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Home | Building Codes | Spray Foam Canada: Insulating the Big Box Store’s Big Box
Actually insulating the 460,000 square foot Costco distribution turned out to be the easiest part of the job

Spray Foam Canada: Insulating the Big Box Store’s Big Box

When Costco opened a massive new distribution center, they turned to spray foam to keep the building insulated.

By Jen Kramer

Just north of Toronto, in the province of Ontario, is the city of Vaughn. According to the 2011 Canadian census, Vaughn was Canada’s fastest growing city for the years 1996 to 2006, experiencing an 80 percent growth rate. A population of that size needs infrastructure to support it – and not just schools, hospitals, and housing developments. They also need the amenities – shops, restaurants, auto dealers, and the conveniences that separate urban from rural life. One of the results of Vaughn’s population boom was the construction of a 460,000 square feet. Costco distribution center, to handle the demands not only of Vaughn’s burgeoning populace, but also of the surrounding areas.

Blair Cunnings, President of Barrier Specialty Roofing & Coatings, was the contractor who won the bid to insulate the metal walls and ceilings in the newly constructed building. No stranger to Costco construction, Cunnings and his Fresno, California-based crew have insulated Costco buildings all around the globe. Canada, however, was a bit of a challenge – from the codes, to the sheer size, to the timing; everything about this project was unique from the start.

You can hear his smile as Cunnings says, “187,000 square feet of foam in 38 days, and that wasn’t even the challenging part.”


Many of the most difficult hurdles had to be cleared even before the crew stepped foot on the jobsite – even before they could purchase the foam.

“Before we could begin we had to go through multiple certification processes,” Cunnings explains. “We worked with Marc Kast and Elastochem, to navigate what could have otherwise been a complicated sea of paperwork.”

Kast concurs. “Before a contractor can even purchase foam in Canada, he has to be certified. I was more than happy to help with the process as it is very involved.”


“Every contractor working in Canada must be Canada-certified,” Kast explains. “In fact, the contractor certification program that SPFA uses is the same that we use and have used for years here in Canada. It was in place in Canada before SPFA adopted it. In Canada, contractors are required to answer a 100-question test, as well as take a practical evaluation that tests their ability to correctly use PPE, density, and adhesion testing equipment, and they are also required to perform the water displacement method test for density.”

Once the contractor and his crew pass this very involved test, they are issued a photo ID card, similar to a driver’s license, which serves as a permit allowing them to spray polyurethane foam in Canada.

That, however, is not the end of the certification process.

The province of Ontario requires that each contractor and every crewmember take and pass a one-day-long fall protection safety class in order to work in lifts and at heights.

Then, on this project, the General Contractor’s safety program required a one-day-long safety course that all subcontractors had to attend and pass. Everyone on site had to have a sticker on their hard hat showing that they had taken – and passed – the safety training.

Finally, ID cards and stickers in place, the Barrier crew was Canada-certified, Ontario-certified, GC-certified, and ready to start spraying foam.


“They were still building out the structure when we got there,” Cunnings recounts, “so sequencing was a bit of a challenge – even in a building that size.”

The interior of the building is comprised of insulated concrete walls, rising 14-feet high to join with metal panels, which then connect to the metal roof. Barrier’s spec called for the application of spray foam onto all of the metal substrates.

Before Barrier’s arrival, other trades had suspended the lights, fire suppression, and the electrical, as well as hangers, from the roof deck. Everything had also been masked off. The Barrier crew simply needed to start spraying. Sounds easy, on paper.

In order to access the areas of the building that were under construction, the other crews were constantly passing through the areas that the Barrier crew needed to spray. Cunnings knew that working around other crews would be difficult – when spraying in Ontario, no other trades can be in the area – so he devised a plan of coordination to keep everyone away.


“One crew member met with the GC every day to figure out the daily schedule,” Cunnings says. This helped the Barrier crew determine in advance what type of equipment to be watching for – and when. Not only could they coordinate spray times, they could also move their hoses out of the way if necessary. Additionally, “one crew member in a high-visibility vest, stayed down, and did traffic control with a two-way radio all day.”

Although it might not have been the most efficient job for one of the 16-man crew, the safety monitor was certainly one of the most important jobs. “With his eyes watching, we could spray and not worry about unexpected third-party interruptions.”

An interrupting factor that they could not control was the wind. “The building was still being built out as we were foaming, so in some parts, they still did not have the in-walls in place. This meant that the wind was often bad inside the building. Some days we would have to stop spraying due to the wind,” Cunnings states.

But the days when they could spray?

“Everything went really well,” Cunnings chuckles. “And Marc Kast, his sales manager, and tech guy were all available and on site if we had any questions or needed anything. That was nice since we were spraying the new formulation of foam, which also went very well.”


After the involved certification and scheduling process, the application process came as a relief.

However, all of the fall protection training did pay off when the Barrier crew stepped into the five scissor lifts and three knuckle booms required to access the massive distribution center’s metal walls and ceiling.

The crew employed full tie-off when working in the lifts and booms, using five-point harnesses and retractable lines. They wore full-face respirators from Tennessee Chill Box and Allegro, Tyvek suits, gloves, and steel-toed boots, in addition to the stickered hard hats and high-vis vests.

The new metal substrate was primed with 15 mils DFT of DC315. As a primer, IFTI’s intumescent coating provides a thermal barrier between the substrate and the foam. The Barrier crew used Graco GH 833s and GX-7 guns to spray-apply the intumescent coating.

Next, they sprayed Elastochem Extreme 2-lb. closed-cell foam using three rigs, including “a Graco FoamCat proportioner that we have modified to include 1500 watts of heat,” says Cunnings. “This allows us to speed up the application.”

And speed was of the essence with the wind – and other trades – blowing down their necks. ‘It helps with a job that has a tight schedule. We never cut on quality or careful application, but if we can speed the application time and add efficiency, it always helps,” says Cunnings.

“They applied four- to five-inches of foam in two passes, two inches at a time,” says Kast.

“We were spraying the new foam, and according to Canadian law, we can only apply two inch lifts at a time,” Cunnings explains, “So we were using measuring pins – in order to meet the law and the spec.”

The foam was then topcoated with 15 mils DFT of IFTI’s DC315 thermal barrier.


“Once the thermal barrier was sprayed, we tested it using metal plates,” Cunnings says. “The plates were taped in place and we pulled them to check mil thickness. We had 100’s of plates that we pulled and patched to check mil thickness. The tests were all certified through CUFCA and through Elastochem.”

And the new foam? “We definitely got better yield with the new formulation,” Cunnings says. Better yield is important considering they used 285,000 pounds of the foam on this massive project.

The next time you find yourself in a Costco – whether it is in Canada, the U.S., Asia, Mexico, or some other of the 604 international locations – look up. There is a very good chance that you will see spray foam on the upper walls and ceiling. There is also a very good chance that the foam was applied by the crew from Barrier Roofing. And now you know a little of what it takes to insulate the box behind the big box store. •

Photos courtesy of Barrier Specialty Roofing & Coatings

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