Remodelers in search of new green products need look no further than America's soybean fields. A number of manufacturers of industrial products are employing soy as a main ingredient, often as a replacement for imported fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful ingredients.

BioBase 501 is a soy-based, polyurethane spray-in foam insulation that was named “Outstanding Green Product of the Year” by the NAHB in 2004. Matt Costner, marketing manager for BioBased Systems, explains the origins of the product. “The idea originally was just to use any agricultural product to substitute as a polyol to make our foam. One of the reasons we went with soy is that it's a huge crop here in America and we were able to get some research funding from the United Soybean Board.”

Costner says that besides lowering energy bills, applying BioBase 501 can increase the indoor air quality of a home, due to its superior sealing properties. It has an R-value of 3.7 per inch, R-13 at 3.5 inches, and a density of .45 to .50 pounds per cubic foot. It's applied as a liquid and expands 100 times in size to seal wall surfaces. For this reason, it's important that remodelers use BioBase 501 only in open stud bays; otherwise the insulation may break through or blow out the drywall when it expands.

Courtesy BioBased Systems

Although some contractors and homeowners balk at the higher cost of BioBase 501 compared to traditional insulation, Costner counters that the benefits outweigh the additional up-front expense. “If you look at it over the life cycle of the structure, or add it on to the monthly mortgage, it's easy to justify the additional cost. It's a quick payback,” in terms of energy savings. From a green perspective, Costner says, the product has a lot of advantages. “Most of the petroleum that's used [in traditional spray-in insulation] is imported fossil fuel,” he says. “We're replacing the fossil fuels with American-grown soybeans that are annually renewable.”

Another soy-based product is a reflective roof coating called Environmental Liquid Membrane System (ELMS) from Green Products. With the help of grants from the USB and the USDA, the company created ELMS about 14 years ago. According to the USB, ELMS is the only renewable resource–based roof coating to earn Energy Star approval. Made from soybean oil, it's 100% waterproof and has been tested under ASTM D 3273 to be resistant to mold, algae, and bacteria.

“Soybean (oil) is the most cost-effective oil out there to work with,” says Grant Grable, vice president of sales and marketing for Green Products. He is quick to point out that petroleum oils weren't always the first choice for building products. “People forget that some of the first urethanes were made from agricultural oils.” The company also makes soybean oil–based coatings for metal, masonry, and wood. Grable hopes that increased awareness of the range of soy-based products will cause people to trust in the performance of green building products. “The nice thing about our products is that they make environmental sense and conventional sense,” he says.

“A lot of people think environmental products are inferior, but ours are waterproof and don't break down from the sun,” Grable adds. “And we can recycle every constituent that goes into our products.” Although ELMS is currently used mainly in industrial and commercial products, it has potential for the remodeling industry, says Grable, because it restores and extends the life of roofs.

The USB has a complete list of soy-based building products on their Web site,

For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog,