Brrrr, it’s starting to get nippy outside. Now is a good time to seal drafts for a cozy warm home.
Spray foam insulation or spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation is very effective in boosting home energy performance and comfort. Unfortunately, it has numerous downsides, including its effects on indoor air quality. As more evidence surfaces about the concerns in spray foam, many people are choosing to avoid these products and seek safer alternatives.
Some of the chemicals contained in spray foam are considered to be hazardous to human health by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some foams contain the toxic flame retardant TCPP. Applying spray foam also releases isocyanates. Exposure to isocyanates can cause skin, eye, and lung irritation and asthma, and there is no recognized safe level of exposure by the EPA. Isocyanates are considered to be a leading chemical cause of asthma in the workplace.
Occupants should leave the home during and after spray foam application. And insulation technicians should use eye, skin, and respiratory protection when applying spray foam products. Homes and buildings need to be properly cleaned and ventilated after application to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals and dust. Even when properly applied, there are many concerns associated with these insulation products.
Off-Gassing and Indoor Air Pollution
Spray foam insulation can continue to off-gas chemicals, causing indoor air pollution. This is especially problematic when the two agents aren’t properly prepared, mixed, and cured under the right conditions. If polyurethane foam insulation causes an indoor air quality issue, it is difficult to remove because spray foam sticks tenaciously to materials. Therefore, removal isn’t recommended by the Environmental Working Group. Some people have discovered indoor air pollution issues after applying these products but have difficulty rectifying the situation.
Advantages of Spray Foam Insulation
Despite all the disadvantages, there are many advantages to these products. Spray foam insulation is a great way to seal gaps and cracks. It has a high R-value with great energy performance and provides excellent insulation. Closed-cell spray foam also blocks water vapor, thus providing a moisture barrier. This means that it can help stop moisture problems and leaks, deterring mold growth. It also has a long lifespan and is effective for many years.
Insulate With Care
If you do decide to insulate your home with spray foam, do not apply spray polyurethane foam as a DIY project. Rather, exercise caution in selecting a qualified contractor. Find a professional who is properly trained, experienced, insured, and licensed. Research the company and speak with existing customers and read consumer reviews, and ensure they follow reasonable safety practices.
There are safer alternatives to spray foams for many projects, including cellulose and cotton insulation. Many of these products do not off-gas and are made from natural, recycled materials. Unfortunately, cellulose and cotton insulation products shouldn’t be installed in areas with moisture issues.
Because we spend so much time in our homes, indoor air quality is essential for overall health. If possible, minimize or avoid the use of spray foam products, especially when safer alternatives are effective. This is especially important for people with respiratory issues and chemical sensitivity. If you do decide to move forward, exercise caution when hiring an insulation contractor.
This article was originally published on November 4, 2019.