Over the past decade, spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation has become increasingly popular in both residential and commercial applications in an effort to reduce heating costs and decrease consumption of fossil fuels. Not only is SPF said to be more energy efficient than traditional fiberglass insulation, it is typically cheaper to purchase and install. Most SPF manufacturers claim that their product is “environmentally friendly” or “green”, however; there are no regulatory authorities that have evaluated and substantiated these claims.
SPF insulation is used to create a moisture and vapor barrier in crawl spaces and attics. It has become a popular choice for builders in cooler weather climates such as Canada and the northern United States. While the demand for this product has been steadily increasing, concern over the dangers of installing SPF insulation have also been growing among homeowners.
Improper installation is often the cause for symptomatic reactions to SPF although some people have had adverse reactions with very limited exposure to the chemicals commonly found in SPF. Manufacturers assert that the chemicals used in spray foam are supposed to lose toxicity once it is sprayed inside homes, but other research indicates that the foam releases formaldehyde gas and other toxic substances even after it is installed.
The following symptoms can appear during or immediately after exposure to formaldehyde and isopropylene: wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, Irritation of the eyes and lungs, fever, stuffy nose, sore throat, tightness in the chest, headaches, and joint pain.
Workman’s comp claims have also been on the rise from spray foam installers who have become ill as a result of repeated exposure to the chemicals in the foam. William Swietlik, co-chair of the EPA’s workshop on spray foam dangers, has asserted that the chemicals used in the insulation are “a leading cause of workplace asthma and are a well-known sensitizing toxicant to humans.”
The bottom line: Be sure to research your installer, their safety protocols, and reviews. SPF has been effective for reducing heating and cooling costs; however the risks with improper installation and exposure to the compounds at any time during the process may outweigh the benefits.