With the overall economy in a severe state of flux, it comes as good news that one sector - Sprayed Polyurethane Foam (SPF) - is actually expanding by an estimated 15 percent to 20 percent annually, and many contractors are interested in taking advantage by either adding spray foam to their existing arsenal of service offerings, or becoming a dedicated spray foam contractor.
Due to increasing energy costs, SPF is quickly becoming the builder’s choice for commercial roofing systems and perimeter wall insulation due to its high strength, moisture resistance, R-values and durability.
According to a leading industry web resource, SprayFoam.com (www.sprayfoam.com), an education and support site for contractors, chemical and equipment suppliers and even consumers that want more information, studies have shown that as much as 40 percent of a building’s energy loss is due to heat loss, or gain, through walls, roofs and windows.
As a result, SPF used for commercial roofing systems or as thermal insulation produces significant energy savings throughout the life of a building and benefits the owner by allowing the use of smaller capacity cooling and heating equipment. An article on the site points out that these are attributes consistent with reducing the carbon footprint and the “green” movement - another reason that contractors are taking notice.
“We’re right on the edge of the ‘green-build’ movement and right on the brink of next-generation products,” said Damian Altman, president of Foam Connection, a spray foam insulation company that serves Colorado and neighboring states. “Energy savings is becoming mandatory in many counties. High-performance insulation is becoming a vital part of any house, and there’s really no insulation on the market that compares with spray foam.”
So what does it take to get started in the SPF insulation or roofing business?
The first factor to consider when becoming a spray foam contractor is the equipment investment required, as well as the required training in foam processing, equipment operation and maintenance.
The gear and training often run in the neighborhood of $100,000, so careful shopping is recommended. “When we first began, I spent time researching manufacturing companies and figuring out what equipment it was going to take,” said Altman. “Do your research and know your markets.”
One cost-effective way to “get your feet wet” before making that initial investment is to start out as a sales agent and broker work to established contractor partners. This has worked for many to test the market and learn about the competition.
Choosing a Supplier
After the equipment budgeting process is complete, the next step is determining what company will be your primary and secondary supplier of foam materials. Almost all foam suppliers and manufacturers offer foam, equipment and support services.
Before choosing a supplier, however, make certain you are purchasing equipment that will be adequate to the jobs you will be performing. Selecting a specific market or application service and specializing in it, such as roofing or insulation, is recommended as each specialty has its own specific equipment requirements.
According to Doug Commette, founder of SprayFoam.com, a good supplier will advise you on these points. “Finding the right source for your equipment is very important and should not be taken lightly,” Commette said. “Your supplier should know the field you’ll be specializing in and have the experience and expertise to advise you correctly.”
Another benefit to choosing a supplier that knows your particular specialty is that the spray foam industry, while growing, is not broadly known to building department inspectors. The supplier you choose should be able to assist you in inspections, or with objections raised by building inspectors, by knowing what codes and regulations need to be addressed, and how their particular products address them.
Local support is also important, and may not occur to you until you’re in the middle of a job and need a question answered, or even need someone to speak to an inspector.
“I did a lot of research for suppliers on the Internet,” Altman said. “I checked things out like the supplier’s goals, the size of the company, the quality of the training, the support - and do they have reps available to come and help with questions?”
In order to get the best and most well rounded training, the best source can be the suppliers of the foam systems themselves. They often have the best “one-stop shop,” and can supply foam sales, safety, building codes, equipment, and marketing training.
“I recommend to contractors that they obtain equipment, foam systems and training all from the same people,” said Commette. “Once you’re trained, you know how to use different foams with different equipment and it becomes less of an issue. But certainly up front you’re better off getting it all from one company.”
Training goes beyond learning how to use the equipment - you also need to know the specifics of your industry. For example in roofing, there are engineering, building design and code issues you need to know. For insulation, it may appear simple but there are similar issues there as well.
“Most manufacturers would like you to have their certification if you’re going to spray their foam,” Altman said. “It is well worth it. They have as a goal for you to succeed, obviously, so they train you well so you’ll buy more of their product. Also, it is usually a requirement that someone who is certified to spray foam insulation be on the site at all times.”
The most important aspect of becoming a successful spray foam contractor is often the most overlooked and taken for granted: marketing. “I have talked to many a contractor who has spent upwards of $100,000 to get into business, only to complain that they have little or no work,” Commette said. “Marketing and advertising have to be part of your initial investment.”
In fact, Commette recommends that marketing be thoroughly examined before making that substantial equipment investment. “Just like any good business decision, a business and marketing plan should be developed first.”
A website is vital and cannot be overlooked. As part of your marketing investment, it is well worthwhile to engage an expert in the area of building a web-site and ranking it high in the search engines. In many respects, the Internet has replaced the Yellow Pages as the place people instinctively turn to find a contractor.
As a case in point, a full-service feed mill called Agri-Way Partners found Sadler Coating Systems through the Contractor Finder at SprayFoam.com. They were looking to insulate a dust collection system for their feed mill that would freeze in winter due to the warm interior exhaust air condensing with the cold exterior temperatures. The project is particularly notable because Sadler Coating Systems was awarded the Unique Application Award by the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA).
There are many other ways that contractors can spread the word about their business, and the benefits of spray foam in general, including printing literature and personal visits to builders, facility owners and architects. For more information about SPF, go to www.sprayfoam.com.