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Musings of an Energy Nerd

FTC Loses Insultex Case

A federal judge has ruled in favor of an R-value scammer

This photo of an installation of Insultex housewrap is used to promote the product on the web.When the Federal Trade Commission sued the marketers of Insultex housewrap for exaggerated R-value claims, a federal judge ruled in favor of Insultex.

Insultex housewrap first came to the attention of GBA readers back in 2015, when questions about the productwere posted on our Q&A pages. The distributor of Insultex, a housewrap that looks like Tyvek or Typar, is a Pittsburgh company called Innovative Designs. The company falsely claims that its housewrap has significant R-value. Innovative Designs sells two versions of Insultex, at a price that is from two to nine times higher than the price of ordinary housewrap. One version is 1 mm (0.0384 inch) thick; according to Innovative Designs, this product has an R-rating of R-3—in other words, R-78 per inch. The second version is 1.5 mm (0.0576 inch) thick; according to Innovative Designs, this product has an R-rating of R-6—in other words, R-104 per inch.

It’s important to establish a basic fact here: it’s impossible for a thin plastic housewrap that comes in a roll to have an R-value of R-78 or R-104 per inch. The theoretical maximum R-value for insulation products is generally about R-7.7 per inch, unless you’re talking about very expensive aerogels or vacuum-insulated panels (neither of which, incidentally, is capable of reaching R-78 per inch). This basic limiting factor for R-value has nothing to do with marketing or manufacturing methods; it has to do with physics. Needless to say, overturning the rules of physics is tough.

The outrageous R-value claims made by Innovative Designs Inc. (IDI) drew the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which sued the distributor for deceptive claims on November 3, 2016. In its press release announcing the suit, the FTC noted that Innovative Designs “claims R-values of either ‘R-3’ for its thinner product, or ‘R-6’ for its thicker product, and consequently, significant energy savings for consumers. However, IDI cannot substantiate these claims. Indeed, they are false. Even IDI’s…

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21 Comments

  1. Charlie Sullivan||#1

    Ugh. Thanks for reporting on this thoroughly, even though it's bad news.

    Searching for any encouraging signs, I see that it has disappeared from Home Depot's web site, and that although Lowes still lists it, none is in stock.

    1. GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay||#2

      Charlie,
      It's depressing that Lowe's still lists it.

      Another depressing fact: Last October 8, an Insultex employee (or perhaps an employee of an Insultex distributor) tried to post two pieces of spam on the GBA web site. That's the main reason I tracked down this story: I was surprised to see the company was still in business (and bold enough to try to post spam on GBA).

  2. Jason S.||#3

    "...there is a paragraph in C518 that allows for different test procedures. I rested my justification on that paragraph. The language allowed me to deviate some from one or more of the parameters.”

    So the slippery language is in ASTM C518. Add this to the list of reasons it shall remain dubbed 'Another Stupid Test Method'.

    1. Jason S.||#4

      Also I just want to be the first to call this ruling an absolute insult[ex] to honest insulation manufacturers. Couldn't resist.

      1. Ethan Borle||#15

        This is the only funny thing about this entire story.

    2. Expert Member
      Michael Maines||#9

      I have a copy of ASTM C518--it's 16 pages of dense text, covering just about every aspect you can imagine, with some language that acknowledges that in some cases, someone who understands heat flow might need to make reasonable adjustments. It's not "slippery" at all, and I'm shocked the judge ruled the way they did.

  3. Jay Chandra||#5

    一线希望是,联邦政府fixed (or tried to fix) this problem by regulation despite losing the court case. Run a search for 84 FR 20788 to read the basis for updating 16 C.F.R. §§ 460.5, 460.19, etc. The use of airspace was expressly disallowed in calculating R-values for non-reflective goods. Claims about energy savings now must have a "reasonable basis" under 460.19, and the regulation imposes liability on manufacturers for lacking a reasonable basis. Loopholes are hard to truly close, so we'll see if this all works.

    As for the court case, it does not mean the federal court system vindicated Innovative Designs' claims. As the appellate court recognized, based on the court record, "IDI [] advertises that Insultex provides energy savings to its users based upon its claimed R-values, but it has conducted no energy savings studies" and its R-value claims are not based on "standard" ASTM C518 testing. FTC v. Innovative Designs, No. 20-3379 (3d Cir. July 22, 2021).

    In the district court, Innovative Designs filed a 'Daubert' motion to strike the FTC's expert witness testimony because it was not "the product of reliable principles and methods", etc. The FTC lost that motion and thus the case.

    What counts as 'reliable methods' is a tricky legal issue when the expert has to depart from generally accepted methods, as happened here, and propose a bespoke, albeit intelligent, test. In the FTC's appeal, the government did not appeal the Daubert ruling, which pretty much sunk that appeal. That could be because the relevant legal precedents doomed the FTC's argument about reliability. It could also be because the FTC got seriously outlawyered in district court on the admissibility of expert witness testimony and the FTC appellate folks had nothing to work with.

    1. GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay||#8

      Jay,
      Thanks for providing further details on this case. I appreciate the information.

    2. Norman Farwell||#14

      Thanks for the analysis. But granting that context, it’s still hard to see how the court did not err in this ruling, A legal judgement in opposition to basic laws of physics that has the effect of permitting a blatantly corrupt and dishonest business practice is no small thing. It undermines the rule of law and the foundation of a civil society.

  4. Dan Kolbert||#6

    Another lovely feature of the system is that it's the Fed's job to prove it doesn't work, rather than the manufacturer's that it does. Same as with our chemical industry, etc.

  5. Bryan Coplin||#7

    Much of the judge's career has been in toxic tort and product liability. I think it's at least equally likely that her decision is based on judicial philosophy rather than struggles to understand expert testimony from a scientist.

    https://www.pawd.uscourts.gov/content/nora-barry-fischer-senior-district-judge

  6. Charlie Sullivan||#10

    I just checked out their web site. The claims about that material are even crazier than a few years back when they were last discussed here. They claim that the high R-value come from the cells of the foam being blown with gas, but then evacuated.

    "The material has been scientifically proven to be comprised of a countless number of evacuated cells without even a trace amount of the injection gas used in the creation of the material."

    This is obviously nonsense as the soft material would collapse if the cells had vacuum in them, and air would diffuse through thin walls pretty quickly. But the nonsense doesn't stop there. They then argue the heat flowing through this novel material somehow gets confused by it and follows a windy "tortuous path" making the insulation behave as it would if it were much thicker.

    It's mind boggling that a company selling things with such transparent nonsense not only finds customers who fall for it, but can't be stopped by our legal system.

  7. Paul Pfeiffer||#11

    Hypothetically, if someone were to build a house and use, say, 10 layers of the "R6" product as the only insulation, could the company be held liable when the occupants freeze during the winter?

    1. Expert Member
      Malcolm Taylor||#12

      Paul,

      I as thinking of similar possible consequences. We are required to submit the R-values (RSI up here in Canada) for each assembly on our building permit application. I wonder what they would say if the only insulation I showed on the roof and walls was a layer or two of this stuff?

    2. GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay||#13

      Paul and Malcolm,
      A similar court case to the situation you are talking about was actually litigated in Massachusetts in 2011. The dispute concerned a house that has no insulation at all -- just so-called "insulating paint."

      To read the details, see this article:"An 'Insulating" Paint Salesman is Tripped Up by His Own Product."

  8. Ethan Borle||#16

    This was extremely disheartening to read, but thanks for the update.

  9. Jaccen||#17

    The report, if anybody wants to read something only useful if it's printed off for toilet paper.
    http://insultexhousewrap.com/docs/Test%20Results.pdf

    It very clearly states the 3/4" air gaps were included in the test.

    If it sounds too good.........

    Though, I do appreciate the mech. engineer in the 2011 article, basically, doing some live "Wing Nut" testing in the court and that judge was smart enough to realize the significance.

    1. Charlie Sullivan||#18

      3/4" gaps, and likely a polished metal surface on one side of each gap. I'm pretty sure toilet paper would do just about as well as insultex in that test setup.

  10. Expert Member
    Carl Seville||#19

    I suspect that FiFoil and Bubble Wrap insulation salesmen are very happy.

  11. Jon Porter||#20

    ...and the ICC Evaluation Report ESR-1108 that they reference does not even appear to be for their product?

    https://icc-es.org/report-listing/esr-1108/

  12. Stephen Sheehy||#21

    This looks like the FTC's lawyers screwed up. In any civil case, the plaintiff (here, the FTC) has the burden of proving its case. Once the judge didn't accept the expert testimony, the FTC had no admissible evidence.

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