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If You Build it, They Will Come

The Full-Scale Ark Encounter Benefits from Spray Foam Insulation

By Ryan Spencer

While most spray foam contractors spend their days installing SPF on rooftops or between studs, it’s not uncommon to land a unique project every now and then–something that’s a bit of a curveball. In fact, numerous contractors focus on specialty applications, like monolithic domes. However, it’s not very often that you wind up in the midst of a larger-than-life project that serves a higher calling.

In northern Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati, an Ark is being built–not in preparation for a modern Great Flood, mind you, but as an attraction for over a million visitors per year, according to estimates. Under construction since December 2014, The Ark Encounter stands to give visitors a life-size experience detailing the Biblical story of Noah. Owned by Answers in Genesis, which also owns the nearby Creation Museum, the so-called “muse-ment” park’s primary attraction is a 1:1-scale recreation of Noah’s Ark.

The Ark will be 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 54 feet high when completed, sitting on 102 15-foot columns. The main facility will comprise the Ark and three seven-story towers that connect to the Ark at each end and in the center. The structure is a hybrid of new and old, incorporating green, energy-efficient building techniques while maintaining its true-to-story ambition by being built out of wood. It is slated to be the largest timber-frame structure in North America, per the Ark Encounter website. Among the energy-efficient elements of the structure, the project is notable for its extensive use of closed-cell spray foam insulation, which was distributed by Jameson Company.

The Application Process: Foam was sprayed section by section, often requiring spray days to be scheduled on weekends

The Application Process: Foam was sprayed section by section, often requiring spray days to be scheduled on weekends

“They’re going to integrate it with solar, geothermal, and wind technologies,” said Jameson’s Joe Betchek. “Obviously, the spray foam adds to the efficiency of the structure.”

Jameson Company’s involvement in the project was entirely coincidental, relying on a chance encounter between Betchek and an employee of Troyer Group, which designed the Ark Encounter facility and is managing its construction. Betchek happened to mention he was in the foam distributing business, and that’s when he was told about the unique project Troyer Group was involved with.

“They have one of the largest LEED-certified staffs in the Midwest, and they’ve been around for a long time…but I thought it was a fluke; I’m thinking, ‘Are you kidding me, a full-sized Ark?’” said Betchek. “As things progressed, that connection turned into a meeting before we knew it.”

About 50 sets of BASF SPRAYTITE 178 were required to install foam to spec, which called for 2.5 inches of foam over a spray area of 80,000 square feet (roughly 200,000 board feet). Of the 125-person crew currently building the Ark, only 3 were involved with the spray foam application. Chris Osborne, the shop production manager for Answers in Genesis, was tasked with installing the Ark’s foam insulation. The installation was easier said than done, however. Considering the other crew members present, it was critical to work in isolated areas, and often work was done on the weekends.

“When I’ve been on the job site, everyone seemed to work in unison pretty well,” said Betchek, who visited the job site several times to see how things were progressing.

Safety First The installation was tricky, requiring foam to be sprayed on a curved surface, all while the installer wore a fall safety harness.

Safety First The installation was tricky, requiring foam to be sprayed on a curved surface, all while the installer wore a fall safety harness.

Another major concern for the application was the height of the structure, and the intricacies of spraying certain floorless areas. Osborne wore a fall safety harness at all times, and the spray area was clearly sectioned off. On top of everything, the effects of strong, consistent wind has complicated things for not just the spray foam installation, but also the building itself, which has been designed to withstand 120-mph gusts. Despite the challenges, however, the SPF application has progressed successfully, and about 80% of the SPF has been installed as of writing.

The Ark Encounter is slated to open in late-summer 2016, with the $29.5 million facility employing about 900 full- and part-time staff. Answers in Genesis predicts about 1.6 million visitors in the first year, increasing thereafter. As they say: if you build it, they will come. •

PHOTOS COURTESY of Jameson Company; RENDERINGS COURTESY of Troyer Group