EPS foam/PVC Vinyl Spa Covers for Heated Outdoor Spas

Submitted to the California Energy Commission 2016
By E. Jess Tudor, Coverplay, Inc. Copyright 2016 - 2021

Expanded Poly Styrene foam may have a useful purpose, but most agree being tossed into America’s landfills as water-soaked spa covers for 2000 years should not be one of them.
EPS foam is made of benzene and styrene using pentane gas, chemicals derived from petroleum, also containing HBCD…OSHA requires factory workers wear full protection during its manufacture.
The naugahyde used on spa covers is Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) derived from petroleum; factory workers are directed to wear full protective gear when producing this cancer-causing material.
Benzene:  A known carcinogen.
Styrene:   In March 1987, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified styrene as a possible carcinogen to humans. Evidence now shows styrene metabolizes in humans and animals to styrene oxide for which there is enough evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals, the IARC re-classified styrene as a carcinogen in humans in 2016.
HBCD:  Used as a flame retardant is a PBT (Persistent Bio-accumulative Toxin) banned from use by 154 other countries as a POP (Persistent Organic Pollutant) and used primarily in Styrofoam until 2019 in the U.S. Some of these older spa covers are still being sold at discounted prices without mandated warnings.

Insulating a portable spa while protecting children from harm has been an important role for spa covers for more than 35 years. Since the earliest foam covers arrived on scene in the 1980’s little has been done to test them for efficacy or health safety. 
 Selling spa covers…all about higher R-values, R-12, R-20, R-30?
 R-value ratings refer to resistance of a mass to conduction and do not include convection or radiant heat loss. Simply put, insulate a home to R-19 yet leave the front door ajar and convection nullifies that R-19 value. A 2” thick 1.5 lb. density EPS foam board could have a tested R value of 7.4 in a dry test chamber. In our outdoor humid environment, that foam is reduced by 35% to R-4.8 value.  Science teaches energy takes the path of least resistance suggesting the R value of a 4” to 2” tapered EPS foam spa cover might be more legitimately defined at the narrower dimension!
Convection heat loss is prevalent and constant at the, “Dual hinge” between the two Styrofoam cores. This hinge fitted with, “Steam blockers” at the ends helps obviate concern and allows for a, “Cover lifting bar” to transition the cover on and off the spa, stressing the vinyl hinge with predictable results.  
Radiant heat loss is responsible for up to 80% of all heat loss and an adequate radiant barrier is not typically present with Styrofoam /PVC vinyl spa covers. Rigid Styrofoam sheets on hard acrylic spa surfaces finds gaps are common. In the early days a thin vinyl flap (skirt) was added to obscure heat losses prompting tales of additional insulating properties by ambitious salesmen. 
Styrofoam does not insulate…pentane gas beads trapped in the foam insulate!
The average effective insulating life of an EPS foam/vinyl spa cover (Styrofoam) is usually less than one year largely due to interstitial gaps between the gas beads that retain water. Experienced contractors and builders refrain from using EPS foam in an outdoor application because of this open cell design. Enclosing foam cores in plastic bags ensures trapped condensation is inevitable.
Warm water expands air in Styrofoam until cooler ambient weather condenses it creating water vapor inside the core. Increased differences in heated water and cooler ambient weather increases water permeation accordingly. Water is a conductor; saturated Styrofoam covers conduct heat and if left on a spa, can cost up to 3 times more to heat it on standby ready power. Compounding that problem, this short-term use of Styrofoam renders it trash as wet foam is host to micro-organisms and mold spores. Another closed cell foam (XPS) is 1000+ times more damaging to our planet than CO2.
A troubling concern is the duration in which waterlogged Styrofoam covers waste energy while exposing bathers to dangerous VOC’s and potential health risks. Even as Styrofoam covers become water permeated, they are generally left on the spa for an additional 3 to 5 years on average. A vast number of spa owners unable to lift their water heavy covers (100+ lbs.) open just half to use their spa as the cover has failed leaving them within inches of inhaling VOC vapors. With foam cores water heavy, evaporation super cools that wet foam to further strain the demand on the pump and heater.
Initial costs of EPS foam spa covers ($329 to $795) doesn’t include ever increasing energy costs to maintain standby heat as they fail… estimates for a 2-year-old cover add $400+ annually on average!
Material Safety Data (MSD) information warns EPS foam and PVC vinyl become unstable when exposed to strong oxidizers and a health risk releasing dangerous and harmful VOC’s. Strong oxidizers include water sanitizer’s chlorine, bromine, ozone and hydrogen peroxide.
(Sitting in a half open spa places the bather at full exposure to off-gassing VOC’s.)                           
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reluctant to set guidelines for the use of styrene prompting citizens to unite against EPS foam and ban it from food and beverage containers in communities all over the world…California classifies styrene a, “Class A” carcinogen.
One 7’ x 7’ EPS foam spa cover is equivalent to 3520 Styrofoam cups!
North Americans discard as many as 165,000 spa covers per month…annually that would equal enough 4” tall styrene cups laid end to end to circle the globe at the equator more than 17 times!
Carelessly discarded, styrene foam can end up adrift in the ocean for 500 years poisoning marine and avian life as it is resistant to photolysis. When sequestered in engineered landfills from aquifers and arable soil…20 centuries!
 Equally concerning is the public’s long-term health and that of the planet. There are genuine concerns brought by many health professionals and associated agencies regarding VOC chemical exposures including warnings from the makers of EPS foam and PVC vinyl. During the 1950’s asbestos was prevalent; it took 20 to 30 years for cases of asbestosis to surface and the many victims joined class action lawsuits for billions in compensation from those involved.

An Antidote

from E. Jess Tudor, Inventor of the Airframe Spa Cover; Patent # 9340989
After the energy test at Cal Poly in 2008 I was determined to bring a more energy efficient spa to the marketplace with the most efficient spa cover ever designed. It included the patented compression angle hinge that allowed my entry, “V” from Coverplay to best the field of all North American acrylic spa manufacturers.
Subsequent to that victory, I started development of a new, “21st Century” spa cover following scientific principles that included chambered air amid gas permeable radiant barriers and a Perimeter Barrier Seal (PBS). We chose safe, beautiful outdoor acrylic fabrics that, “Breathe” too. Specific components and dies had to be developed to simplify construction as there would be no stitching to fail. The result from those years of late-night R & D is the Airframe, a lightweight non-toxic insulating spa cover designed to remain lightweight and energy efficient! When needed, it can be disassembled, repaired and replaced affordably, never ending up in a landfill.
We offer licenses to qualified individuals interested in making patented Airframe spa covers for spa owners here in America! We have a formula for assembling packaged, “Kits” that need a space no larger than a two-car garage (400 sq. ft.) and hand tools (drill driver, stapler etc.) We offer a turnkey operation with training and ongoing support to those interested in making a small capital investment in our, “Green” product and look forward to consumers changing the spa cover industry.
Copyright Coverplay, Inc. 2016 - 2021 All Rights Reserved

CEC Title 20 Energy Efficiency 2016

As a member of the rule making committee (2013 to 2016) for portable spa energy efficiency for the California Energy Commission (CEC) and advisor to PG&E providing the first documented ambient study on the impact of evaporation on spa energy efficiency and consultant to California’s Investor Owned Utilities (IOU), I considered the impracticality of Styrofoam/PVC vinyl spa covers including potential health concerns from exposure to California’s residents and recommended the following:
  1. Suspend the import and sale of Styrofoam/vinyl spa covers for sanitized, heated outdoor spas.
  2. Collect a disposal/salvage fee (50%) for foam covers sold or brought into the state that will not be recycled to ease the burden of alternative disposal methods deferred from the general population.
  3. Approve a subsidy and provide low interest loans to promote the patented energy efficient Airframe spa cover to help re-establish sustainable business manufacturing in California.
Unfortunately for California citizens and their landfills, the CEC elected not to adopt my recommendations as the spa industry at large complained, those measures were too restrictive…
 Jess Tudor
Coverplay, Inc.
Central Point, OR 97502