Capitol Connection: Is Spray Foam Insulation Really Safe?

February 26, 2014

If you have watched a recent episode of any home improvement show, you probably know what spray foam insulation looks like. Instead of the bulky insulation of our past, the newest trend in home insulation is a spray on material that expands, hardens and seals walls completely, filling even the smallest cracks and openings.

This material is a great way to keep our homes and buildings safe from the elements. However, this efficient new trend could pose serious health threats.

This year, the Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that would help develop safety and certification standards for the spray foam insulation industry. Here’s why House Bill No. 5100 is one to watch this year.

Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) contains many chemicals that could have adverse health effects if not installed properly. The key ingredients in SPF are isocyanates, highly reactive chemicals, which can cause asthma, lung damage, respiratory and breathing problems, and skin and eye irritation. If you are exposed to these chemicals after a spray foam installation, you could be at risk.

According to the EPA, Chemicals from SPF can spread in four main ways:

1) Through vapors and aerosols. If a building is not properly ventilated before and after installation, the vapors can linger.
2) Through dust. After the insulation is sprayed on, it hardens. Cutting or trimming the hardened foam can release dust that contains chemicals.
3) Through heat-generation processes. Drilling, welding, soldering, sanding, or doing any other similar action near the foam insulation could release chemicals from the foam.
4) Through fires. If the spray foam is burned, the burning process may release chemicals from the insulation.

I know that all sounds very scary, and probably makes you wonder why people even use SPF. The truth is, if spray foam insulation is properly applied and cured, it is not considered harmful. The threats really come from improper installation and messing around with the foam after it is installed; which is why we need to make sure the people who handle this material are trained.

The first step is the General Assembly’s review of H.B. No. 5100 An Act Concerning Safety and Certification Standards for the Spray Foam Insulation Industry. The bill proposes a joint effort by the commissioners of Consumer Protection, Public Health, and Energy and Environmental Protection to establish safety and certification standards for SPF installation here in Connecticut.

Spray foam insulation is a great building tool, but like all things new, we must be cautious about unforeseen risks. It is time to make sure we are training and certifying the people who handle this sensitive material. As new home solutions emerge, we have to make sure our standards and codes keep up with the times.