On November 2nd 2011 an eight inch thick layer of open cell polyurethane spray foam insulation was applied to the home of Sergeant Allen Hill. Two days later he and his family moved into their newly built house, courtesy of ABC television and the producers of the popular philanthropic show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Anyone with even a tiny amount of experience in the spray foam industry would be asking the obvious question: why eight inches? Why eight inches when two or three are all that that needed for thermal insulation purposes? The answer is in Sgt. Hill's diagnosis of severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Hyperacusis (hypersensitivity to normal environmental sound).
According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs subordinate agency, the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), 11-20% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans will come home with PTSD. The number can not properly be pinned down for many reasons. For example, often veterans are not aware their altered behavior is a product of the trauma of war, or even a recognized medical condition. Further, PTSD is far more likely to afflict those who are under-educated, have little familial support, have experienced trauma prior to their service time, have endured stressful changes in their personal life, are under the age of 25, or are female. Obviously the presence of factors such as these is very common among military personnel, and therefore pushes the occurrence of PTSD further towards the 20% mark.
In the case of Sgt. Hill, during his time in Iraq he was almost killed when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated beneath his Humvee. During his rehabilitation from the physical wounds, it became very clear to Sgt. Hill's medical team that psychological wounds ran deep. Several years of inpatient PTSD treatment were necessary for the veteran before he could return to his family, and even then life was hugely different than life before the explosion. Sgt. Hill had many triggers for his panic episodes, including dimly lit spaces, long dark hallways, loud and sudden noises, and vehicular sounds. His knee-jerk reaction to the triggers was to run, and run without regarding for potential hazards, such as traffic.
To add to the situation, his family home was located right next to a rock quarry and train yard. Clearly Sgt. Hill could not return to the family home, if it were to remain in the same location. Alas, along comes the dramatic angel of mercy, Ty Pennington and his bag of sponsors. The rest of the story is familiar to us all; the Extreme Makeover team swoops in, builds a house in seven days, the family is welcomed back with momentous fanfare and tears of joy. Since that gray November day there have been dozens of articles written about the episode, each one covering a different angle of the event. Yet no one seems to have addressed the potential for helping veterans on a larger scale, using SPF. But first, let's take a quick look at the details of the project.
The foam used in the Extreme Makeover case was open polyurethane foam, known for its sound dampening qualities. Quantitatively, it had a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of 41 per regular application thickness of two inches, but was applied in an eight inch layer. According to the International Standards Organization (ISO), an STC 41 rating sets squarely between the “sunset of privacy” and “loud speech audible as a murmur”. When one of the occupants of the home is sensitive to environmental noise, an STC 41 rating is clearly not adequate. Applied at four times the thickness though, one could surmise the rating would sit at a little over 100. According to ISO, anything above 60 is “superior soundproofing; most sounds inaudible”. Clearly Sgt. Hill would now live in a home where he could enjoy the safety of quiet.
With a view to the entire military community, the sound dampening benefits of open cell SPF could be of great benefit to our nation's veterans suffering from PTSD. After all, there are more than just Sgt. Hill seeking a quiet life of recovery after their service time. Approximately 165,000 military personnel were deployed to the Iraq war alone. If just 11% (the bottom of the PTSD scale of occurrence) of those troops suffered from PTSD, it would mean 18,150 smokers are in distress within their own homes. Those who deal with PTSD each day, and can not handle the constant flashbacks, paranoia, anger, rage, fear triggers and so on, often resort to suicide or violent acts against themselves or family members. For Sgt. Hill, life is just a little more stable for him because he knows there is a quiet refugee available for him. For the minimum (and approximate) 18,149 veterans with PTSD, there may not be a retreat available.
This discussion begins the question: how can the SPF community reach out to the veterans' community? How can careful education on SPF take place, so PTSD sufferers and their families can see the real-life benefits of open cell SPF? Extreme Makeover may be a show bent on drama, yet they have succeeded (albeit unknowingly) in making the first move between SPF companies and veterans. It is time for manufacturers, installers, even representatives, to approach veterans associations. Sometimes offer workshops or literature showing the role SPF can have in treating PTSD. Now that all those hundreds of thousands of veterans have helped their nation, it is time for us to help them.