There are two major types of backer rods used in construction projects. These are the soft rods and closed cell rods. Soft rods are also referred to as the open cell type due to their internal microstructure that is made up of open cells. Closed cell rods on the other hand are made up of millions of tiny closed cells that are resistant to water, air and other fluids. The two structures are responsible for a number of properties found in both the open cell and closed cell versions. These properties are meant to suit different applications in different environments.
Closed cell backer rods are known for their rigidity and resistance to various fluids. For this reason, they are used in external environments where the moisture content is high. They are used whenever the builder requires forming an airtight seal that is resistant to water and air. They are usually supplied in smaller diameters than open cell rods and are generally meant for smaller gaps and cracks. Due to their rigid nature, they are harder to install in irregular and rugged cracks. They are generally used to fill cracks that have a uniform width.
Soft backer rods on the other hand are known for their flexibility and ease of installation. Their open cell structure enables them to bend and compress easily into joints during installation. Therefore, they can be used in virtually all sizes and types of joints. However, they are permeable to water and air hence are most appropriate for internal environments where moisture content is low. They are generally supplied in larger diameters than closed cell rods and are most appropriate for filling large gaps before application of a sealant. Their flexible nature allows them to fit easily into gaps with a varying width since large diameters can be forced into the narrow sections. Depending on the specific task at hand, one can use the two types interchangeably to achieve an airtight seal.