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What You Should Know About Spray Foam Insulation

spray foam insulation hazardsSpray foam insulation has gained popularity in recent years because of its ability to reduce energy costs and to help seal the cracks and crevices in your home that let air, bugs, and moisture in.

But the reality is spray foam insulation is comprised of a mix of toxic chemicals, which can release VOCs and create poor indoor air quality into your home, especially if the chemicals are not combined properly, if it’s not applied at the right temperature, or if it’s not properly installed. So before you opt for this type of insulation, know the facts and potential risks.

What is Spray Foam Insulation?

spray foam insulation toxicPolyurethane and isocyanate are two substances that are contained in spray foam insulation. Isocyanates are powerful eye irritants, and can adversely affect gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts if inhaled. If they come into contact with skin, inflammation and rash can occur. As for polyurethane, typically found in household furnishings, it generally gets higher marks, provided that certain stabilizers are added in the manufacturing process.

That said, there is toxicity associated with these materials: installers are required to wear a Hazmat suit and respirator while spraying the foam; homeowners are cautioned to stay out of their homes for 24-48 hours after the insulation is applied to allow the foam to fully cure and the vapors to evaporate. Even after 48 hours, there will likely still be a noticeable odor, which can last a lot longer if the insulation was applied incorrectly. The chemicals can off gas for a year or more, creating an unhealthy, toxic environment.

Can Spray Foam Insulation Affect My Health?

Considering what we’ve just described, it makes sense to avoid spray foam insulation if you can; it isn’t worth the risk to your health.

Exposure to VOCs can cause:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and listlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Asthma
  • Eye and skin irritation

Long-term exposure to VOCs can cause:

  • Liver damage
  • Cancer
  • Kidney damage
  • Central Nervous System damage

What Can I Do if Spray Foam Insulation Already Exists in my Home?

causes of VOCsIf you opted to have spray foam insulation installed, you should have your indoor air quality checked. RTK can test for VOCs and let you know if the levels are considered safe. If these chemicals are not handled properly, they can be harmful.

Can Spray Foam Insulation Cause Mold?

Having an airtight home may seem like a great thing, but it has downsides. A major problem is that if any moisture builds up in an airtight environment, it can become trapped in your home. Moisture can cause mold and serious damage to your home and health.

Is Spray Foam Insulation Permanent or Can It Be Removed?

spray foam applicationHere’s the good news and the bad news. Sure, your investment in this type of insulation can lead to years of energy savings and efficiency. But since it is almost impossible to completely remove it, the downsides can far outweigh the benefits, especially if it is defective, improperly installed, off-gassing toxins, or if it cracks because it did not cure properly.

Is Spray Foam Insulation Right For Me?

Knowing the benefits and risks of spray foam insulation is the first step. Consider your options – and there are other options such as fiberglass and cellulose insulation, which are much safer. If you do opt for spray foam insulation, be sure to have your home tested for indoor air quality, including VOCs and mold after installation. Also, make sure you have adequate ventilation in place to remove some of the toxins from the air. Experts recommend an energy recovery ventilation system (ERV) to mitigate some of the damaging side effects of spray foam, which allows for adequate airflow.

If you have questions or concerns about spray foam insulation and your indoor air quality, call RTK at 800.392.6468. We’re happy to answer your questions.


There has been a 300% increase in patients diagnosed with asthma over the past 20 years. (USA Weekend)

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