Great Article on Spray Foam Insulation
Sprayed Foam Insulation: Why Homeowners MUST Proceed with Caution

by Trish Holder on Jan 08, 2012
By Trish Holder
When I started on the long path of building a custom green home over 5 years ago I noticed something when shopping for insulation. It seemed you couldn’t shoot a sling shot without hitting a few newly licensed installers of sprayed foam. They were everywhere.
Presumably they were making a lot of money or hoped to do so. Sprayed foam insulation is very expensive. Some of these folks were new franchisees, builders, and/or other types of contractors looking to add some extra income. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was still trying to choose between open and closed-cell foam. (That debate rages on but interestingly has become less heated since most installers now seem to offer both.)
In the end, I chose closed-cell, the more expensive of the two, and as best I can tell after 3 years of living in this home, all has gone well. My home is undeniably well insulated. On mild winter days (say a high of 50°F) my heat pump rarely comes on at all. I’m satisfied with my energy bills for this 3200 sq. ft. all electric house and our electric bill rarely exceeds $150.00. Sometimes it’s much lower.
A Word of Caution
I was present when my contractor applied the spray foam to the exterior wall cavities of my home. It was pretty interesting to watch this cake batter like substance puff up and harden before my eyes.
I remember being surprised that the fumes were relatively low – not really bothersome to me even during the application. I was surprised because a few months earlier I was at another under-construction home during a spray foam installation, also closed-cell and the fumes were so overwhelming that to this day I worry if what I inhaled that day may one day manifest itself as cancer.
Two very different experiences to be sure – had by me.
More recently, other homeowners throughout the country have come forward with some very bad experiences with sprayed foam. Financially, these experiences have been catastrophic. Imagine building and moving into your dream home, only to be plagued and sickened by a persistent fishy smell that just won’t go away. These incidents are real. These homes are unlivable and salvaging them means a lot of deconstruction and, at a minimum, a painstaking removal of all foam and residue that would be something akin to using a toothpick to remove dried cheese and tomato sauce from a lasagna pan. You and I both know you’d throw that pan out. But this is a home.
So think about it. Do you think the builder, the installer, or the manufacturer is standing in line to fix this? No. Trust me. Finding accountability in cases like these is like flushing a rattlesnake out of a 1000-acre preserve with a posse of two – you and your lawyer. Better hope he’s not afraid of reptiles.
Get Educated About Sprayed Foam Applications
It has been determined that these situations occur because of one of two reasons. The installer sprayed the foam too thickly or the chemicals were not heated to the correct temperature before they were sprayed. That, and proper ventilation measures were not taken at the time of installation. These cases are rare, perhaps even less that 1% of all jobs, but given the nightmarish consequences for homeowners, they are plenty cause for concern.
You want the fabulous efficiency benefits of sprayed foam insulation? Fine, but do yourself and your family a favor. Get educated and proceed with caution at every juncture.
Never ever assume your contractor knows what he or she is doing. Nice guys make mistakes too. I urge all homeowners to read this article, Spray Foam Jobs With Lingering Odor Problems, written by Martin Holladay of The article does a fantastic job explaining the problem and what precautionary measures should be taken. Also, read the comments posted to this article by construction professionals speaking candidly on this topic. You’ll get a great overview of the dynamics of this topic. As Mr. Holladay writes:
“….the stories I heard from homeowners with odor problems were a wake-up call. The bottom line is: know the credentials of your contractor, and weigh the risks of failure against the benefits you hope to achieve.”
Remember, it’s your home, your money, and the health and safety of your family that’s at stake.

Very interesting, I was recently approached by a contractor, and he told me to use spray foam, instead of using other forms of normal insulation.

Has everybody forgotten the urea formaldehyde foam insulation and condemned homes in the late 1970’s?
Same issue, if done properly no real problem, but if not…
The result was that all urea formaldehyde foam insulation got tarred with the same brush, no one would buy a house that had it, sellers had to sign affidavits declaring there was no urea formaldehyde foam insulation in their house, banks would not mortgage insurers would not insure.
The problem then was idiot fly by nighters who failed to read instructions, sounds like the same thing could be happening again?

and what was wrong with UFI???

Thanks Barry .
That is 32 years old .
Do you know what was wrong with UFFI .
Was it a bad product ???.

it’s my understanding the post installation breakdown-off gassing contaminates the indoor air quality

try this Roy

UFFI or Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation was an insulation retrofit product used in the 1970’s.
This expanding foam insulation was mixed on-site and then pumped into building wall or other cavities in older buildings which were not previously insulated.
This fun photo shows an insulation retrofit series of projects.
In the center of the photo we see pink fiberglass insulating batts.
Below the fiberglass insulation we see blown-in loose-fill cellulose insulation. And in the foreground (and under our © notice) we see a crumbly, cracked slab of UFFI foam insulation as well.

Our photo (below left) illustrates that even when there is no evidence of a UFFI retrofit from outside the building (wall plugs) nor inside the building (wall plugs in the occupied space or attic stair walls), a thorough inspection of rarely-entered (tight) attic or crawl space areas can discover UFFI that exuded into the space when it was pumped into the building walls. photograph shows UFFI as it was found in a small attic crawl area in a New York home during a 2008 inspection. We estimate that the home, built perhaps in the 1940’s, had been insulated with UFFI in the 1970’s. .
Early cancer research on UFFI: Some earlier research on the carcinogenic effect (cancer causing) of urea formaldehyde foam insulation suggested that formaldehyde out gassing from the insulation formed a significant cancer risk. Eventually, additional study suggested that the initial cancer risk from formaldehyde was not supported, at least in this application.
The level of formaldehyde that out gassed from UFFI depended in part on how the foam product was mixed at the site, and not all building insulation projects using this substance produced the same level of formaldehyde.
The level of outgassing formaldehyde from UFFI insulation declined steadily with age. This was an open-cell foam that did not retain its gases long term.
No formaldehyde outgassing found after the foam aged: More interesting was the observation that perhaps largely because this insulation formed an open-celled foam, even if there were high initial formaldehyde out gassing levels, after months or at most a few years, even careful measurements were unable to detect any levels of ongoing formaldehyde out gassing from this material.

Thanks Barry .
I understand the gas is gone from the UFFI in a short period of time

More Info here .

This is great to see info being traded and gives the Newer Homie a lot more knowledge

The point I was trying to make was that whether something was actually wrong with UFFI or not was irrelevant, if you had it in your house in 1980 it meant you could never sell the house. Some houses with UFFI were actually torn down because of it.

The off gassing problem was supposedly a result of improper mixing procedure by the installer. Installer mixed precise proportions of two chemicals to create the foam. If the mixing was done right, both chemicals would be consumed by the reaction, but if it was done wrong, it could result in off gassing formaldehyde, which caused some people to get sick.

It was pointed out at the time that most ‘manufactured wood products’ such as MDF cabinets and furniture off gassed some formaldehyde as well, and that the levels of formaldehyde in a newly manufactured mobile home could be higher than what was found in homes with UFFI, but that did not stop the panic and stupidity about UFFI.

Given that history I could never recommend foam insulation. Somewhere some lawyer is looking for their next big pay day from a class action lawsuit, whether a product is defective or not will not matter, what does is the ability of a litigator to convince a jury that it is.