What AEC pros should know about new environmental regulations on HFCs

High-rise office buildings

Manufacturers are developing new insulation solutions in response to growing restrictions on certain hydrofluorocarbon blowing agents. AIA partner Owens Corning explains.

Since January 1, 2021, several U.S. states and Canada have introduced new environmental regulations to address increasing concerns about high-global warming potential (GWP) hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) blowing agents. More states are scheduled to adopt regulations later this year, while other states have proposed legislation.

Some building products are affected by the regulations, which set tighter limits on certain HFCs with higher GWP. Traditional closed-cell foam insulations use a blend of HFC blowing agents to achieve thermal performance. The new regulations are inspiring innovation, including a new XPS rigid foam board insulation developed by Owens Corning that eliminates HFC 134a.

Here’s a look at common questions related to the regulatory changes and their impact in the AEC marketplace.

What jurisdictions are affected by the new regulations?

Canada adopted the new environmental regulations nationwide on January 1, 2021, along with the following U.S. states: California, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Washington. Massachusetts, Maryland, and Delaware have finalized laws to eliminate the use of blowing agents with a GWP higher than 150 later this year and more states have proposed similar legislation. A state-by-state map is available here.

What building materials are affected?

Among other materials, such as closed-cell spray foams (SPF) and refrigerants used in air conditioning systems, the regulations apply to the manufacturing of extruded polystyrene insulation (XPS).

How are the regulations driving innovation in the marketplace?

The regulations have prompted innovation in the material marketplace, including insulation. For example, Owens Corning developed Foamular NGX (Next Generation Extruded) insulation, which delivers a 90% reduction in the GWP of the blowing agent1 blend and a greater than 80% reduction in GWP2 across the total lifecycle of the product.

What function does the blowing agent serve in XPS insulation?

Blowing agents (also called foaming agents) enhance the thermal performance of XPS and can help to tailor products to achieve a targeted compressive strength depending on the application and area of the building enclosure. For example, a vegetative roof assembly or plaza deck will require a higher compressive strength, while a lower compressive strength may be specified for insulating non-load-bearing walls.  

Does lowering blowing agent GWP impact material performance?

Not in the case of Foamular NGX. Following more than six years of research and development, the product’s sustainability profile is achieved without compromising its high R-value per inch, moisture resistance, durability, compressive strength range, or its iconic pink color.  

How can specifying an XPS with a lower GWP support architects’ sustainable design goals?

Third-party verification supports the sustainability profile of building materials. In the case of Foamular NGX, sustainability is verified by a third-party Environmental Product Declaration and Optimization Report. Foamular NGX qualifies as 1.5 products toward LEED 4.1 points for Options 1 and 2 under the Materials and Resources: Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). As EPDs are widely recognized standards of sustainability, a material’s EPD can provide even more incentives to integrate sustainability features into the commercial enclosure. For example, vegetative roof assemblies (VRAs) are an attractive option for integrating nature into urban environments, mitigating urban heat island effects and meeting stormwater management codes.

Specifying and installing building materials with sustainable attributes — such as EPDs — can help AEC professionals achieve US green building program certifications including LEED, Energy Star, and the NAHB’s National Green Building Standard ICC700-008.

In addition, Foamular NGX is made with 100% wind electricity, is GreenGuard Gold certified, has a health product declaration (HPD), is reusable, and certified by Scientific Certification Systems to contain a minimum of 20% recycled polystyrene.

How does lower GWP translate to typical projects?

For every 10 Foamular NGX boards installed, the savings in carbon-dioxide emissions is equal to removing one car from the road for a year3. To provide additional context, replacing a traditional extruded polystyrene board option with the new offering on a typical size hospital project (using ASHRAE data on typical hospital classified buildings to identify area and amount of opaque wall) would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions equal to 18,224,288 kg CO2-eq.3 Similarly, the savings metrics of a typical size hospital project equate to 45,801,242 fewer miles driven, 6,199 tons of waste recycled instead of landfilled, 301,342 tree seedlings grown for 10 years, or 2,216,850,622 fewer cellphones charged for a year.

Is lower GWP XPS available nationally?

Though the regulations currently impact only a handful of states, Foamular NGX is available throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Learn more about the changing regulations and Foamular NGX, please visit www.owenscorning.com/foamular-ngx.

1. Impact measured over 100-year time horizon, as compared to FOAMULAR® blowing agent formulation.

2. Compared to FOAMULAR® XPS insulation.

3. Compared to the leading competitor’s XPS insulation. Data extracted from Dupont™ Styrofoam™ Brand XPS Product Environmental Product Declaration. Declaration Number: 4789559274.101.1. issued January 1, 2021.

AIA does not sponsor or endorse any enterprise, whether public or private, operated for profit. Further, no AIA officer, director, committee member, or employee, or any of its component organizations in his or her official capacity, is permitted to approve, sponsor, endorse, or do anything that may be deemed or construed to be an approval, sponsorship, or endorsement of any material of construction or any method or manner of handling, using, distributing, or dealing in any material or product.

Image credits

High-rise office buildings

iStock.com/Voyata

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