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We already installed Quadfoam 2.0, a "two-component, 2 lb., closed cell, spray applied, rigid polyurethane foam system" under the roof of our house, between the rafters. We read the manufacturers product safety documentation and it appears that the final product is safe, although the individual components have issues. We did not notice any respiratory symptoms spending time at the house, and by visual inspection the material appears to have been installed correctly. On the other hand, the EPA assessment of the material is not completely reassuring, because they say that, "The potential for off-gassing of volatile chemicals from spray polyurethane foam is not fully understood and is an area where more research is needed." (see http://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/potential-chemical-exposures-spray-polyurethane-foam#long-term). There is also a scary post on Treehugger.com about people ruining their houses. http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/losing-their-health-and-homes-spray-polyurthane-foam.html

If we had done this research before installing the product we probably would have used another material, but now that it is in place we are wondering

  1. Is it fine to keep the insulation in place, and perhaps install some attic venting so that if any minor off-gassing does occur it will not make its way into the living areas of the home?

  2. If we want to get rid of it, can we just scrape it off the rafters and roof sheathing and replace the ducts and wires that it is sprayed to, or will this leave a residue of possible toxins, so that the only solution is to replace the entire roof?

A couple of years later...Just want to put some information up here in case other people have doubts about the product. We had the house tested by an environmental consultant and they convinced us that there was Zero off-gassing from the foam. And the house is insulated amazingly well. So I would say that it was a good product and would recommend it. The caveat is that if it is improperly installed it can really be a mess, because there are truly nasty chemicals present in the two components that are sprayed separately to create the final product. If the intended reaction does not occur between the two components when they are sprayed into your house there can be off-gassing which could make the house uninhabitable. I think that this very rarely happens, but make sure that your installer really knows what they are doing, because the risk is there! Also, make sure that you stay out of the house when the foam is curing, because otherwise you could develop a sensitivity to the chemicals that are present which would exacerbate any problems due to off-gassing. This is a danger for installers more than homeowners. A couple of other points: The insulation is so effective that in California, if you spray the underside of your roof then the attic is considered "conditioned space", so it would not be vented like a normal attic, and it would also not be separated from the rest of the house by any kind of vapor barrier. Also, my idea of scraping the finished spray foam out is Impractical and not a solution if there is off-gassing. Whenever you mess with the spray foam you are exposing uncured areas and so if there's a problem with off-gassing it would make it worse.

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    Your attic should be air and vapor barriered from the rest of your house, in which case the off gas should be escaping through your roof vents and not back into the house. – Steven Jan 26 '16 at 20:57
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    Yes the attic is already well ventilated if it was built properly. The only reason to put it under the roof would be to resist heat penetration in a hot climate. The answer to the title of your question is yes. It will outgas as it dries. Probably not years but it could take weeks to months for it to finish curing. Since it is in the attic I would not worry about it myself. Good luck just scraping it off. It will stick like glue to everything. That is why they use it on the underside of the roof, cause it sticks good. – ArchonOSX Jan 26 '16 at 22:43
  • When I had open cell and closed cell insulation sprayed into my new construction, the installer closed the house completely, and forbid anyone to enter the space for 3 days due to toxicity. The insulation is superb! It sound proofed & reduced my heating bill by 66%. I am pleased with the results, but always been concerned about health benefits. The operation did NOT look like a DIY project to me. – user51391 Mar 13 '16 at 1:40
  • My sons' new house was insulated like this 10 years ago; I can let you know if he ever has a problem. – blacksmith37 Jan 22 '18 at 21:45
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All right. As soon as you see a headline beginning with "Losing Their Health and Homes to..." you should know that last thing the author has in mind is making your life better. The article is nothing more than atrocious clickbait. Do not make fundamental changes in your life or your home based on what somebody wrote purely to sell internet advertising.

Now, the EPA article can be trusted. But Margaret Badore, the author of "Losing Their Health...", is citing it in support of her super scary thesis. Does the EPA article actually say that SPF in your home is dangerous? It does not. Does the EPA article say you should be worried about SPF in you home? It does not. What it says is that the EPA is not absolutely certain that SPF poses no long-term danger.

In other news, the EPA is also not absolutely certain that composition decking, gas water heaters, iron nails, and NEST thermostats pose no long-term danger. Citing this EPA article in support of the long-term dangers of SPF is a pure and simple lie.

Badore gives the following evidence that SPF can cause health problems:

[Mr. Rimel] came down with respiratory symptoms [after visiting] the construction site of their new home where a contractor was installing spray polyurethane foam insulation.

and:

A couple in their 30's returned to their home four hours after spray foam was installed in the attic [and] almost immediately began experiencing difficult breathing, coughing, nausea, headaches and watery eyes.

Really. More than half of the text in the EPA article consists of every kind of warning against doing either one of these incredibly stupid things. Meanwhile Badore completely ignores the tens of millions of families happily occupying SPF-insulated homes with no ill health effects whatsoever.

The remainder of the EPA page is divided between (1) we don't know about the long-term effects and (2) removing the stuff usually makes the problem worse.

And the Rimels? Well, they searched out a company to test the site and guarantee its safety. Predictably, the testing company basically condemned the property. The Rimels panicked and removed the foam. It didn't help. The partially finished house had become haunted, for the Rimels and for anyone else who read the super scary test results.

After months of being unable to find a satisfactory solution, they sold the property.

Don't be like the Rimels.

  • Well, if a product in your house is making you sick why would you continue to live there? If removing the stuff makes it worse, it wasn't safe to begin with. (Asbestos) The fact is we don't know what the long term effects are of half of the chemicals in our environment. Sadly, we are the guinea pigs in this experiment. I think I will stick with fiberglass. – ArchonOSX Jan 26 '16 at 22:49
  • What makes you think fiberglass is safe? Fiberglass insulation has been linked to cancer, asthma, bronchitis, and silicosis. If you have anything in your life besides trees and rocks, you're gonna have to do what you can to minimize the risks and live with the rest. – A. I. Breveleri Jan 27 '16 at 0:00
  • methinks breveleri might be an insulation contractor. his comments seems to be a little biased. – personal privacy advocate Feb 26 '16 at 14:44
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    I am not an insulation contractor nor any other kind of builder, I am a purchaser of insulation and a customer of builders and contractors. And my comments are by no measure a little biased, they are a lot biased. – A. I. Breveleri Feb 26 '16 at 23:00
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    My answer is motivated by a couple of observations: The gap between what Americans fear and what can actually harm them is wide enough for a fleet of school buses, and most politicians and practically all journalists have made it their business model to profit from exacerbating and widening that gap. The cited article is a perfect example of an appeal to the stupid. – A. I. Breveleri Feb 26 '16 at 23:13
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first of all - don't panic about the polyurethane foam. PUF is not the same as UFFI from the seventies, but it does have problems if not done correctly. personally, i never use the stuff in any jobs and i think its going to go the same way of UFFI for ecological reasons. THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOUR HOME IS UNSAFE OR THAT ANYTHING IS WRONG!!!

essentially, spray insulation is a foam that forms and hardens once two chemicals are mixed in very specific proportions. if all the metering equipment is 100% accurate and calibrated, then both chemicals react in their entirety and there is no outgassing. however, if either of the proportions is off, you get almost all of it reacting with a small residual left that didn't react. it can be either chemical A or chemical B.

there are two major types of foams: polyurethanes and polyisocyanurates. now in most spray foams, there are two parts - the resin (which becomes the solid part in the foam) and the catalyst (which causes the bubbles in the foam) - remember, this is pretty simplified for non-engineers. the health problems come when there is too much of the isocyanate left over. so if your foam ingredients contain isocyanate, and it was installed with mis-calibrated equipment, then you can run into problems. if you have a little bit of unreacted material, it will off gas in a few days to weeks, but larger amounts may take years to offgas. its the latter of this type of scenario that creates nightmares. even if you scrape it all out, you will still have residual isocyanate.

unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, polyethylene vapour barriers do not stop the VOC's in these compounds from passage. so even if you have a 100% intact vapour barrier, you will still get some diffusion through into the living space.

primarily, you would have to ingest huge amounts of it to kill you (ld50 is 520-880mg/kg). its not carginogenic, but it can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems. it usually just smells bad and gives you a headache and sore throat.

this would be my suggestion:

1) add fans to your attic space to ensure maximum removal of the gases before they get a chance to seep into the living area. you can get electric attic fans or just put a regular fan below roof vents temporarily rigged up to blow out through the vent.

2) if you are worried about your air quality, just get the air tested. just look for an air quality lab in your area. its fairly cheap and can give you empirical data to tell you whats going on in your home.

3) crank up the HRV if you have one, crack the windows and leave on the bathroom fans. your heating bill may go up, but your blood pressure may go down.

hope that helps

  • +1 My understanding is that there is also another potential application issue. The foam is supposed to be applied in several successive shallow layers so that the outgassing can happen quickly. If it is applied in a thick single pass, the solvents and byproducts can become trapped and continue to outgas over a long time. The products are safe if the contractor is meticulous about all the details. The issues come from cutting corners or being sloppy about the job. – fixer1234 Oct 29 '17 at 20:14
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First of all, thanks to all who took the time to respond to my query! I thought that I should write in to let others know how I resolved the issue. I got the air tested by a local environmental testing firm and found out that there was hardly any sign of volatile organic chemicals VOC's in the house and no evidence of the chemical I was most worried about, which is MDI. Big relief! It would be normal to have low amounts of VOC's even without the spray foam because of other construction materials. Building codes say that you don't have to ventilate attic spaces where there is spray foam on the underside of the ceiling, because the SPI spray foam insulation will supposedly keep out any moisture, but it seems crazy to just seal off this space, so we are going to install some limited ventilation in the form of 2 bathroom-type fans: one blowing air from the attic to the outdoors and another blowing air into the attic from the living area of the house. We can't just put in vents from the attic to the outside without insulating all the ceilings on the second floor, because the attic is considered "conditioned space".
Side note - the SPI insulates really well. There were a few areas for skylights where we didn't install the foam on the roof sheathing and on 90 degree plus sunny days the uncoated roof sheathing in these areas became hot to the touch while the surface of the spray foam stayed almost cool. On balance I wish I hadn't installed it because of all the worry and the lack of information about what it will do 20 years down the road, but it is not a disaster, and has some benefits.

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Do not be fooled by a Doom and Gloom article. Closed Cell foam is perhaps the greatest innovation in home building and remodeling in the last 30 years. I have had at least 6 buildings and homes sprayed with this product and the results have been nothing short of amazing.

For example, with only 1" of foam applied to the inside of a metal pole building that is 66'x104'x18 feet tall, i am able to keep it a comfortable 60+ degrees with a single small 120,000 btu heater at temps as low as -10 F.

Any measurable out gassing that might occur happens within the first weeks. After that, you are living in a YETI COOLER! (yes, the same insulation) All air infiltration is stopped. Warm air stays inside, cold air stays outside! This is the greatest benefit of this product, but must be taken into consideration if your indoor activities create lots of odors, etc.

In the houses I have had done, normal opening of doors, etc provide plenty of air transfer, along with the small air leaks you get around even the best windows and doors.

And dont forget the GREATEST issue with indoor air quality, MOLD. Fiberglass and loose fill insulation are practical breeding grounds for mold. Warm moist air enters wall cavity's, attics, etc where the moisture will ALWAYS condensate. This dark moist area is the perfect breeding ground for black mold.

the only solution is the addition of (usually ineffective) vapor barriers inside your home (that always have holes in them from staples, and for outlets, etc) and vented outside wraps (to make sure your walls are filled with cold dry air, which sort of defeats the purpose doesn't it)

Moisture CAN NOT penetrate this Closed cell insulation. There is ZERO condensation, zero mold. No chance of it happening. Warm on the inside, cold on the outside, no mingling of moist warm air with cold air.

I feel confident after remolding many older homes, and seeing the mold in the walls, that this product IMPROVES indoor air quality long term. And The energy savings alone contribute so much more to our environment and sustainability.

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