Is Spray Foam Insulation Safe? (Everything you need to know)

Spray polyurethane foam, also known as SPF, has become a popular insulating material among homeowners and professional builders because of its energy efficient properties. Though the use of SPF has been on the rise, not much is known about its side effects and health implications on occupants and workers.

SPF is known to have a high R factor because of which it can prevent the entry of heat into houses. This means that SPF provides effective insulation, thereby increasing a home’s energy efficiency. Because of this, it has been rising in popularity.

Though it’s clear that SPF has insulating properties and can make a space energy efficient, what’s yet to be known is how safe SPF is for the workers and the occupants. This guide presents a detailed study on spray foam insulation. Read below to know everything about spray foam insulation. 

Is spray foam insulation toxic?

Is spray foam insulation toxic

Yes, spray foam insulation contains toxic ingredients and can potentially release toxic emissions if the spray foam insulation is disturbed due to renovation works, demolition, etc.  Performing activities near spray foam insulation can cause potential exposures to isocyanates and other toxic ingredients.

Typically, spray foam consists of isocyanate and polyol along with a dash of additives and blowing agents. These two chief ingredients react with one another to form polyurethane. The isocyanate present in SPF comes from methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, also called MDI. Now the production of MDI involves the presence of ingredients like chlorine, benzene compounds and formaldehyde which can cause emissions of furans and dioxins, carcinogens, bioaccumulative toxicants and endocrine disruptors. All of these emissions certainly make spray foam a toxic product. 

When spray foam is used for insulation processes, it’s cut, dislodged and trimmed. The material releases noxious dust during these processes. Both off gassing and dust can be dangerous for the human health.

To prevent spray foam from affecting one’s health, experts advise workers to wear protective suits to ensure full respiratory and face protection. The workspace also needs to be properly ventilated when working with spray foam. 

Is it safe to touch spray foam insulation?

Is it safe to touch spray foam insulation

No, one shouldn’t touch spray foam insulation with bare hands. Direct contact with SPF can cause skin irritation and sensitization. If you touch SPF with bare hands, you can expect to notice redness, swelling, itching and rashes in and around the area.

SPF is so dangerous that skin contact alone can cause respiratory tract sensitisation, like asthma!

Due to these reasons, professionals are always advised to wear protective suits and cover their bodies fully before proceeding to work. Occupants of the house are advised to vacate the house meanwhile to ensure their safety and good health.

Is spray foam safe to breathe?

Is spray foam safe to breathe

No, spray foam isn’t safe to breathe. Its chemical ingredients if inhaled can cause serious health hazards. If the flame retardants are inhaled, one can develop bronchitis or asthma. That’s why homeowners are advised to vacate the area when the installation is being done.

Additionally, experts emphasize the need for workers to wear protective gloves, goggles and respirators to stay safe during the process of installation, no matter whether SPF is used for attic insulation or wall insulation. 

By now you know that polyol, flame retardants and amine catalysts comprise spray foam insulation. Anime catalysts can cause skin irritation, glaucoma and endless other health problems. The complete effect of SPF on human health is yet to be studied in detail.

If these chemicals are inhaled, even once, they can cause severe health risks like lung irritation. SPF also contains isocyanates in large proportions. Isocyanate is known to cause asthma, if inhaled. Exposure to isocyanate can cause frequent asthma attacks in people. 

As you can understand, spray foam insulation isn’t safe for anyone’s health. If you have still decided to install spray foam insulation at your home, you mustn’t be around the area during the installation process, as there are high chances of the emission of toxic elements.

The installation isn’t any simple DIY process. It must be handled by professionals, with their full bodies covered. Occupants can step inside the house after the spray has settled and cured fully.

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Is spray foam insulation carcinogenic?

We have already mentioned the ingredients that make up SPF. It contains isocyanate, polyols, a dash of additives and catalysts. These ingredients react with one another to foam a solid insulation. 

Now, when these ingredients aren’t in the right proportion or they aren’t heated to the appropriate temperature before being sprayed, these ingredients can potentially release harmful emissions into the surrounding area.

One such harmful chemical that’s released is phenol formaldehyde. Some of the spray foam mixtures that contain formaldehyde as an ingredient can release methylene diphenyl diisocyanate against which one must be careful. The MDI can cause cancer and degrade the air quality.

Does spray foam insulation contain asbestos?

Does spray foam insulation contain asbestos

No, asbestos is not a chemical ingredient that’s required in the making of spray foam insulation. Most of the spray foam insulation products available in the market contain almost the same proportion of chemical ingredients, that are polyols, isocyanates and additives.

Now, there are different types of SPF products available in the market. Primarily, spray foam insulation can be broadly classified into two categories: open cell spray foam and closed cell spray foam.  Each of them has a different delivery mechanism, process of application.

Therefore, their effects on human health may vary, though exposure to the harmful toxic emissions is bound to harm the skin, eye, respiratory organs, irrespective of the extent of exposure.

Does spray foam insulation contain formaldehyde?

Does spray foam insulation contain formaldehyde

No, the formula of spray foam insulation doesn’t contain formaldehyde. Most manufacturers claim that the toxic elements present in spray foam lose their toxicity once they get properly installed and settled.

However, modern day research would differ from this claim. It says that the spray foam releases formaldehyde gas along with other harmful emissions, even after the installation is done. 

Is spray foam insulation harmful for the human body?

Yes, spray foam insulation is extremely harmful as exposure to it can cause health risks and affect the various organs of the human body. Once inhaled, it can result in irritation of the lungs, throat, and nose.

It can also cause sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath, tight feeling in the chest, coughing. Severe effects of exposure to SPF can include respiratory tract sensitization. One can experience frequent asthma attacks. Experts suggest that reduction of exposure strictly and early recognition of the effects is essential to take prompt steps to lessen the risk of long term health hazards.

Skin contact can cause redness, swelling, etc. ultimately leading to skin irritation. Bare eye contact with SPF can cause swelling of the eyes, tearing, reddening and a stinging sensation. It’s therefore critical to avoid any kind of contact and inhalation of SPF while its installation is in progress.

Is spray foam insulation safe?

Is Spray Foam Insulation Safe

No, spray foam insulation isn’t safe, especially when it’s being installed. There are risks associated with the installation of SPF and if it’s improperly managed, exposure to its toxic emissions can severely affect one’s health. Not only are harmful chemicals released at the time of SPF spray application but also certain toxins are released after the installation of SPF is complete.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has elaborately claimed that spray polyurethane foam, though enables a house to be energy efficient by offering effective insulation, is risky and harmful. Potential exposures to its chemical constituents like MDI and isocyanate or other chemicals can affect the human body in various ways, some of which we have already discussed in this guide. When SPF is being installed, these ingredients can be found in the dust, aerosols or vapors that are produced in the process of installation.  

However, experts say that when the installation is done properly and after the insulation is cured, SPF can be claimed to be safe for the occupants. But, that’s an ideal situation which hardly occurs in practicality. That’s why our worries and doubts about the safety of SPF are still in question and further research is being conducted to gather more details about this type of insulation.

By now you have understood the risks of installing SPF at your place. This isn’t a small DIY installation that homeowners should handle alone. One must get the SPF installation done by a licensed professional contractor.

Firstly, the property must be thoroughly inspected. The professional would examine the structure, ventilation system, layout, etc. and determine if at all spray foam is the right kind of insulation. Accordingly they would determine the amount of foam required to insulate the house.

Is spray foam insulation safe long term?

Ideally, spray foam insulation is expected to be safe once it’s properly installed and cured. But any kind of activities like demolition or renovation of the building in future can disturb the insulation and result in the emission of toxic chemicals in the air.  So, even in the long run, there’s no guarantee that the spray foam insulation would be safe for the occupants of the house.

In this regard, it must be mentioned that while the process of spray foam insulation goes on, the occupants must stay away from the house for the next 3 days. The dust is expected to remain in the air for 72 hours before it finally settles. Therefore one must stay away from the place, to avoid inhaling the toxic dust and other harmful releases.

However, the spray foam is improperly installed, it might lead to off gassing, making the entire building unfit for the occupants to reside in. It can even lead to sick building syndrome, meaning it can plague occupants with extreme chronic illness, if people continue to reside in the building. 

Therefore, one should stay in the house only after the process is over and checked by a professional. Experts also advise homeowners to conduct regular inspections of their homes, especially the areas insulated with spray foam to ensure their safety and well-being.

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The Bottom Line

All through this guide, we tried to establish the need to stay safe from spray foam and reconsider your decision to install spray foam insulation. It should never be considered as a simple DIY project by homeowners.

One must always call a licensed professional to get the installation done and stay away from that area for the next 72 hours.

As per the Environment Protection Agency, there are several factors that affect the curing and proper installation of the spray foam. This in turn affects the overall quality of the spray foam insulation and the safety it would provide.

Such factors include the location of the home, temperature, humidity level, HVAC systems and application techniques.

If you need help with deciding whether to install open cell spray foam insulation or closed cell spray foam insulation, do not hesitate to consult a professional and get the best advice in this regard.

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