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Home | Commercial Air Barriers | Ultra-Performing Steel Inside Spray Foamed Building Envelope
Spray Foam Insulation for an Annealing Factory

Ultra-Performing Steel Inside Spray Foamed Building Envelope

Redeveloped factory specializing in automotive high-tensile annealing gets insulated with spray foam

By Juan Sagarbarría

A challenging feat, it was: To apply 492,664 square feet of closed-cell spray polyurethane foam insulation to the interior of an abandoned steel mill. Installation thickness consisted of two inches on the walls and three inches on the ceiling, requiring approximately 1,363,342 board feet of SPF to be installed all before the Thanksgiving holiday. A tall order in every sense of the word, but, nevertheless, it was a challenge accepted by West Roofing Systems.

Spray foam insulates annealing factory.

This exterior shot of the facility shows its numerous interconnected “Bays” (sections) where different processes were going to be carried out that contributed to the ultimate function of HyCAL Corporation – producing super-high-tensile strength steel for vehicle frames.


The foam application was green-lit by the Ferragon Corporation, who sought the best type of insulating material to be installed in their newly constructed Tier I automotive steel processing facility for one of their divisions, HyCAL. Since the early 1980s, Ferragon and its divisions have been a powerhouse in toll processing by being a one-stop source for a full-range of hot-rolled toll processing, cold-rolled processing/inspection, cold-rolled conversion services, and aluminum slitting/inspection.

A few years back, Ferragon decided to bring HyCAL into a state-of-the art facility that would house their new high-tensile, hydrogen continuous annealing line. Annealing is a process that involves heating metal or glass to increase its strength – used in this case for creating ultra-high performing steel for use in automotive chassis’. Since this new line was slated to hit the ground running and turn high-profile automotive manufacturers to the facility’s doors, the facility itself needed to be bright and look professional. More importantly, the HyCAL building needed to perform well.

Ferragon scouted and pursued numerous locations for HyCAL’s home in Southeast Michigan, as well as Northwestern Ohio, which are both strategic automotive industry hubs. They finally decided that instead of developing the building from scratch – a ‘”Greenfield” if you will – HyCAL would find its home by way of a “Brownfield” approach  – that is to say rehabbing an old building to meet the criteria and performance standards that Ferragon deemed fit.

That Brownfield building turned out to be in Gibraltar, Michigan, located in Wayne County. The building was an inactive steel factory, which was built in 1954 and was operated by the McClouth Steel Facility until 2003, at which time it was completely abandoned. After a substantial investment in the redevelopment of the facility that included the removal of hazardous materials, interior demolition, and retrofitting – the latter including the application of spray foam insulation – the Gibraltar-based plant is now operational.

“This is a terrific reuse of an inactive steel plant, and the jobs are most certainly welcome,” says Wayne County Commissioner Joseph Palamara, D-Grosse Ile Township. “The cleanup also is very good news because of the environmentally sensitive nature of the area due to the refuge, the nearby Detroit River, marshes, and other wetlands.”


The facility included several interconnected “Bays” (sections) where different processes were going to be carried out that contributed to the ultimate function – producing super-high-tensile strength steel for vehicle frames. All the Bays were connected, and Ferragon wanted the HyCAL facility to be an aesthetically pleasing, conditioned space, as well as to curb numerous hazardous environmental concerns. The owners had three primary goals for the interior of the facility: To make the finished space as bright as possible, creating a professional appearance; to address the issue of the hazard that the sheet metal galbestos-coated panels on the walls and on the roof (galbestos is a metal sheeting lined with bitum that is impregnated with asbestos); and to also secure the factory from asbestos located in the glazing of the windows. To meet these goals, the building needed to be insulated and coated to provide a clean, bright white surface, as well as create a clean and non-hazardous facility for its workers and visitors. Various types of insulation to be installed on the interior of the facility were explored, but none of which could provide the benefits of spray foam, in addition to the solutions its application meant for this project. Insulation chosen, the owners went on the market for a top-notch SPF installer. That’s where West Roofing came in.


LEFT: The insulation project proved challenging because of the facility’s sheer height. The walls of the facility are 50 feet tall with a slope of the gabled roof, which, at its ridge, was 75 feet high, and the structural steel acted as a “spider web.” The West Roofing crew maneuvered through this “spider web” and trenches with articulating boom lifts. RIGHT: Spray foam installed at a three-inch depth thickness on the ceiling.















“The biggest aspect of why foam was, without question, the best type of insulation for this project was that it was the fastest and most-effective solution to create a monolithic building envelope that there is,” says West Roofing’s President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Moore. “It provides an air barrier from the foundation to the ridge and back to the foundation, it is the most energy-efficient means to insulate and the speed of the installation is second-to-none.”


Moore describes the unique benefits that spray foam is known for providing to most buildings, but just what were the specific solutions that SPF presented for this project? Well, for one thing, applying SPF to the walls and the ceiling meant tha

t nothing needed to be mechanically fastened to the galbestos coated panels, so as not to potentially release any hazardous asbestos and require further abatement – which would have proved costly. Therefore, the local governing body approved SPF for use as an asbestos encapsulant over the galbestos panels and glazing of the windows.

“Spray polyurethane foam is a well-known product within the asbestos-containing materials industry,” says Moore. “As long as a friable condition isn’t created, asbestos can be successfully encapsulated with spray foam.”

Steve Shaw, HyCAL’s Plant Manager indicates, “The SPF installation cost is less than one-third of the cost of the abatement of the sheet metal panels alone; this provided additional capital to make more improvements that the facility needed.”

Secondly, the specified application of closed-cell foam at a two-inch thickness on the walls and three-inch thickness on the ceiling met the R-Value requirements of the DTE Energy’s (aka Detroit Power) energy incentives, requiring an R-13 on the walls and an R-13 on the roof assembly, respectively. The redevelopment is supported by $9.9 million in reimbursable incentives, which will be covered over 30 years of incremental tax revenue capture, according to the Brownfield contract.

While SPF satisfied two of the owners’ primary goals, encapsulating and insulating, there was still the question of the bright white finish on the interior. To accomplish said finish and fire protect the foam in one fell swoop, the West Roofing team utilized DC315, a thermal barrier intumescent coating formulated by International Fireproof Technology, Inc. (IFTI).



The SPF application was finished with a white coat of DC315 intumescent coating. LED lights were later installed which enhanced the brightness of the finished space

A seven-man crew from West Roofing tackled the project. Prior to their arrival, a subcontracting company had powerwashed the walls and the ceiling, and that action had resulted in the elimination of the former pour gypsum system. During the West Roofing crew’s own prep work, a six oz. non-woven fabric was installed on the floor, which provided a non-slip surface that was durable enough to withstand the man lifts running over it. They also installed Visqueen polyethylene plastic sheeting over the ancillary structures and crane rails.

The project itself had no shortage of challenges. The walls of the facility are 50 feet tall with a sloped gabled roof, which, at its ridge, is 75 feet high, and the structural steel acted as a “spider web.” Therefore, getting to the higher areas throughout the building was cumbersome, yet they were eventually accessible with great care, by man lifts. The West Roofing crew’s set up of a box-truck and a trailer rig included three Graco Reactor H-40 proportioners and 400 feet of hose attached to the Probler P2 spray guns that the sprayers equipped themselves with before getting on three articulating boom lifts set up one Bay at a time. Within each Bay there were three working areas that consisted of a 45-foot man lift for the walls, a 65-foot man lift from the eave to mid-way up the slope, and an 85-foot man lift for the highest portions of the work area. This required significant choreography between the three applicators and the respective man lifts to keep things moving smoothly. Fall protection equipment including safety harnesses and lanyards were employed for all crewmen in the lifts 100 percent of the time while operating the lifts.

Each lift had an applicator and an operator in the basket to keep the applicator spraying and not operating the lift. A seventh person remained on the ground and monitored the equipment and the area at all times. And with good reason since, in addition to the complicated heights of the building, the West Roofing crew had to work around other trades for the duration of the project. Ferragon decided to have sheet metal, electrical, and concrete contractors continue their work to expedite the redevelopment project while the SPF was applied. It was up to the ground man to coordinate logistics with other trades so that the entire project wouldn’t suffer delays. Moore recounts, “It was interesting: While they did their work in Bay Six, we moved onto Bays Three, Four, and Five. It was an ongoing and fluid situation driven by proper communication.”

As the months passed and the job progressed, cooler temperatures began to set in, prompting the West Roofing crew to develop a process to keep the materials warm. They utilized a 28-foot enclosed trailer with a heater to store enough material overnight for the next day, and when they removed the material from the trailer, they utilized Barrel Blazer Heating Blankets to maintain a minimum 65°F temperature.

“Insulating 492,664 square feet of a 61-year-old steel plant is no small task,” points out Moore. “Combine the scale of the project with logistics of working around numerous trades, 100-percent aerial lift work, impending cold weather, and a tight schedule. This needed to be an efficient application.”


And an efficient application it was. The crew installed two inches of Premium Spray Product’s Foamsulate 220 2lb. closed-cell spray polyurethane foam to 114,650 square feet comprising the walls and windows and three inches to 378,014 square feet that the ceiling amassed. The total spray area equated to an install of approximately 290 sets of foam.

Then, with the use of two Graco Bulldog coating rigs, the crew coated the foam with a total of 6,700 gallons of DC315 intumescent coating. (NOTE: After the foam and coating applications were completed, LED lights were added to the building, which enhanced the brightness that the white intumescent coating provided.)

“Using IFTI’s special order White, we were able to match the paint being utilized on the structural steel, providing a clean bright white finished appearance that virtually makes the structural members disappear into the walls and ceilings,” says Moore. “Utilizing this combination of products, we were able to meet all of the local code requirements for an interior SPF application.”

While applying the foam and coating, the crewmen wore full-body disposable Tyvek suits, Nitrile gloves, spray hoods, peel-away face protection, and Honeywell powered-air purifying respirators (PAPRs). Each of the three applicators averaged two sets of product applied on a daily basis, so as to have enough time to install 6,700 gallons of intumescent coatings. Moore notes that while two sets per applicator might not seem like a taxing task, it is important to consider that most of the application was overhead at 50 to 75 feet in the air, over equipment, crane rails, and plant operations, which made for a monumental undertaking.

After the foam was installed, the building was further insulated on the exterior with the installation of insulated metal panels over its new metal siding, which was completed by a subcontractor. The entire application lasted nine months – from February to November – and was completed on schedule. Yes, the West Roofing workers got to eat their Thanksgiving turkey.

“The spray foam allows HyCAL to have a controlled environment on the interior, it seals the building from any air leakage and air infiltration, and is able to contain any hazardous asbestos,” says Moore. “It is an economic solution that solved specific problems with this building and will solve unique issues in others.”

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Photos courtesy of West Roofing Systems

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