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Spray Foam Insulation Staves Off Moisture for Waterfront Offices

Waterfront Workplace

Spray Foam Insulation Staves Off Moisture for Waterfront Offices

By Juan Sagarbarria

Builders and architects go through rigorous lengths to equip structures with robust barriers to prevent moisture infiltration, particularly for buildings that are within proximity of the water. This thought pattern solidifies the notion that if the structure is actually situated on the water, builders would have to approach the implementation of an air and moisture barrier bearing an extra degree of protection in mind. After a group of developers saw potential in restoring an old WWII concrete barge left moored in the Penryn Harbor of Cornwall, England, they realized that the effort was only viable if their visionary design was met with a rigid, sustainable material to keep the water out. Since sustainability was an essential component of the revitalization project, optimal insulation proved necessary for a long structural life, but it was important that the materials utilized did not exceed 50 tonnes. In this instance, spray polyurethane foam played a pivotal role in the overall success of the project.

The 85-by-22 foot barge’s restoration consisted of a three-year project under a private developing company, and Märraum Architects. They joined forces to produce a state-of-the art maritime office that would serve as the headquarters for Robotmother’s Jubilee Wharf community operations, as well as provide office space for other local companies. The insulation portion of the restoration initially called for PIR insulation, but it was decided that SPF was the ideal material since the renovations had to adhere to the frame’s irregular yet aesthetic shape: the fiberglass exterior walls that surrounded the barge’s steel frame had varying depths and the underside of the roofline had a jagged, geothermic form. It was decided by Michael Hormann, director of Märraum, that PIR insulation would not have created a complete air barrier, leaving gaps that would compromise the shell structure and generate a substantial condensation issue. Upon realizing this, Hormann changed the project specification and called for the use of WALLTITE CL100, an airtight and fire-retardant closed-cell spray polyurethane foam formulated by BASF.

Hormann explained in a case study that he chose WALLTITE because it is a continuous air barrier that is easy to apply, rapidly cures, and it leaves a minimal amount of surface area without insulation. He added that by using WALLTITE spray foam there is no need for supplementary materials because its use results in an airtight building envelope with low permeability.

To apply the foam, a crew from Cosy Home UK was brought onsite. The project entailed installing spray foam to the barge’s uneven envelope. During the application, crewmembers wore PPE consisting of coverall suits, respirators, and gloves. The Cosy Home crew installed six inches of WALLTITE directly to the fiberglass surface comprising the exterior walls that contoured to the ceilings, as well as the concrete floor that formed the base of the structure. The application of WALLTITE was able to achieve an R-8 insulation value per inch, which will assist in keeping energy consumption and costs down, and also provide a comfortable indoor environment for the workers that inhabit the offices.

Hormann was very pleased with the spray foam’s performance and said in a case study that SPF was the perfect solution in that it created an air and moisture barrier for a tricky building shape, filling all the voids in the shell structure, and tying the structure together. He pointed out that because SPF provides a seamless airtight solution in the midst of an aggressive marine environment, more and more people are choosing to use SPF in a myriad of marine applications that include boats, ships, and other floating structures. Hormann also mentioned that working with SPF was practical, as the application took merely a couple of days to complete, allowing the builder and architect to make headway with the remainder of the project, and reducing construction time and costs.

After the foam application, the architect’s multiple office design gradually came together completed with a conference room where the hull used to be, a mezzanine level, maintenance rooms, and space for visiting brands. Now, the barge has been deemed a local landmark within the Penryn community and the innovation of its design has proven to be the source of daily inspiration for the folks that are lucky enough to work there every day.

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