spray foam insulation and health hazards

housebuilder14May 13, 2014

I am leaning towards more traditional insulation because of the health hazards potentially related to SPF. Is this crazy? (Am I spending too much time reading crazy stuff on the Internet?)

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    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 1:49PM
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    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 3:36PM
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Hi there. I saw this in the "recent posts". It so happens that we saw a news program on the weekend with regards to Spray foam insulation.

A family had purchased a house and had sprayed foam. They got severely ill and can't live in the house, they're camping in a trailer on the property.

The company won't admit that there's anything wrong with the install.

It IS completely safe as long as it is properly applied, in a thin layer. This was far too thick and it didn't cure properly. It was a Canadian program called Marketplace and was very interesting. I'm not sure if you can watch it from where you live, online.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 3:51PM
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There's nothing wrong with being careful and doing your research.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 4:02PM
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Thank you very much jasdip. I am worried about installation, lingering dust as well as gassing issues. I read an article that was about a family similar to the one you described in your post. I guess at the end of the day is SPF that much better than traditional fiberglass insulation that it warrants any long-term health risks we might be assuming.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 4:04PM
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thanks lavender_lass. The problem is that its unclear what the real risks are (if any). There is not much available "real" data -- more is anecdotal stories or health issues re: those that install the SPF. There have been no long term studies (at least that I could find) re: gassing and health concerns of those living in the house.

was curious what others here thought - and if anyone shared my concern.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 4:07PM
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It looks like almost all the available public info comes from the insulation companies or sites with insulation company sponsors. I don't know about you but I certainly completely trust my health and my life to the chemical industry.

Closed-cell spray foam is the most expensive residential insulation. When installed well it performs better than any other insulation. It is an excellent air barrier, is impervious to moisture, is an effective vapor retarder, and adds structural strength to a wall. ItâÂÂs made of a mixture of isocyanate, a petroleum-based chemical, and a catalyst, polyol resin, a surfactant, and a blowing agent.

Spray foam comes in many varieties: high density, low density, medium density, polyurethane, phenol formaldehyde, and urea formaldehyde. It is plastic, it will not burn, but it will melt and the fumes will kill you, but the main problem is off-gassing formaldehyde, a chemical that can cause a variety of health problems and is listed by the EPA as a possible carcinogen in humans.

Urea-formaldehyde is found in some pressed wood products, such as particleboard, hardwood plywood paneling and medium density fiberboard. Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation installed during the 1970s resulted in high indoor concentrations of formaldehyde but outgassing declines with time.

Phenol-formaldehyde formulation proves better at lowering outgassing in foam and in wood products.

After Polyurethane foams have cured, VOC emissions are extremely low and the foam should pose no problems to all but those who have chemical sensitivities. In any event, they don't off-gas formaldehyde.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 4:28PM
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I've never had issues with the homes with spray foam.
we use open cell here in south La. the only closed cell
is under floors of raised homes.

install is dependent upon lots of things..
knowledge of installer (always always shop installers)
temp of product
mix of product
application of product
moisture content of area being foamed
application of product
application of product
correct install.

do some more reading at energyvanguard blog &
green building advisor's blogs. just site search for foam.
lots of input from the one time experience of the homeowners
& folks like me who oversee these installs many times over.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 12:12PM
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You are partially right, there are no long term studies which means we become the study and time will tell if there are long term effects. If the product is applied under the right conditions and in the right ratio of the two raw components it appears to be safe.

We are planning to build soon and we ponder the same question. We are looking at alternatives like rock wool and foam sheet which has been made under factory conditions.

With houses being more airtight there is a real risk of indoor pollution. The key to good ventilation is installing an ERV or HRV but I have yet to see a good installation that distributes fresh air evenly throughout the house.

I believe the FDA is beginning to look at the safety of sprayed foam after some lawsuits. One linked below:

Here is a link that might be useful: Class Action

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 3:23PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We have closed cell and the house did smell funny after they applied it. But by the time the sheet rock went up, the odor was gone....

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 5:40PM
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While it is probably safe when applied correctly, polyurethane spray foam is extremely nasty when set on fire (I know, fire retardant, drywall, yadda ,yadda, yadda. It still burns).

I managed to set cured spray foam on fire when welding and I can't imagine how horrible it must be to breathe those fumes in the event of a house fire. On the plus side, you'll die quickly without the pain of fire.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 6:41PM
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housebuilder, I am researching proper ventilation for homes which are well insulated. I found an article I had saved which discusses ventilation and it is particularly directed to homes built with spray foam insulation. Ventilation can help to alleviate concerns you may have about indoor air quality, but more importantly, it is very important to control moisture build up.

Here is a link that might be useful: Why Ventilation is Important in Spray Foam Homes

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 9:31PM
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