Is Spray Foam Insulation Safe?
A quick google search for spray foam insulation would lead some people to ask, is spray foam dangerous? The short answer is no, when spray foam insulation is installed by trained, experienced spray foam professionals operating well-maintained equipment spraying raw materials from reputable manufacturers, spray foam is a safe, inert and non-toxic material that provides the most energy-efficient, longest lasting insulation available on the market today.
1) HIRE A PROFESSIONAL: To ensure that you receive the best quality spray foam, it is always recommended to hire a dedicated, experienced spray foam insulation company like Compass Insulation Services to ensure that your job is done safely and properly every time.
If you've watched YouTube videos of spray foam, you might think that anybody could do it. While actually spraying the foam doesn't require a PhD, there are many moving parts behind the scenes to ensure that spray foam is installed safely. Using quality raw materials from reputable manufacturers, ensuring that the equipment is serviced and maintained, and prepping the work area to receive spray foam are critical components to ensuring a qualify spray foam job. But perhaps the most important aspect will be the spray foam professional installing the spray foam. He will be able to determine if the spray foam is reacting properly and also make sure that the job is insulated well to ensure safe foam is being sprayed and that it will maximize energy-efficiency performance of your home. At Compass Insulation Services, we never subcontract work and crews do only insulation, nothing else.
So under what circumstances can spray foam insulation be toxic and unsafe?
2) OFF-RATIO SPRAY FOAM: Improper chemical mixture, also known as being off-ratio, is typically the number one reason of a poor spray foam installation. Most modern spray foam equipment have one or more built-in fail-safes that will shut the machine down if an off-ratio instance is detected. This will allow the sprayer to go back to the truck and try to troubleshoot the problem. If the fail-safes on the machine should happen to fail, an experienced installer will be able to detect an off-ratio instance because the foam will not be reacting well. It may not expand as much, be drippy, crunchy, gooey or just plain look bad. The end result will often be a spray foam that doesn't completely fill the cavity, have a poor consistency, take a long time to cure and have an odor that can take a months to dissipate. In the worst case scenario, it may need to be entirely removed. That's why in addition to have good materials and equipment, it is critical to hire a company with experienced spray foam professionals to ensure a safe, on-ratio spray foam that will maximize energy-efficiency performance.
3) SPRAY FOAM RAW MATERIALS: Another important thing to look at is the raw materials used on your project. There are over two dozen spray foam manufacturers in the United States and for the most part they all product high-quality materials. Many promote that their spray foam products have achieved Green Guard Gold Certification to be used in buildings for Children & schools, highlighting its overall health and safety. However, all spray foam insulation has a shelf-life of anywhere between 6-12 months. When properly stored in a conditioned environment, spray foam can often be used beyond the shelf-life. However, when stored improperly or if the raw material is well beyond the expiration date, individual chemicals can start breaking down causing foam to not react properly which can lead to off-ratio spray foam. Expired spray foam can also be an indication that the company doesn't do much spray foam which can be an indication of a lack of experience and poor equipment maintenance resulting in poor chemical reaction and a greater risk of off-ration spray foam being installed.
4) MODERN, WELL-MAINTAINTED EQUIPMENT: Most competent spray foam companies should be using modern state-of-the-art equipment by Graco, PMC, Boss and other quality equipment manufacturers. These machines have built-in fail-safes to shut down production if the ratio becomes imbalanced. When coupled with software that records daily production and flow meters that ensure proper pressures, the production of high-quality, safe foam is almost guaranteed. It is important that the spray foam contractor's equipment shuts off when a pressure imbalance is detected or another error has occurred. Remember, off-ratio foam is uncured foam, which is unsafe foam. Compass Insulation proudly uses Graco R2 proportioners coupled with Graco In-Site software and flow meters to ensure that the highest quality spray foam is produced for your project.
5) 24 HOUR RE-ENTRY, VENTILATION & PERSONAL PROTECTIVE GEAR: One of the most important things to consider in providing a safe spray foam project is during the application itself. During the reaction when spray foam expands from a liquid to solid, fumes are released that can be dangerous if proper Personal Protective Gear. In addition to proper PPE, negative pressure ventilation fans help mitigate and exhaust most unwanted fumes during install. It is important that homeowners and other trades that don't have the proper PPE stay out of the spray area during and up to 24 hour after the project is complete. Inhaling the fumes or having foam droplets land on your skin during the spray foam installation can cause difficulty breathing, coughing, inflammation, itchy eyes and itchy skin if you're in the vicinity of the spray foam work being done. While most of these symptoms will go away shortly after leaving the area, prolonged exposure can cause desensitization to spray foam products. If a company does not recommend that you leave the house during spray foam application, call someone else. They are not adhering to practices set by the industry and may have a very limited understanding of spray foam in general. We have performed hundreds of attic projects for homeowners and builders and set expectations for our clients in completely a successful project.
Despite some manufacturers stating that you can re-enter the home as little as four hours after install, Compass Insulation Services always recommends that a homeowner should only re-enter the home the day after the spray foam install has been completed. Like any new product including paint, carpet, or even a new car, there will be a residual odor that typically dissipates within a couple days but can last up to a couple of week depending on how much ventilation is occurring. This is completely normal.
While not required, some people expedite the process of removing residual odors by opening windows and installing fans which blow air out of the building.
6) CONCLUSION: Spray foam insulation is the best commercially-available insulation for converting a poorly insulated, uncomfortable home into an energy-efficiency, comfortable and quiet home. When done properly, you will enjoy energy savings and comfort for decades to come. However, like most trades, it is critical that you choose the right company to do the job. There are many companies throughout the United States, and Florida, that will install spray foam safely and efficiently. But there are also a number of companies out there who do spray foam as a side-hustle and may not have the experience required to ensure a safe, quality and effective spray foam outcome which can lead to problems that you see on the internet.