Ceramic Insulating Paint Additives and Other Myths That Just Will Not Die!

I had to laugh when I saw this scam making the rounds again. This is the fourth time that it has attacked the unsuspecting American public over the last 25 years. The story they tell is that all you have to do is add this "magic" high tech white powder of "ceramic beads" or "NASA micro-spheres" or "hollow/gas filled ceramic spheres" to any paint and Presto-chango, the paint is now an R-19 or better insulating coating. You can expect to see 20% - 40% savings on your utility bills according to their web sites. Yes, and I have beach front property in Arizona and a nice bridge in New York for sale, too. When it comes to scams with a really long shelf life, this one ranks right up there with the equally magical "oil additive" for your air conditioning system that reduces friction to the point that your unit will use one half of the electricity normally required, or the "power conditioner" that massages and "conditions" your electricity (or gives it a pep talk or whatever pseudo-science they are pitching that day) to the point where it will do far more work with each kilowatt than unappreciated electricity will! I should write a blog about those reoccurring scams someday, too.

Paint, especially a very bright white paint, can reflect heat and thus reduce the heat gain on a building. This can be accomplished without the use of any expensive additives. You can go online and find the albedo and reflectance of most paints on the manufacturer's web site. The research has shown that highly reflective white paints and elastromeric coatings do improve energy performance when initially installed. The drawback has been that in most of our major cities, nothing left outside on the roof or wall of a home or building stays "polar snow white" for long. With the level of air pollution in our cities, the "white" coating will become a dingy gray after just a few years and thus loose much of its effectiveness. I remember that back when these coatings first came to market the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA -industry organization for residential a/c and heating contractors) issued a Technical Bulletin about how to treat these coatings when calculating the heat gain for sizing cooling equipment. ACCA recommended that contractors enter the roof color as medium, and not light since in the long run the roof coating would get dirty and no longer be as reflective.

Paint is not an Insulation:

Let's get straight to the point. Paint is not an insulator! That's why you find it in a different aisle than the insulation at the hardware store. NASA has never "worked with" any manufacturer on any product remotely like this. The Federal Trade Commission has on several occasions slapped big fines and court actions on the manufacturers of these bogus miracle paint additives. I can't remember the names of the firms from back in the early and mid-1990's but in 2002 the FTC Kryton Coatings, and then in March of 2009 they took on Sumpolec and two other manufacturers to court and the court bared the companies from continuing to make false claims about these products. (FTC File Nos. 082-3125, Enviromate; 082-3062, Meyer Enterprises; and 072-3238, Sumpolec; Civ. Nos. CV-09-S-0386-NE, 1:09-cv-01074-MMM-JAG, and 6:09-CV-378-ORL-35 KRS.)

One of the most highly respected independent energy research organizations in the USA is the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC). I downloaded this from their "Consumer FAQ" web site:

"Q: Do ceramic coatings or products called liquid concrete or siding save energy? I've seen several ads promoting these coatings and paint additives, such as microspheres or ceramic beads that come from NASA technology, that claim to have insulative properties.

A: The Florida Solar Energy Center has tested ceramic paints and found them to have no significant advantage over ordinary paint in terms of their ability to retard heat gains through exterior building surfaces. These products are generally composed of elastometric coating products to which ceramic beads have been added. When tested side by side with the same elastrometric coating that doesn't have ceramic beads, both products have virtually the same heat-gain retarding performance. The product may have other worthy benefits like durability, but any energy-saving benefits it has can also be achieved without the ceramic beads. In Florida, choosing an efficient exterior coating means picking one with a light color to reflect heat.

For further information on how white and very light-colored surfaces can reduce heat gains to homes in Florida climates, see http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/publications/html/FSEC-CR-1220-00-es/index.htm.

For measured properties of various surface materials, see http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/publications/html/FSEC-CR-670-00/index.htm."

(http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/consumer/buildings/homes/faq.htm )

Has all of this scientific proof and the court orders stopped the marketing of these products? This is America and we have fought for the right to try to sell almost anything to anyone at any time for any reason. Can we market magnets that cure cancer and arthritis, or if placed in your car they promise to improve your gas mileage?  You betcha! You can go online and find many new firms who have taken the places of the now chastised companies and as we all know, it must be true if it is on the internet!

Whenever someone tells you that their product has benefits that can't be measured using conventional tests, run!  When they say that while their product looks bad when put to the standard engineering/scientific testing, but just trust them when they tell you that it "works in mysterious ways unknowable to mortal man." Grab your wallet while you are running!  That would be fine if the product was of divine origin, but I don't think that even this bold as brass bunch of liars would claim that to be the case.

The latest pair of "insulating paint" manufacturers to be tested and found to be lacking are Nansulate and Super Therm. In 2009 the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) tested both of these products. It turns out that neither met the requirements to be a "radiant barrier." To be classified as a radiant barrier a product must have an emissivity of less than 0.10. Super Therm had an average emittance of 0.90 and Nansulate had an average emittance of 0.92, which proves that they do not stop infrared heat gain. The CCHRC research team concluded that “there was no discernible difference in the performance of the Super Therm or Nansulate in comparison to regular latex paint during the energy monitoring tests.”

Reality Check:

Finally, I appeal to your good, common sense. If, and I repeat if, there was a way to make paint function as an effective insulation, don't you think that the big, reputable paint companies would have been all over that massive market opportunity in a heart beat? If this concept works, then why are Sherwin-Williams, Behr, Glidden, and all of the rest sitting on the sidelines and not out there in this market competing! Finally, if the big home builders in the country could save both time and money by just spraying some paint on a house instead of going to all of the trouble of carefully installing expensive insulation, wouldn't they have been doing it for years now? You know the answer. It's the same reason you don't see Ford or GM making a car with a "perpetual motion" engine or Boeing making anti-gravity airplanes. They don't exist in reality and neither do ceramic micro-bead, NASA developed, 5 mil thick high R-value insulating paints.

Any questions? I thought not. You are welcome.

Just another day in the life of a building science geek.

Resources:

http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/insulating-paint-salesman-tripped-his-own-product

http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/insulating-paint-merchants-dupe-gullible-homeowners

http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2009/03/courts-bar-firms-making-deceptive-claims-home-insulation-products

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