard expressed in the lawsuit, determining remediation needed: painting, over laying, or removing and replacing the decking.
  4. Remediate the deck according to the determination. Critical during this phase: worker safety; interior protection; and maintaining protection from the elements.
  5. At each step, extensive documentation of the condition and work done.

At All Elements, we’re experienced in phenolic foam remediation projects. Contact us to talk about the condition of your roof and we’ll help you understand your options.