Rick Duncan, new Executive Director at the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA
), recently joined our podcast series to share what the future looks like for the SPFA. Other topics include industry implications from the new U.S. administration, as well as how it pertains to the world of coatings in 2021 and beyond. See below for a complete transcript.
For more information, contact: Rick Duncan, (703) 222-4269, email@example.com
Stephanie Chizik: Thanks so much for joining us, Rick.
Rick Duncan: Good morning, Stephanie. How are you?
SC: Great, thanks. Why don’t you go ahead and start by giving our listeners a bit of your professional background?
RD: My background — my formal education is in mechanical engineering. I spent some time in academia as a visiting assistant professor at Bucknell University in the mechanical engineering department. I left there in the mid-’90s to work with CertainTeed. I worked for CertainTeed insulation group for about 10 years, doing new product development and supervising the new product development process at CertainTeed and also globally for Saint Gobain Insulation in Europe and Asia. I’ve had a pretty strong background in insulation. I worked for Honeywell for a while, doing some technical marketing for spray foam. I got very interested in that product and moved on about 12 years ago as technical director for the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance. I’ve been in that role until recently. In September, I moved to becoming the executive director for the Spray Foam Alliance.
SC: That’s great. You just reminded me that some of our listeners might not be familiar with spray foam, which is also called SPF for those who are unfamiliar. Would you mind giving a thousand-foot view of what type of insulation that is?
RD: Sure. Spray foam is a building insulation. It’s made of polyurethane foam. It comes in two types; it comes in open-cell and closed-cell. The open-cell foam is used mainly on the interior side of walls and ceilings and floors. The closed-cell is also used on the interior, but a special variety of it, a high-density closed-cell is used also on low-slope roofing. It’s kind of unique. It’s one of the unique foam plastic products in that it’s the only one that’s manufactured on site. Most foam plastic insulations are brought to the jobsite from a factory in the form of a board, whereas spray foam is delivered to the jobsite in a liquid form. It’s mixed and applied, and the foam forms right there on the jobsite. We’re kind of unique. We also provide air sealing at the same time. So we’re an air barrier and an insulation in one stop.
In terms of coatings, where coatings come into play is in our spray foam roofing systems. We partner with a number of coating manufacturers to make coatings or to provide coatings that go over our low-slope spray foam roof systems.
SC: My understanding is the reason they need to be coated is because they’re not UV-stable. So when it’s going to be exposed to the elements at all times on a rooftop, you need to make sure it’s protected so that it can continue to do its job. Is that correct?
RD: Absolutely. Spray foam, once it’s sprayed, is not UV-resistant at all. We don’t put any additives because most of the time it’s in a wall or it will have a coating when it’s on a low-slope roof. Absolutely, that’s the main function of the coating, is to provide UV protection. But it also helps to provide mechanical protection from foot traffic and other things on the roof.
SC: That’s great. Thank you for the 101, I guess. Spray Foam 101. I’m a bit more familiar with spray foam. I have a little bit of a background in it, and it’s fascinating to watch it be applied. You’d mentioned that it’s the only insulation that’s formulated in the field. It is a fascinating chemistry to watch it build. It’s just so interesting. Can you give us a brief overview — the Alliance as been in the industry for decades now. What are the goals of SPFA these days?
RD: Our goals always have been — and they remain unchanged. We’re here to support contractors as well as suppliers, distributors, and consultants, basically the whole value chain of the spray polyurethane foam industry. What we try to do is we try to represent foam to different types of code officials and rule makers. We also try to create outreach for architects and builders to help them better understand how foam works, how it meets the building codes in terms of fire protection and insulation and air sealing.
We also try to educate consumers. We have an education component to our association. We also recently, since 2013, we’ve created an ISO-compliant certification program that allows us to certify individual installers to be sure that they have the proper knowledge, skills, and abilities to install spray foam, both insulation and in roofing applications. We also, as part of that certification program, we accredit contractors when they meet certain requirements. We also accredit distributors and suppliers. We provide certification, again, for the entire value chain. We find that, by doing that, that’s going to raise the bar and will continue to improve the quality and proper installation and safe installation of our products.
SC: You guys have a lot going on, that’s for sure. This year, I would imagine, has added to the complexities, like everyone else. You mentioned there are a lot of things you guys do specifically for contractors, which is our main demographic as well who we’re trying to help. Was there anything specifically to this year that you needed to home in on to help contractors with the challenges that are unique for 2020?
RD: Yes. I can go back a little bit and talk about what happened in 2020, and I can first say this. As a nonprofit trade association, SPFA is not alone in this. It’s affecting many, many trade associations. One of the things that SPFA has done in the past is we based our business model on revenues from our annual trade show, which is about a third of our revenues, and then the other two-thirds or so come from member dues. That’s typical for most trade associations.
Of course, coming up, as some of you may know, we had to postpone our trade show in February of 2021. We actually moved it a whole year back. We had sort of a hole in our revenue stream by postponing the show for a year, but it was absolutely necessary, understanding the current state of COVID shutdowns and many companies are not permitting folks to travel. We had to move our show for a year, so it provided a challenge for us in terms of revenue, which led to some staff changes. In fact, prior to September, we had a full-time staff of four. We are now down to two and we’re still trying to do the same things that we’ve always done — of course, with the exception of the show coming up, that we had plans for in February.
What we’re doing this year is, in order to keep our revenue stream alive and keep our association funded and allow us to continue to provide the services that we do, we are really focusing on the contractor member and trying to provide extra value for them. Some of the things that we’ve done this year is, during the COVID shutdown, we’ve provided free, online exam preparation courses for anyone interested in taking them. That offer’s still there and it’s going to be there throughout the winter. We do offer those courses. These are approximately six- to eight-hour courses that help prepare anyone interested in taking the certification exams, to help them to study for that, understand what’s going to be in the exam, and then eventually they can go to a library or an approved proctoring service and take their certification exam. We’re trying to help our contractors make the best use of their time in the winter. To be quite honest, we’ve heard that our contractors are actually busier than they’ve ever been. The winter months are sort of normally a slow time, especially for our roofing folks, so we are providing that type of training to do that.
In addition to the free training we’re offering, we’re also making some improvements to our website. Early next year, we’re going to be launching a new website. It’s going to be much more contractor and consumer friendly. It’s going to be easier to navigate. One of the new features we plan to have in the website is a search feature that’s going to be just for contractors. Many times, we have homeowners or builders or design professionals coming to our website, looking to find a contractor, and it’s been somewhat different. We’ve been somewhat limited in the past. But the new search feature is going to allow anyone coming to our website to find a certified contractor or a contractor that employs certified installers.
It will also allow — the search feature will allow consumers to differentiate by the types of service provided. In the past, we’ve lumped all of our contractors into one big bowl, and it’s not always easy for a consumer to determine whether they’re a roofing or insulation contractor. Now we have that built into our search feature. This is going to be a much better opportunity and a much better way for consumers to connect with our contractor base.
The last thing we’re working on is we are creating a new member category. We’ve heard from many individual installers or applicators that they would like to become members of SPFA, but maybe their company doesn’t want to commit right now to becoming a contractor member. So we are in the process now of creating an applicator member category for an individual. That’s going to be soon announced here, within the next couple of weeks, so they’ll be some more information about that as well.
SC: That’s a lot of amazing stuff that’s coming up. To your earlier point that you're trying to help raise the bar in the industry, I think you probably experienced similar issues to many other aspects of the construction world. There are fly-by-nights, opportunists, or whatever you’d like to call them who might not have the same skill set that the certified applicators do have. Maybe that higher-functioning search for the potential clients could be great for the industry. I could see that making huge changes if it’s used by potential clients. That sounds wonderful.
RD: Yes. We’re really excited about the new website. It’s going to have a completely different look and feel. And it’s something that’s been much needed. Our website has been there for about 10 years. It looks kind of old in scale, and we now have an opportunity to work with Naylor, who develops websites just for associations. We’re using their platform, and we’re going to have a lot more features on the website. It will include webinars as well as all of our events and different meetings, and our committee work is all going to be handled in one spot. It’s going to make things a lot easier for our membership.
SC: That’s great. Obviously, like you said, if we’re not all able to meet in person in a big trade show in the spring, what a great way to use our time to make these large changes that are hopefully going to benefit the contractors, architects — like you said, everyone in the chain. I’m looking forward to seeing all those changes, Rick. That sounds great. And hopefully seeing you guys in person in 2022 at this point. Who knows?
RD: Sometime here soon. And one of the other things that we’ve been discussing is that we may even have one or two regional events around the country. Traditionally we’ve had our trade show in a nice warm climate — Florida, Texas, California are typical locations for our trade show in February. But in many cases what we found is we don’t always reach out to all of our contractors, so we’re going to maybe take advantage of the fact that we can’t do a winter trade show, but we may do a sort of regional type of meeting. Maybe in the Northeast and maybe in the upper Midwest. The idea there is that you don’t have to fly to our conference. You can drive, and we can get to meet contractors and applicators we’ve never met in the past. Those things are being discussed. There’ll be more information about that within the next couple of weeks as well.
SC: Spray foam on the road. That sounds like…
RD: That’s it.
SC: Awesome. Well, thanks for that. The other thing I would say is there’s obviously a lot coming down the pike for the alliance as a group. Formal congrats to you for becoming the executive director. Does that change anything — obviously it changes stuff for you — does it change anything for the alliance or the goals of SPFA? How does that affect anything, if it does at all, aside from your personal schedule?
RD: As I mentioned earlier, we are now a staff of two doing the work of a staff of four. Myself and Kelly Marcavage are quite busy. In addition to my role as executive director, which handles the general operations of the association, I’m also doing the outreach to outside of the industry, help supporting advocacy work that we’re doing with other associations, as well as my traditional duties as technical director. I find myself a little bit busy. Also Kelly Marcavage, who in the past has been our certification director, she is now the assistant executive director, taking care of not only certifications, but membership and our events planning, which would be in this case the 2022 Spray Foam Show. So we’re both quite busy, but we have a great support team.
The team consists of different volunteers from our board of directors as well as companies that have offered the services of their different personnel. For example, we have a marketing team that consists of a few members from our board of directors. We also have marketing support from many of the supplier companies, who have volunteered some of their staff to help us along, develop our website, and develop our marketing message for the new SPFA. We have a lot of people behind us, so it’s really not just Kelly and me.
SC: Yes, a team is always needed. Sounds like you guys will continue to be busy for the foreseeable future. I think that’s perfect segue for my last question. There are obviously a lot of changes going on in general in the world, let alone with the construction industry. Do you see any industry changes for spray foam specifically that are coming down the pike in the future? Not necessarily just next year; of course, that also applies. But any new technologies or trends that you see coming down the pike for spray foam?
RD: In the short term, it’s interesting because in the COVID world that we’re in today, everyone has the requirement to wear a mask on the jobsite and wear protective clothing. Well, our installers have been wearing masks and PPE since the beginning of the industry. We were pretty well prepared for that. The things that we’ve seen recently even with many of the statewide shutdowns, we’re finding that construction is still considered an essential industry, so we have not heard any reports of slowing down of work. In fact, many of our contractors are busier than they’ve ever been. We have not, fortunately, have not been impacted much as an industry by COVID. But we do see some changes coming down the road. There’s a new presidential administration coming into play. We’ve heard that one of the initial actions by President-Elect Biden is to reinstate some of the EPA regulations. What this means for spray foam is that there was a regulation to phase out HFC blowing agents in closed-cell foam that was scheduled to start in 2020. That was actually reversed in 2018. We expect that to be reinstated rather shortly. Even though there are several states that ban HFC blowing agents, we expect a national phase-out of the HFC blowing agents to be here very shortly. That’s something we’re preparing for.
We’re also seeing a lot of interest in energy efficiency. That’s going to be another program under the new administration. So we want to position ourselves, as an industry, to highlight the benefits of spray foam insulation and air sealing as a leading technology to help make our buildings more efficient and meet the low GWP [global warming potential] goals of President-Elect Biden and his team.
SC: Yes, I think there’s definitely a lot of changes that might be coming down the pike in general. Thanks for explaining a few that might affect our industry specifically. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention, Rick, before we sign off today and wish everyone a happy New Year?
RD: Absolutely. I know 2020 has been a struggle for everyone, even if our contractors are working. We know that their family and friends and the like have all been impacted by this. It sounds like we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully the vaccine will be here shortly, and we’ll be able to get back to normal in a few months. Here’s to a better 2021. That’s about all I have.
SC: Awesome. I appreciate it. If people want to reach out to you afterward, what’s the best way for them to do so?
RD: They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can call me directly at (703) 222-4269.
SC: Thanks so much, Rick. I really appreciate all the time that you spent with us today.