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Green Building News

Another Spray Foam Fire?

Investigators in Connecticut probe a fast-moving fire that started in a house where workers were reportedly spraying foam insulation

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A fire that apparently started in a low-ceilinged attic where workers had been applying spray-foam insulation destroyed this 10,700-square-foot house on July 3. No cause has been determined.
Image Credit: Rick Kulmann
A fire that apparently started in a low-ceilinged attic where workers had been applying spray-foam insulation destroyed this 10,700-square-foot house on July 3. No cause has been determined.
Image Credit: Rick Kulmann
Local firefighters arrived minutes after the fire was reported but were unable to save the house. No one was injured.
Image Credit: Rick Kulmann
Not much left. The fire leveled the house.
Image Credit: Rick Kulmann

Investigators in Middlebury, Connecticut, are looking into a possible connection between a fire that destroyed a 10,700-square-foot home and the application the same day of spray-foam insulation in a low-ceilinged attic.

A local television news report quoted unnamed fire officials as saying the cause of the fire was polyurethane foam insulation that “spontaneously combusted” in an attic. But on Monday, investigators in Middlebury were careful to say the cause of the July 3 fire had not been determined.

Pinning down a cause officially could be weeks away, Fire Marshal Jack Proulx said.

Proulx said, however, that technicians had been in the house applying foam insulation in an “attic crawl space” on the day of the fire. They were working over a part of the house that connected an indoor pool area with the rest of the house. The technicians were outside the house when the fire was detected.

The house at 725 Break Neck Hill Road was owned by Larry Janesky and his wife Wendy. According to a story in The Hartford Courant, the couple bought the property in 2007 for $5.37 million. It was assessed by the town at $2.95 million.

Janesky owns Connecticut Basement Systems, a basement waterproofing company based in Seymour, Connnecticut, and has written on the topic for Fine Homebuilding magazine. He also owns a company called Dr. Energy Saver, also based in Seymour, that does energy assessments and upgrades, including spray-foam application.

Whether his own crews were working on the house isn’t known.

Foam linked to earlier fires

Three fires in Massachusetts, one of them resulting in a fatality, were linked to the application of spray foam insulation in 2011. Fire investigators suspected the fires were caused by excess heat generated by curing spray foam, according to a July 2011 news story by GBA senior editor Martin Holladay.

Both open- and closed-cell polyurethane insulation is sprayed from a gun that mixes two compounds together. The ensuring chemical reaction that creates the insulating foam is exothermic (that is, it produces heat). If the foam is sprayed in a layer, or “lift,” that’s too thick, or if an insufficient length of time is allowed between lifts, the foam can smolder or burn.

In one of the 2011 fires, a technician named Robert Cowhey was spraying an open-cell, soy-based foam called SoyTherm50 when the fire broke out in the attic of a house that was being renovated. Cowhey died in the blaze.

The Massachusetts fires prompted State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan to issue a memorandum to every fire department in the state, warning about possible scenarios that could lead to heat build-up and possibly a fire.

“Based upon this information, the Division of Fire Safety is recommending that you work with your building officials to determine if such applications are taking place within your community and, if so, to also make contractors in your communities aware of this potential fire hazard and encourage that they follow application instructions accurately,” the memo said.

A fire at a net-zero house under construction in Quebec has also been linked to the application of spray foam insulation.

A hot day, a tough fire

Middlebury Fire Chief Paul Perrotti described the fire at the Janesky’s house as a “hot attic fire” that spread rapidly after it was reported about 4:00 p.m. on July 3 as temperatures climbed past 90 degrees.

Fire crews were on the scene within minutes, he said, but were unable to contain the fire. They cut a hole in the slate-covered roof to vent the fire, but the procedure apparently didn’t slow the blaze down. Fire companies from surrounding communities were called in to help.

Perrotti said he had been told at the scene that foam insulation had been sprayed in the house that day, but he said it was not possible to say that was the cause, and he referred questions about the investigation to Proulx. The state fire marshal’s office deferred all comments to Middlebury investigators, although the office said it was possible they had been called to assist.

Although Perrotti said the fire appeared to originate in the attic, or close to it. He also said he had been contacted by the manufacturer of the foam insulation after the fire, but he didn’t recall the name of the company.


  1. mackstann | | #1

    Dr. Energy Saver
    While a bit cheesy and salesman-ey, I really enjoy Dr. Energy Saver's videos on YouTube. Larry Janesky is sort of like the Martin Holladay of YouTube. It's too bad his house burned down, though I have a hard time feeling sorry about the loss of a 10000sqft monstrosity. Just glad no one was hurt.

  2. jackofalltrades777 | | #2

    How Ironic
    Ironic on how polyurethane is so flammable when it is being dispensed but once it is fully cured, it becomes a Class A and Class 1 fire resistant material, the highest rating possible for a roofing/insulation material. A Polyurethane roof SIP has a Class A/Class 1 fire rating. This goes to show how chemical reactions can create a volatile situation.

  3. Josh@PrimeEnergy | | #3

    It is true that Closed Cell foam does have a maximum depth per lift. This information can be found on the product ESR report. For most closed cell foams the maximum depths for first and subsequent lifts is 2", the cure time between lifts is determined by the manufacturer. The maximum surface temperature of the substrate should be no more than 180F, so cure time or wait times may vary depending on ambient conditions.
    Open Cell foam on the other hand has basically zero risk of combustion from the exothermic reaction. The maximum depth per lift varies for each foam, and most do not have requirements for multiple passes and perform better when applied in one lift. The maximum depth is between 12” and 16”, again dependent on manufacturer.
    The ESR reports for Open and Closed Cell foams can be found online or on the manufacturer's website.

  4. stuccofirst | | #4

    Dr. Energy Saver
    He's Dr. Energy Saver, not Dr. Space Saver.

  5. Richard Beyer | | #5

    Spontaneous Combustion
    Considering foam was being installed prior to the fire we can only draw our own conclusions considering the fire is still under investigation. However, spontaneous combustion is addressed in this OSHA guidance document for spray foam installation companies outlined on page 39 of this link. It also addresses flash fires involving spray foam insulation.....

    For those interested in discerning Mr. Janesky's (owner of mansion) businesses you can view them here on his own web site...

    Here's what a mansion destroyed by fire looks like....!biPCxN

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