Spray foam plays a major role in a Cleveland-based school restoration that strives to obtain a LEED Silver rating.
By Juan Sagarbarría
The year is 1926: Robert Goddard launches the first successful liquid fuel rocket, Greta Garbo makes her silent film debut, The Great Miami Hurricane forms in the Atlantic, and a few cars are seen riding along John Steinbeck’s “Mother Road,” the recently opened Route 66. During the same year, Cleveland Heights High School – or just the “Heights” as it came to be known – was built in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a strenuous undertaking that over the years became a 450,000 square-foot, almost maze-like compound.
Naturally, the building’s life cycle expired many times over, and the building was given a few lifelines in the form of maintenance as the years passed. Now, almost a century later, the school is being retrofitted to a different standard, with all the components that ensure longevity and energy efficiency, essentially it is being reborn with a remodel congruent to the ambitious finality of a LEED Silver rating.
Although the renovation entails maintaining the building’s monumental 1926 design consisting of a U-shaped, Tudor-style castle that includes a giant clock tower, columns like parapets, and a grand main entrance, everything else will be modernized in a fundamentally energy-efficient manner with an overhaul resulting in LEED Silver designation. In order to accomplish LEED Silver, the building needs to be classified as sustainable, highly-energy efficient with advanced insulation and healthy indoor air quality. While the initiative revolves around maintaining the original design of the school, several areas of the school have been downsized and new additions have been implemented that comprise a reduction of the original 450,000 square feet to 360,000 highly efficient square feet. Upon completion and reopening this coming spring, the school will have the capacity to house 1,600 students.
Furthermore, the remodel will result in the school being a net-zero building, as in a building that creates as much energy as it uses. Included among the renovations of the school will be a complete HVAC system upgrade into a hybrid geothermal system, the roof will have solar panels installed, the old windows of the building will be replaced with double-pane glass, and the insulation is being upgraded to the most modern and efficient insulating technology. Guess what type of insulation that is? Hint: It’s written on the front cover. Matthew Giambrone, project manager for OCP Contractors Inc., the project’s insulation contractor, noted that the application of closed-cell spray polyurethane foam insulation to the building envelope helps achieve ultra-efficiency and improved indoor quality, which directly helps achieve LEED Silver.
He explains, “Spray foam insulation was the best material to use when approaching this project because not only did it satisfy the LEED requirements that the specifications called for, but because spray foam can bond and adhere to so many different types of substrates and cavities, that as we transitioned from the existing building to the new building, we were able to maintain a continuous air and vapor barrier with a superior R-value that helps achieve the required air tightness.”
For the insulation install part of the school remodel, OCP worked hand-in-hand with NCFI Polyurethanes. That is to say, that NCFI provided job site support for OCP for quality control, making sure that any question from the general contractor and other trades working on site were answered, as well as ensuring that the OCP crewmembers were applying the foam to the right specifications and helping out with any challenges along the way. Giambrone pointed out that, “On a massive job such as this one, job site support saved a lot of time, and in construction, time is money.”
David Mayo, Account Manager/Sales Representative Specialty Products for NCFI, was on site with OCP and was delighted to offer his expertise. “I was very happy to offer my support to OCP Contractors on this project to ensure Matthew and his crew had a successful spray foam installation,” he notes. “We made several on site visits at the request of Matthew to visually inspect the progress.”
NCFI also supplied the foam for the application: Insulbloc®, a highly -versatile, seamless, closed-cell spray polyurethane foam that exhibits superlative air and moisture barrier qualities; is specifically designed for exterior commercial concrete and cavity wall applications. As a spray application; moreover, it conforms to any geometric shape, which affords architects infinite design freedom since the spray foam will adhere to any feature or curve of any given building, and seals irregular shapes such as corrugated roof decks and steel I-beams. The product meets the Air Barrier Association of America’s (ABAA) specifications to maintain healthy indoor quality.
The spray polyurethane foam install entailed insulating the new additions of the building and then sealing in the place to tie the additions to the existing building. This meant that the crew needed to install SPF to the masonry veneer exterior wall cavity on the outside of the building.
The OCP crew, which consisted of three to six people on site at all times, had originally been contracted to do the framing of the building, so they were already there way before the insulation was installed. Nevertheless, they had brought their rig to the site, equipped with a Graco Reactor E-30 proportioner, a self-powering John Deere generator, and a Graco Fusion air-purge spray gun, so they could begin spraying once their framing duties were completed. OCP coordinated a schedule with the general contractor and other subcontractors that included trades of electrical, masonry, plumbing, and roofing. The schedule allowed OCP to work without being disrupted and without OCP disrupting other trades resulting in a much smoother and more productive work environment.
As far as safety precautions go, the OCP crew barricaded around the spray area with “Caution” tape, posted signs that state “Authorized Personnel Only”, and a crew member monitored the area while spraying was in progress, and he ensured that other workers were 50 feet or more away from the spray area. OCP also used plastic sheets to mask off the mechanical units in the area.
OCP also brought a scissor lift – containing fall protection – with them, which made it easy for the application of foam at different elevations, particularly to the higher areas of the building’s exterior. Before the application commenced, all crewmembers suited up in Tyveks and put on their 3M™ Versaflo™ Powered Air Purifying Respirator’s (PAPR) self-contained units – they then got down to business.
The application consisted of three inches of InsulBloc closed-cell spray foam to the cavity wall with the crew working from top to bottom, left to right, making their way around the building. While two or three crewmembers were on spray duty, the others immersed themselves in the detail work, which involved window and door detailing and sealing in through all flashings and penetrations with the assistance of WR Meadows’ AIR-SHIELD peel-and-stick transition membranes. The sprayers then applied foam to the areas where the membranes had been installed to maintain a continuous air and vapor barrier.
“The spray foam application is pretty standard, but it is the transition points that always play a crucial role in creating a continuous air-and-vapor barrier system,” notes Giambrone. “This project was a little bit tricky in that sense because there was a lot of ins and outs, a lot of ups and downs; and tying in to pre-existing conditions proved challenging to make sure the entire envelope was sealed. You have to be aware of this to make sure the job is done right and that there are no leaks or problems later. Spray foam is only as efficient as the person who installs it.”
85 sets of foam and nearly eight months later – the insulation part of the Heights’ modernization is complete. Bricks now cover the foam on the exterior of the building. According to Giambrone, he and NCFI representatives will continue to visit the site to monitor the performance of the foam via thermal imaging and consolidate the LEED Silver requirement. He assures that the building performance will be heightened and energy costs will go down substantially.
The Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District’s Solutions consultant, Laura Steinbreak of the consulting firm HLMS Sustainability Solutions, confirmed in a press release that when the entire retrofit of the building is completed and all sustainable features are working together, Heights High School “will be in the top five percent of the U.S. EPA’s ranked schools.” The EPA ranks 51,500 K-12 schools in the United States. With the Heights’ staff gearing up for the high school’s reopening later this year, they can certainly look forward to the molding of young minds inside a building with a new life.
For more information, visit www.ncfi.com.
Photos courtesy of NCFI Polyurethanes