Working with Spray Foam in Cold Weather

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Working with Spray Foam in Cold Weather

By Robert Naini 

Every year, as the leaves change colors, the air becomes crisper, and as the holiday season approaches, temperatures drop and sometimes we forget what kind of impact the colder weather can have on spray foam operations.

Imagine this situation:

Your spray foam installer gets to work, comfortable and relaxed, ready to start his day. But the diesel generator will not start; it is cold and someone forgot to plug in the heater. He goes inside where he is yelled at by his supervisor for not plugging it in the day before, and is instructed to finish the job no matter how long it takes. Before he gets started, he now knows that he is faced with a long shift, causing the once relaxed employee to now become tense at the thought of working for a copious amount of time. You get the picture, right?

An hour behind schedule, he finally starts the generator and leaves for the jobsite. Once he arrives, he realizes, in his haste, that he forgot to stop to fill the diesel tank that he knows won’t last the day. Another delay, another frustration. Once he gets the generator running, he turns on the air compressor and notices that no air is coming out, resulting from the moisture in the tank from the day before that froze overnight. Now, there’s even more frustration!

You’ve heard the story of the man who kicked the cat, right? Well, the installer just became the man who throws the spray gun against the wall, or smashes the gears in the truck.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are ways that you can minimize these cold weather issues.

Regardless of the equipment you use, an electric or hydraulic proportioner, or a box truck or trailer, the truck workspace should be kept warm at all times. Both insulating and heating the enclosed space will help control temperature. If the temperature is not controlled, the temperature inside the work area will be the same as outside, and this means that all of the equipment, including hoses, chemicals, cleaners, grease, hydraulic fluid, black piping, generator, diesel fuel, air compressor, parts, etc. will become dramatically colder. And when the equipment and chemicals are cold, they are much more difficult to work with.

First, let’s talk about proportioners, since there is a big difference between electric and hydraulic proportioners. Have you ever heard your hydraulic pump make a high whining noise? Well, this is a tell-tale sign that something isn’t quite right and you should not continue to operate until the problem is identified.

In cold weather, this could occur if the hydraulic fluid is too cold, which means it is too thick and the pump could become damaged. If you find yourself with this problem, you have to heat the hydraulic fluid in order for the pump to operate properly.

If the pump is damaged it could mean:

Replacing an expensive hydraulic pump

Freight cost

Downtime from waiting for the new pump to be ordered, shipped, and received

Installation time and cost (But, do you know how to do this yourself?)

Solution: To eliminate this problem, keep your equipment warm during cold weather.

Next, the fluid pumps that transfer the chemical from the drums to the proportioner is probably either a diaphragm pump, such as a Husky 1040, or a stick pump (also called a drum pump or transfer pump), like a Graco T1 or T2. The diaphragm pump is usually mounted on the interior wall just above the chemical drums and has a dip tube that goes into the drum. The stick or drum pump is usually screwed into the bung opening on a drum. The cold weather affects the diaphragm pump more than it does the stick pumps.

The diaphragm pump works because two rubber membranes move back and forth, causing a vacuum inside the pump. This vacuum pulls the liquid from the drum through the pump and feeds the equipment. In a warm environment, these diaphragm pumps work well. However, most liquids, including spray foam A-side and B-side material, become thicker and thicker as the surrounding temperatures go lower and lower. So, if the chemical temperature is too low, resulting in the material being too thick, the diaphragm pump will not pump it.

Solution: Keep your equipment and chemical warm during cold weather.

Then there are the hoses. Even if you have a closed trailer operation, as you should in colder weather, your hoses have to span the length from your rig to the building, meaning that they have to be outside even when it is cold. However, it is important to maintain the chemical temperature from the machine to the tip of the gun, so heated hoses are very important. One of the most important things to know is the location of the hose thermocouple, or Fluid Temperature Sensor (FTS), which should be located as close to the gun as possible. This means that the tem