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Musings of an Energy Nerd

An ‘Insulating’ Paint Salesman Is Tripped Up By His Own Product

When Alton King built a new house, he didn’t include any insulation — instead, he trusted a ‘miracle’ product, ceramic paint

Where’s the insulation? Alton King, a distributor of “insulating” paint, believed in his product so strongly that he substituted paint for insulation in the attic of his own house.
Image Credit: Craig Marden

There is no such thing as “insulating” paint, as I noted in an earlier blog. However, that fact hasn’t stopped paint dealers from promoting these worthless high-priced coatings to gullible customers.

One former distributor of “insulating” paint is Alton King of Longmeadow, Mass. After setting up a company called Energy & Conservation Management Inc., King became a distributor of Super Therm, a paint manufactured by Superior Products International. The manufacturer claims that Super Therm (also spelled “Supertherm”) has an “R-19 equivalent rating” and “provides the same protection as 6 inches of fiberglass.”

The manufacturer of Super Therm has been making outlandish claims for years. Back in March 2004, I wrote an article for Energy Design Update, “R-Value Scofflaws,” debunking a claim by Superior Products International that Super Therm “provides R-19 in 7 mil thickness.”

Although the claim that a coat of Super Therm paint is equivalent to R-19 insulation is clearly false, Alton King apparently believed it. In fact, King was such a believer in the insulating value of Super Therm that he decided to use the paint to insulate his own home.

In January 2001, King hired Richard McCullough to build him a new 7,291-square-foot home at 49 Memery Lane in Longmeadow, Mass. After the house was completed, the town assessed the home at $1,060,300.

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The builder hired a subcontractor, Paul Tetro of Dee Service, to design and install the home’s HVAC system. Tetro was given plans showing a house with conventional fiberglass insulation. After performing a Manual J calculation, Tetro designed a hydro-air heating system — that is, a system using a boiler that sends hot water to a heat-exchange coil in the air handler. Space heat is distributed through ductwork. The system included a…

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31 Comments

  1. User avater GBA Editor
    Allison A. Bailes III, PhD | | #1

    Poetic justice, indeed!
    Thanks for reporting this, Martin. It looks like this guy got exactly what he deserved, but it's a shame that he tried to blame it on the HVAC contractor. Maybe he should countersue for the time and business he lost having to go to court on a ridiculous charge.

  2. John Brooks | | #2

    How about this product?
    Martin, I mentioned this to you once at the JLC forum...
    I see this advertisement for "LO/MIT" often when I visit the Q&A page at GBA
    Do you consider "LO/MIT" to be a scam?

  3. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    Response to John Brooks
    John,
    I checked out this LO/MIT Web page:
    http://www.solec.org/LOMIThome.htm

    I found exaggerations and misstatements. They report that their two products, when applied to glass, have an emissivity of 0.22 and 0.15. Both of these emissivities are too high for the product to be considered a radiant barrier. (The maximum emissivity of a radiant barrier is 0.10.)

    Therefore I think their claim that these products are "radiant barrier paints" is untrue. As far as I have been able to determine, no one has succeeded yet in inventing a radiant barrier paint.

    The same Web page also contains a misleading phrase: it describes these products as "LO/MIT insulating paints." Obviously, there is no such thing as insulating paint.

  4. Matt Dirksen | | #4

    Thanks
    Martin,

    Thanks so much for reporting this. Several years ago, I was asked by many clients about this stuff. In fact, there was a "green remodeling" store not far away which was selling it as a miracle product (that store has long since departed.) Being skeptical, but open to trying things out, I decided to paint my kids room with it to see if it made any difference. Other than the textured appearance, the temperature difference was very slight. I would notice in the summer, the room would initially feel cooler with no one inside it, but then become slightly warmer when the kids would occupy it. I assume it is due to it's radiant properties. Absolutely no replacement for something which slows heat transfer.

    I am often reminded in this work: "if it's too good to be true, it probably is."

    Matt

  5. 5C8rvfuWev | | #5

    Ah, an answer
    Carl Seville's curmudgeon blog this week implies a core question: What will it take to make humans change our behavior (to make realistic, responsible choices as consumers)? I think you've found the answer, Martin ---

    If it doesn't take us all down the drain with a world full of "King"s, Evolution will eventually sort out the fools and self-congratulating idiots. Darwin is alive and well.

    And it sounds like products like SuperTherm and Lo/Mit are sort of green building's version of the "Jackass" franchise.

  6. Doug McEvers | | #6

    Insulating paint
    I am convinced the gentleman using only paint as insulation truly believed in the claimed insulating properties. He is also a good salesman to convince building officials of the same. We as observers are fortunate to see a real world test of insulating paint in isolation, the fact the owner would go after the HVAC contractor shows his belief in the product.

  7. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    Response to Doug McEvers
    Doug,
    Certainly when he first installed the paint, he must have believed in its effectiveness. At some point during the next 7 years, however, I would imagine that doubts must have crept into his mind.

    However, if you are correct and he still believes that one coat of Super Therm is equivalent to R-19 of conventional insulation, then he is an example of a citizen who is immune to scientific argument. Such people exist, of course. They are apparently unswayed by data, research, or physics. They know what they know, and they aren't interested in being distracted by the facts.

  8. Joe Schmo | | #8

    true that. i hope the plaintiff had to pay the HVAC's legal fees
    is this paint by chance an intumescent coating that maybe achieves its claimed R value upon expansion initiated by fire or something? Such coatings do exist but they are expensive and, well, need to be exposed to fire to work. That is the only case where I have seen a painted on coating achieve a decent insulating value.

  9. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #9

    Legal fees
    Brian,
    No, Alton King was not ordered to pay the defendant's legal fees. The defendant's lawyer, Steve Silverman, says that there is little likelihood of that happening due to the difficulty of proving that a lawsuit is frivolous under Massachusetts law.

    Super Therm is not an intumescent coating. The R-value of a coat of Super Therm is zero.

  10. Philipp Gross | | #10

    Unbelievable
    I hope this guy did not make the money for his house by selling that paint. The building inspector should have lost his job due to incompetence and it is a shame that King was not ordered to pay the defendant`s legal fee.

  11. Bob Ellenberg | | #11

    Super Therm
    I have experience with Super Therm and have some sympathy for the dealer (up until he sued the HVAC contractor). They tell their story so convincingly you cannot imagine anyone making false claims with such conviction (at least I couldn't as I am an honest person). I have been a building contractor for 40 years but I am not an engineer. About 6 years ago I started studying the claims of the Super Therm product. I learned of them through a lot of publicity an architect in CA was getting on a house where he used it and touted it highly. I got all of their documentation and even though I was not an engineer, after studying it, there seemed to be some holes in their claims. I took the information to an engineer who was doing some work for me who sepecialized in thermo dynamics. He read it and told me they were trying to use test results that were not valid to support their claims and that it was impossbile to achieve what they were claiming. Through continued conversations with Super Therm, they referred me to "a licensed engineer" who was one of their distributors. After many lengthy conversations, he told me to test it my self if I didn't believe it. With the help of my engineer, we planned tests and constructed 3 boxes; one with Supertherm, one with foam and one with a coating product called Weather Bloc by Mascoat. (Mascoat made very modest claims for their product and let me know right up front that insulative coatings could not do what Supertherm claimed). We documented the results but the bottom line was Super Therm performed miserably, Mascoat even better than they claimed and the foam as expected.

    I highly recommend the Mascoat product for specialized uses (they are very big in the marine industry). I find it hard to believe the Supertherm people are not behind bars for what they claim!

  12. Kevin Hanlon | | #12

    SuperTherm
    The only insulating this paint does is to insulate the consumer from reality, logic and the laws of thermodynamics. Fun, insightful article.

  13. Ta Harvey | | #13

    Physics violation
    We have had to investigate these and numerous other claims for our high-performance home engineering clients many times. There is a lot of confusion around the performance of radiant insulators, and the crazy claims made by the manufactures.

    However, keep a few things in mind. Even a near perfect low emissivity surface, could never achieve more than a R2-3. And that a low-E material MUST have a air space next to it to function. And no matter how perfect a low-E surface and air space is, it never is as efficient as a real insulator per inch. Which leaves low-e materials to some pretty specialized uses.

    It is important to understand there is no magic product, and all of the physics can be calculated.

    Troy Harvey
    Principal Engineer
    Heliocentric

  14. Roger Williams | | #14

    Ceramic bead paint
    My wife wanted to paint all the rooms in the house. I wanted to test the ceramic "insulating" paint. I purchsed the additive for around $200 and she added it to the paint on the ceilings and outside wall paint. There was no change in the heating or cooling. I did find that the paint resists moisture a little better than the kitchen/bath paint I had previously used. Live and learn.
    Last fall I had my two outside doors replaced with "Energy Star" insulated doors. Saw only about a 3% reduction in energy use. A few years ago I replaced all of my light bulbs with CFLs.......You guessed it, no change in my energy consumption. I live in a majority heating area so the old bulbs just added heat to the house, so it wasn't "waste" heat. Just who can you believe?

  15. Tom Gocze | | #15

    Paint Ads
    I love the fact that at the top of this story are Google Adwords advertisements for Radiant Barrier Paint.

    At least the attic looks clean!

    Tom in Maine

  16. Michael Anschel | | #16

    Light bulbs
    Roger,

    Your discovery that the electrical resistance heaters that glow in those light fixtures was a substantial source of heat (albeit a dirty one in most instances) has actually be the subject of some debate up here in the frozen North.

    Anecdotal evidence has been rolling in that replacing incandescent or halogen bulbs in SOME locations, may actually result in higher heating bills. Why? Imagine sitting down in your favorite chair and turning the lamp on next to it to read your book. You have a great little point of use heater directed right at your body. As a result the room temperature need not be as high, and human behavior is such that unless we feel cold, we don't turn up the heat. The case can almost be made that in those high use areas, especially sedentary ones, that the more energy efficient solution might be to use an old fashioned heat source... I mean light bulb.

  17. Michael Anschel | | #17

    Easy Target
    I'm not sure how I feel about this very long and somewhat misleading article. Yes, the poor dude got duped. That sucks. But the industry wants no regulation from inside or out, and so without controls, you situations like this.

    At the same time, I don't think you can lump all insulating coatings (paint) into the same bucket. There are a number of commercial coatings that perform quite well and are not duping anyone. Many of us make use of those coatings without perhaps being aware of it, particularly as it relates to steel coatings on Steel panels (roof, wall claddings), shipping containers, boats, cars, and manufacturing plants. Those NASA coatings designed to protect components that are exposed to high temperatures, solar radiation, etc. Work in the application for which they are designed. Some of those coatings do have a function in residential application.

    Are they a substitute for insulation? Not at all. Can they provide resistance to energy transfer? yes. I am all for calling out the scam artists and the companies who operate unchecked. I would love to see our industry come together enough to ban those products from the market. At the same time, I think we need to be careful about painting (pun intended) with such broad brush strokes.

  18. Ed Dunn | | #18

    Radiant barrier?
    I did not believe the claims of this paint when I first heard of it because I had always understood that a radiant barrier needed about a one inch airspace next to it. How can that be achieved if you are applying on the surface of sheathing or drywall?

    The next question would be, do those radiant barriers under slabs work as well as 2 inches of rigid foam. I don't use them for the same reason, how can you get a continuous airspace?

  19. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #19

    Response to Ed Dunn
    Ed,
    You are right to be suspicious of these claims.

    1. The emissivity of dried paint is too high to be a radiant barrier. No one has yet been able to develop radiant barrier paint -- it doesn't exist.

    2. A true radiant barrier (aluminum foil or foil-faced plastic) needs to face an air space to be useful.

    3. There is no way to establish an air space under a slab on grade, so if a radiant-barrier distributor claims that their product can perform well under a slab, they are lying.

    More information here: Radiant Barriers: A Solution in Search of a Problem.

  20. Mike Snow | | #20

    Insuladd
    I am looking into purchasing Insuladd Insulating Paints & Additives. I've read that they are the original NASA partners and that other companies just claim to use NASA technology.

  21. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #21

    Response to Mike Snow
    Mike,
    If you are looking into purchasing insulating paint, you aren't paying attention, and I guess you failed to read the article. I'm sorry to hear that you intend to waste your money.

  22. Jerry Chandler | | #22

    Investigation
    Perhaps this deserves some further investigation. http://www.nasa.gov/topics/nasalife/green_paint.html

  23. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #23

    Response to Jerry Chandler
    Jerry,
    That press release from 2008 is a thinly disguised advertisement for InsulAdd. I have made repeated inquiries over the years to the NASA public relations department, trying to locate the author of the deceptive press release and urging NASA to review the accuracy of the technical information in it. NASA has never answered my questions or gotten back to me on the issue.

    Although low-e paints may make sense in space, where radiant effects dominate, conditions differ on earth. Houses are surrounded by air, not a vacuum, and we don't have to worry that adding insulation the the walls of our houses will make the houses so heavy that they are difficult to launch into orbit.

  24. Ray Satiro | | #24

    Hi I came across your article
    Hi I came across your article after googling supertherm. I just read an article on bobvila's website that mentioned SuperTherm in a positive light: http://www.bobvila.com/articles/316-home-sweet-container/pages/1
    The article has no publish date. The author says: Supertherm is a high-performance, four-part ceramic coating that carries an R value of R-19 and adheres to the steel surface of the shipping containers.

    Aren't products like that supposed to be sprayed externally to keep a building from heating up instead of internally to keep heat from escaping? I do a lot of work with Habitat for Humanity and it has come up a few times over the years, with some debate, that a light colored roof would save energy. And several months ago when I was doing disaster relief I was at a conference where the mayor of NYC said that when a roof is coated in white paint it will lower the building's energy cost. What do you guys think of that?

    Are there any objective studies to compare SuperTherm to white paint when it is sprayed on a shipping container or building? I am not a builder but I am curious. Thanks

  25. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #25

    Response to Ray Satiro
    Ray,
    When you spray white paint on the exterior of an uninsulated shipping container, the paint can help keep the interior of the shipping container cool in sunny weather. However, the paint will have almost no effect on a house with an insulated wall assembly.

    So -- if you are building homes with uninsulated walls in a hot climate, go ahead and use white paint. Otherwise, I advise you to pay attention to air sealing, and use plenty of insulation in your walls.

    The same advice applies to roofing. If the house is poorly insulated or uninsulated, you might consider installing roofing with high solar reflectance (that is, a high ability to reflect sunlight, measured on a scale of 0 to 1) and high thermal emittance (that is, a high ability to emit thermal radiation, also measured on a scale of 0 to 1) -- but only if the house is located in a hot climate. The advice doesn't apply to homes with well insulated attics or well insulated roof assemblies, and it doesn't apply to homes in cold climates.

  26. Paul Jacobs | | #26

    Insulating Paint
    I must admit I am skeptical about insulating paints but in the article on the NASA website mentioned above I do not think it is an advertisement of any kind. At the bottom of the article is a link to a NASA PDF document. Now I am familiar with this document because I will read it from time to time. It was originally published in 2007 and it describes the background, the premise and the outcome of Insuladd and how the creator contacted NASA for assistance. Please read it and decide for yourself. Maybe some independent research by a reputable organization needs to be completed

  27. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #27

    Response to Paul Jacobs
    Paul,
    The PR department at NASA briefly hired marketers to send out press releases trumpeting products that were spin-offs from our country's investment is space exploration. The hope was that taxpayers would realize that every dollar invested in NASA had multiple benefits.

    The Insuladd press release was one example of this policy. It was written by marketers, not building scientists. My repeated phone calls and e-mails to NASA asking for more information on this press release, and requesting to speak to someone involved with it, have gone unanswered.

  28. Eric Burr | | #28

    How you use the product
    From my perspective I think it boils down to a case of improper use of the product.
    I believe Supertherm does have a “reflected” R value of 19 when applied to a roof, however when applied to an interior wall or interior attic roof it has no insulating value because no solar reflectivity is taking place.
    Pointing no fingers...you have to understand the product you are selling.

  29. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #29

    Response to Eric Burr
    Eric,
    You wrote, "I believe Supertherm does have a reflected R-value of 19 when applied to a roof."

    Fortunately, physics is not determined by belief. In this case, Eric, your beliefs are irrelevant.

    No building scientist in the country agrees with your beliefs.

  30. MIKE DEBUSK | | #30

    supertherm coating
    I HAVE USED AND SOLD RADIANT BARRIER COATINGS FOR AROUND 20 YEARS THE FIRST BEING ( HYDRO-THERM ) THAT WAS SOLD AS A HOUSE COATING ONLY. THEN LATER I WENT WITH A COATING CALLED --SUPERTHERM-MFG BY SUPERIOR PRODUCTS IN SALINAS KANSAS.BY J.E.PRITCHET ---AFTER READING ALL THE NEGATIVE COMMENTS BY MARTIN HOLLADAY CONCERNING NO SUCH THING AS RADIANT COATINGSI FELT THE NEED TO ADD MY 2 CENTS--MY FIRST COMMENT BEING --I WORKED FOR A MAJOR CHEMICAL COMPANY THAT I SOLD THIS PRODUCT TO FOR ABOUT 10 YEARS WITH OUT A SINGLE COMPLAINT AS TO WHAT IT COULD DO..BEFORE THEY WOULD PURCHASE IT THE THEY WANTED TO TEST IT IN THE LAB AND AFTER ALL THE TESTING..THEY WERE SATISFIED THAT IT WOULD DO AS STATED AND IT ACTUALLY DID BETTER IN SOME CASES. NOW SOME OF THE ENGINERS SAID IT WAS A WHITE ELEPHANT PRODUCT EVEN AFTER SEEING THE TEST RESULTS HUMM I GUESS THEY WERE WRONG..BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T FIRE ME AND I'V WORKED THERE FOR ANOTHER 6 YEARS THEN RETIRED..AND YES THERE STILL USING IT...I'M NO ENGINEER BUT THE FACT THAT ALL THE FEED BACK FROM THE PEOPLE AND COMPANY'S I SOLD IT TO RE ORDERED. THE ONE THING THAT I MIGHT ADD ABOUT THIS PRODUCT SUPERTHERM IS THAT JAPAN BOUGHT SOME AND TRIED TO DUPLICATE IT THEM SELVES BUT COULDN'T AND HAVE PURCHASED THOUSAND OF GALLONS OF IT TO USE---YES I GUESS YOU CAN BELIEVE WHAT MARTIN HOLADAY HAS TO SAY ABOUT THE PRODUCT BUT I KNOW BETTER.BECAUSE I STILL USE IT, WITH GOOD RESULTS. AND YES IT DOES A BETTER JOB WHEN FACING THE HEAT SOURCE...HAVE A GREAT DAY

  31. matt9923 | | #31

    https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/49-Memery-Ln-Longmeadow-MA-01106/56184955_zpid/

    What a shame, hope whoever buys this knows how its built.

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