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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Spray Foam Jobs With Lingering Odor Problems

Smelly foam is rare, but when the problem occurs, everyone gets a headache

A ventilation fan should be set up before the contractor begins spraying any foam. This illustration appears on page 11 of the Health and Safety Product Stewardship Workbook for High-Pressure Application of Spray Polyurethane Foam (copyright: American Chemistry Council). The Workbook is available for download at
Image Credit: American Chemistry Council

Should spray polyurethane foam be installed in an occupied house? Hundreds of spray foam contractors around the country are happy to answer “Yes!” In almost all cases, these jobs end successfully: the spray foam improves the home’s thermal performance and the homeowner is happy.

However, a small number of these jobs go seriously awry. Although each story varies somewhat, reports of bad spray foam jobs have many recurring themes. In most cases, the foam installer made an error: either the foam was installed too thickly or the chemicals were not heated to the correct temperature before they were sprayed. In most cases, the insulation contractor failed to ventilate the job site with a fan during or after the installation. In some cases, areas of foam remained gummy or damp. The biggest common complaint, however, is a bad odor, usually described as a fish-like odor, that lasts for months and is almost impossible to get rid of.

Even do-it-yourself two-component spray-foam kits occasionally produce smelly foam, according to a report by Larry Burks and Jill Burks of Cambridge, N.Y.

Spray foam manufacturers concede that some foam jobs result in smelly foam. I asked Mac Sheldon, Western region manager for Demilec foam, how many spray foam jobs result in odor complaints. “When we looked at the numbers, it appears to be less than one tenth of one percent,” he told me. “While that is not acceptable, we’re working diligently to try and get a handle on the root cause.”

Some manufacturers have responded promptly to odor complaints, and done everything necessary to satisfy the homeowners. Other manufacturers have reportedly brushed off questions from homeowners and referred complaints to the contractor who installed the foam. Finally, some manufacturers have acquired a reputation for doing everything they can to avoid responsibility for odor problems.

Here are stories from eight homeowners, followed by responses and recommendations from a few spray-foam manufacturers and industry experts.

Heather Abello’s story

Heather and Tom Abello bought a recycled timber-frame building and had it relocated to their property in Edgecomb, Maine. The Abellos then hired a contractor to renovate the former barn and transform it into a residence. As part of that renovation, insulation contractors installed Bayer closed-cell spray foam in the walls and ceiling of the building.

According to Heather, her builder noticed a lingering odor which persisted even after the house was drywalled. “He told me, ‘I have been noticing an odor for a while.’ Our insulation installers said, ‘We noticed the smell as well.’

“Bayer paid for all of the sheetrock to be removed and all of the spray foam to be removed. The Bayer rep called me and listened to my side of the story. They said, ‘Don’t worry. We want you to be happy. This is unacceptable.’

“The foam was removed with crowbars. The workers put it in big bags and vacuumed it up. They didn’t get all of it — maybe they got 95% of it. The insulation installers came back and installed a different product — another closed-cell spray foam. Then the sheetrock guy had to come back. Bayer paid for the work. The contractors handled it so well — they were proactive. We are pleased with the outcome — we don’t have any issues now.”

Eric Pfau’s story

Eric Pfau, a structural engineer in Portland, Oregon, hired an insulation contractor to install 4 inches of Demilec open-cell spray foam on the underside of his attic roof sheathing. He and his family were living in the home at the time.

Pfau told me, “When they were installing the foam, they didn’t take any measures to pull the air out of the attic and ventilate to the outside. The guys were in full suits. There was a residual smell upstairs for several months afterwards.

“My wife was pregnant and I didn’t let her go upstairs. I did a lot of studying upstairs, studying for an exam, and it made me lightheaded to hang out up there. Eventually I got worried enough that I had the contractor come back. They brought a big fan, an industrial fan with ducts to create negative pressure. They sucked the air out and discharged it through and upstairs window. The fan ran for off and on for a week or two. It got to the point where it created so much negative pressure it was drawing fumes out of my furnace into the basement.

“After ventilating with the fan, it’s better. There was an issue there, but I think it has improved. I’m satisfied. I have friends over, and ask them if it smells funny, and they say that it smells like an attic. After running the fan, it was like night and day. I put my head up in the attic a few hours after the fan started operating, and 80% of what I was smelling was eliminated.”

David Posada’s story

David Posada, an architectural designer in Portland, Oregon, had Demilec open-cell spray foam installed in his own house. Posada told me, “We were living in the house at the time, but we stayed somewhere else for three or four nights after the foam was installed.

“When we came home after three or four nights, there was a very strong odor in the house, especially on the second floor. The odor seemed to be coming from the access hatch to the attic and some drawers connecting the indoors with the attic crawl space.

“We kept a box fan in the window of the upstairs bathroom. We kept that running and we kept the window in the bedroom open. We continued to do that for two months. Every night we slept with the window fan in the bathroom to create a negative pressure, and we slept with our bedroom window cracked open.

“I had mentioned the odor to the GC, and his response was ‘Yeah, that’s why I prefer cellulose.’ The spray foam contractor said, ‘That’s surprising. It should clear up soon.’ So I contacted Demilec. They initially they were very responsive. They said they would bring filters and fans, but there was a series of delays and they never got the fans and filters installed.

“Even six months later there was a strong smell in the attic, but it was no longer as noticeable in the living space. Now there is a faint chemical smell in the attic. I guess I am disappointed. But the current situation is acceptable.”

Mike Roth’s story

Michael and Joan Roth of Kissimmee, Florida hired an insulation contractor to install Demilec Sealection 500 open-cell spray foam on the underside of the roof sheathing of their home. They were living in the house at the time.

Mike told me, “The contractors didn’t advise us to leave the house, and they didn’t ventilate the attic. Within an hour, my wife got dizzy and her eyes were burning, so she left with our son. I stayed in the house, but an hour and a half later I couldn’t think straight, and I was forced to leave the house as well. I laid down in the back yard for an hour or so. At the end of the day, the contractors were done. My wife returned and said, ‘We can’t stay in this house.’ We both had headaches. We said, ‘This is terrible.’ We stayed with some friends.

“I had no idea what we were getting into. The stuff was very powerful. We came back the next day, but we realized we couldn’t stay in the house, so we brought an RV onto our property where we stayed for six months.

“We’ve had a lengthy ordeal with representatives from Demilec. Their agenda was to prove there was something else in the house causing the smell and it wasn’t their problem. I had a powerful fan in the attic that I had been running for weeks by the time the Demilec rep got there. They brought in another powerful fan. The windows and doors of the house were open for 24 hours a day.

“Demilec has a corporate mentality. They have to try to blame something else. Eventually Robert Naini from Demilec said, ‘Demilec has no liability — you have to go to your installer.’ The installer said he was not going to give us any money, and his insurance wouldn’t cover it.

“The attic stinks like a load of dead fish, and they aren’t going to do anything. Finally I decided I had to remove the roof sheathing and the foam, working from above. We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars of our own money to remove the foam. We had them hand-scrape the trusses and the gable and the drywall. I would say we got 98.5% of it out, if I had to guess. All of our symptoms went away with the foam. Our son’s breathing improved, and my wife and I are fine now.”

Keri Rimel’s story

Keri Rimel built a new home in Austin, Texas. The walls and attic were sprayed with Demilec Sealection 500 open-cell spray foam. Rimel told me, “The contractor, Deruiter Insulation, didn’t keep us out of the house at all. Our children were there when they were shooting it. We were visiting the job site, and we had meetings in the bedroom as the guy in a haz-mat suit was spraying. The Demilec rep was there on the job that day — Darren Butler from Demilec. He made a surprise visit just to tell us how great the insulation was, and how great Deruiter Insulation was. They did not ventilate at all. In fact all the windows were taped shut to keep the house warm for the next two weeks.

“Three days after they sprayed, my husband’s respiratory system shut down — his throat closed up. I thought, ‘We have a problem.’ Kurt Deruiter never opened up the house at all. We called him up and said it smelled. He said, ‘Just air it out.’ So we opened the windows.

“As it got warmer, the smell would increase. When Demilec came down — Darren Butler and another guy from Demilec — they said, ‘We don’t smell anything,’ and left. Then Robert Naini from Demilec made an appearance. He came out and said, ‘It smells like new paint.’ And my husband said, ‘There is no paint in there — just foam.’

“They said, ‘Ventilate.’ So they set up a negative ventilation system for a month or two. But you can still smell it before you get in the house. We asked, ‘How long should we ventilate?’ and they said, ‘Just keep ventilating.’ Finally Deruiter came to the house and took away his fans. Demilec said, ‘I think we can agree to remove the foam.’ They were about to settle with us, then Fox News broadcast that report about the Roths in Florida, so Demilec came back to us and said, ‘We are not going to help you.’”

Brian Hanks’s story

Brian Hanks lives in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. He hired a contractor to install 5 or 6 inches of Demilec Sealection 500 open-cell spray foam on the underside of the roof sheathing in his attic. Hanks told me, “The first thing we noticed was a strong, pungent odor. It lingered for a long time and made it difficult to breathe. It was almost unbearable to be in the home.

“I called the installer immediately. They said the smell was not harmful and the smell would go away in a few days at most. I asked, ‘Do I need ventilation?’ They said, ‘No, don’t worry. It’s not necessary.’

“After some strong urging, the installer eventually came by the house. After further coaxing, they brought a HEPA filter which circulated the air in a circle in the attic — just pulled in the attic air, filtered it, and discharged into the attic. This failed to do anything useful, so I installed my own fans at my own expense, one being a manhole blower with 8-inch ducts. I ran the ducts into the attic, through a stairway and an attic access hatch. The intake side was pulling air out of the attics and exhausting it out of the adjacent windows. I ran the fans for a couple of weeks, and in the cold winter weather the house seemed tolerable, but the odor persisted.

“Then I called the manufacturer. I spoke to a lady at Demilec, and she assured me the odor wasn’t a problem and that it wasn’t harmful. Then the weather got warm. It was hot outside, and the south sun was hitting the attic. The smell came back and we all got sick — constant, recurrent colds and lung problems.

“The general pattern has been that the odor and symptoms are tolerable in the wintertime, but in summertime when the hot Texas sun hits the roof, it is awful. At that point I contacted Demilec, but they were very reluctant to admit there was any issue. After I provided much encouragement, they eventually sent someone over to the house, although they did not agree that there was an odor. This was back in the summer of 2010, approximately 18 months after the initial install. Demilec came over and said they would spray something that would take care of the problem. They sprayed a mist in my attic and told me to stay out of the house for a day. I saw the container name and did some research — they sprayed a glycol-ether-based deodorizer.

“Immediately following the application of the deodorizer, my entire family lost their ability to taste, and being in the house became even more unbearable. After several more visits, IAQ tests, blower door tests, and several months, they suggested that I convert the attic back to a vented attic. I did part of the work on my own dime. They removed the foam at the perimeter of the attic, and sprayed more foam on the attic floor to seal the living space. This was in the winter of 2010.

“When the heat of summer returned, so did the odor and irritation. I installed powered attic ventilators in the roof, solar powered mushroom vents, and things got better. Even with all of these steps to mitigate, in the summer the smell was back. It was unbearable again. I had Demilec come back and they ran more IAQ tests and a bulk foam sample. They found significant levels of dimethylhexane, propane, and butane compounds in the air. Yet the bulk foam sample did not test as a source of those compounds. I then pointed out that the foam had been sprayed on four different occasions and asked for more testing.

“Yesterday, they were out to the house again to collect more foam samples. They seem to be continuing to deny that the foam has anything to do with it. They aren’t offering me a thing.

“Not a single contractor I have found will take the foam out. None of them have experience with removal, and they all warn of the dangers of polyurethane dust. At this point, my energy bills are as high as they were originally, my family has suffered through 2 1/2 years of chemical exposure, and I’ve spent countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars on HVAC improvements, ERV installation, dehumidifier installation, sealing attic penetrations, and attic system repairs from collateral damage.”

Joseph Dobbs’s story

Joseph Dobbs is a retired engineer in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He hired a contractor to install BASF Spraytite 178 closed-cell spray foam in his garage ceiling under his bonus room. Dobbs told me, “The odor was coming form it after it was sprayed. The man said to wait a few days — just a few days. We waited for several months.

“Finally I contacted him again, and he decided to remove 60% of the foam. He removed 100% of the foam depth from about 60% of the ceiling. Some of the material was installed 7 inches thick in just one pass. He removed the smelly stuffy. They re-sprayed with a thinner layer — maybe at most 3 inches.

“There is still a smell coming from there. It got better, but we could still smell it. I have a neighbor and grandchildren who can definitely still smell it.

“I called up BASF and spoke to a customer service rep, but they didn’t want to help. One of the comments was, ‘We just sell the raw materials.’ I got very poor response from BASF. I asked them out to come out and look at the site, and they said, ‘Sorry, we can’t come out.’

“This odor, this fish smell, is probably, in my opinion, formed by an amine. People say that the odor will go away. But this is a solid that is generating the odor, not a liquid or a gas. It’s like naphthalene moth balls — it’s a solid. Moth balls generate vapor for a long time because it is a solid.

“It takes a long time for the odor to go away. Maybe it will never go away. I think it is a defective product that should not be used. If this product had been put in the house instead of my garage, the house would have been destroyed.”

Bryan Kolodziej’s story

Bryan Kolodziej, a computer systems administrator in Upland, California, hired a contractor to install BASF Comfort Foam, a closed-cell spray foam, in his kitchen ceiling as part of a kitchen remodel. He was not living in the house at the time.

Kolodziej told me, “It is a vaulted cathedral ceiling. On the day they sprayed it, the odor was amazingly bad. Two guys were doing the work. I opened up all the windows in the house and installed fans. The bulk of the fumes dissipated in about a day.

“Very shortly thereafter I noticed a lingering odor that smelled like rotting fish, an amine-like odor. The odor was not dissipating. I contacted them to ask about it, and they just told me to wait it out.

“I set up a complicated system of fans running 24 hours a day to try to air it out, and it just never went away. I ran the fans for about two weeks. I finally called the contractor and said, ‘The smell is not going away.’ They finally realized that they must have done something wrong. They said, ‘We’ll need to come out and re-spray some things.’

“I called BASF and they were very quick to wash their hands of the situation. They knew all about what I was talking about, and they said the foam had been oversprayed. They are supposed to spray a maximum pass of 1 1/2 or 2 inches, or else the heat in the foam from the chemical reaction can cause a burn or degradation, generating this amine odor.

“So the contractor came back. They tried to dig out the bad foam, and they sprayed some more insulation on top to try to seal it. They generated a huge amount of waste. They only removed the bad foam from certain areas. They took about 15% or 20% of the foam out.

“That stuff is not easy to remove. They used a tile scraper — a blade on the end of a handle. The guy who allocated the spray jobs was perturbed about having to send someone back. The guy who did the spraying was complaining about having to go out. They knew they lost money on the job and so they weren’t interested about coming back.

“I was worried about the Romex in the ceiling, because they were chiseling the foam out. I refused to let them chisel in certain areas, and even so he did hit one of my phone lines. He said, ‘We got all of the bad foam out. See, it smells bad, and it feels like a wet sponge.’ Then they sprayed again. Even after they re-sprayed, the odor was still there, but I was afraid to have them come back because they were so angry when they came back the first time.

“Our dream kitchen smelled constantly of fish. I couldn’t walk in the room because the ceiling was so bad. I finally went up there with an oscillating saw, I poked through things and found more bad foam and pulled it out. I had to go all the way and scrape it out. I refilled the gaps with cans of foam.

“Every step reduced the odor some. I got it down as far as I could, and I hoped that the drywall ceiling would seal it. The drywall guys could still smell it. I told them to get the drywall up tight and seal it well. The odor is not detectable now in the kitchen, but you can still smell it in the attic.

“Both BASF and the contractor assured me that the smell would eventually bake out. I know that I would never use that product again — BASF Comfort Foam. I would not use it. I recommend that people turn and run away from it. When I called the contractor, they said that one of the regional reps will call you, but no one every called me.

“What it came down to is they did the job wrong, and they chiseled out as little of it as they could get away with. I called the guys at BASF. He told me what a good product it is. I said, what happens when you get a fishlike odor? He said, ‘That problem is between you and the contractor.’ I am on the verge of carving every last bit of foam myself and reinsulating with rigid foam sheets.”

What’s causing the odor?

By now, most spray-foam experts know that lingering odors can be a problem with some spray foam jobs. According to Mason Knowles, a spray foam expert and consultant in Reston, Virginia, “The odors are coming from a catalyst in the foam, or from foam that is off-ratio or not mixed well or sprayed too thickly.”

According to Michael Sievers, the business manager for BASF spray foam, “The odor that might occur with the foam application is typically caused by one of two things: 1) the contractor applies the foam in greater than a 2-inch pass, or 2) the contractors applies a second pass over the first without allowing the first pass to dissipate the heat and properly cure.”

According to Mac Sheldon of Demilec, “The odor happens when the foam is slightly underprocessed. We call it cold foam. It happens when the recommended application temperatures aren’t followed. The recommended temperature varies with the substrate and the weather conditions. For example, let’s say the recommended application temperature at a job is 140 degrees — that’s the temperature of the product leaving the gun. If it were sprayed at 125 degrees, we wouldn’t get a full reaction. So the catalyst, the amine catalyst, won’t fully react with the A side and B side products, and therefore it won’t be fully consumed. That’s what we are experiencing. Amine catalyst has a strong odor. It is real stinky.”

Almost everyone interviewed for this story agreed that the most likely cause of smelly foam is installer error. Among the errors mentioned: installing foam at too low a temperature, installing foam too thickly in a single pass, and failure to ventilate when the foam was installed.

It’s important to ventilate the job site

Most manufacturers recommend that a spray-foam work site be isolated with polyethylene barriers and depressurized with an exhaust fan while the foam is being sprayed. This requirement for job-site ventilation is described and illustrated in an online best-practice guide, Health and Safety Product Stewardship Workbook for High-Pressure Application of Spray Polyurethane Foam. The Workbook notes, “Having a negative pressure in a contained work zone will draw in air from small cracks and gaps around the workspace boundary and exhaust the work zone air. Active ventilation is achieved by using one or more fans to draw air to or from the workspace and create a negative pressure inside the workspace. Give careful consideration to the location of the exhaust. Ideally, exhaust is released to an unoccupied space where it is not likely to be drawn through an air intake. This will help protect occupants and workers in adjacent areas from potential chemical exposure.” (The Workbook can be downloaded from

Many of the homeowners interviewed for this story noted that their spray-foam contractors never set up any ventilation equipment.

Getting rid of the smell

Some manufacturers’ reps believe that smelly foam problems can be solved by ventilating the smelly areas. According to Mac Sheldon, “There’s a finite amount of the catalyst, and if it is gets to the surface and is ventilated out, it is gone forever.” When I told Sheldon that in some cases, the odor persists for months or even years, he answered, “I would not doubt that, especially if there is a dead air space. To enhance the release, we have found that heat and ventilation will help to move it out of the foam.”

Most experts, however, advise that the only way to solve these problems is to remove the bad foam from the house. “I would not consider ongoing ventilation of the house a cure for lingering odors,” said Mason Knowles. “I’ve yet to see a problem that wasn’t fixed by removing the foam. But sometimes you can’t find the section of foam that is causing the odor, so there are cases where you have to remove all the foam.” Although some contractors are worried that there is no established protocol for the remediation of a home with bad foam — do you have to get every last speck? Does the odor linger in the framing lumber? — Knowles believes that bad foam can be successfully removed. “You can remove closed-cell foam,” Knowles told me. “It’s not easy, but you can do it.”

Smells can migrate into framing lumber

Even foam removal may not solve a problem with a persistent odor, however. “We think the smell can migrate to the framing lumber,” Sheldon told me. “We believe it can migrate to other porous materials.” I asked Sheldon whether Demilec had ever agreed to pay for the removal of smelly foam. Sheldon replied, “When they tell you, ‘The Demilec rep was here,’ was it really the Demilec rep?”

I answered, “Most of the homeowners are specific. They don’t say, ‘The Demilec rep was here.’ They say, ‘Robert Naini was here.’” At that point, Sheldon’s tone changed. “Well, if Robert is involved, then there probably has been testing, and Demilec has reached out.” I asked again, “Has Demilec ever offered to pay for the foam to be removed?” Sheldon answered, “I know that Robert has offered — not to remove the foam, but to help ventilate and help remediate.”

Has your installer been properly trained?

Knowles advises any builder or homeowner thinking of hiring a spray foam contractor to find out as much as possible about their training, their certification, and their experience level. “For 7 or 8 years, when the spray-foam business was increasing at a fast clip, some contractors weren’t getting adequate training,” said Knowles. “But now there is better training and better contractor certification.” Knowles provides more useful advice on this issue in an article he wrote for the Journal of Light Construction.

Paul Duffy, the vice president of engineering for Icynene, advises anyone considering the use of spray foam in an existing house to hire a home-performance specialist. “For a retrofit job, we recommend that you have a HERS rater involved, or a BPI-trained professional — someone who understands the house as a system,” said Duffy. “A spray foam contractor doesn’t necessarily have all of those understandings on the same level. … It goes beyond the skill set of insulators generally; it goes into the skill set of a building science professional.”

Mac Sheldon also mentioned the importance of training. “Training is a huge issue in our industry,” he told me. “We have a basic training, and this topic and the procedures for proper processing are covered in depth. We have bridge training for people who have been to our competitors’ training, where this topic is covered in depth. We believe that some installers either don’t pay attention to the requirements or they haven’t been through the training — maybe their boss has been to the training but they haven’t been. We are training over 100 people a month. We are begging people to come to our training. These problems are mostly installer error.”

In addition to verifying the training credentials of your spray foam contractor, you should insist that your contractor isolate the work area and set up a fan to depressurize the room where foam is being sprayed.

Following best practice recommendations raises the cost of the job

Although Knowles is confident that these smelly foam problems are a small bump in an otherwise smooth road, other consultants aren’t so sure.

According to Bernard Bloom, a certified IAQ professional in Silver Spring, Maryland, “The industry has an almost impossible problem inherent in their dependence on spray contractors who have to comply fully with all installation instructions each and every time. For instance, they may have to spray to a certain thickness, wait, and continue spraying. Contractors may or may not follow such instructions to the letter. The industry’s own guidelines call for exhaust ventilation in occupied homes, but this practice is widely ignored. I’ve seen people who sprayed on wet surfaces. My point is that if the spray contractors truly had to work within all manufacturer instructions and industry guidelines, it would up-price the job. There’s a guy at the SPFA who says, ‘You don’t have any information off-gassed chemicals are toxic.’ But he’s ignoring the fact that you can’t live in your house if it stinks or may render you chemically sensitive.”

According to Sheldon, spray-foam manufacturers are working on developing new chemical formulas that will reduce the chance of producing smelly foam. “We’re working on the issue,” Sheldon told me. “We are working diligently in our lab at the basic chemistry level to find improved systems. We’re working on this and other physical properties. Within the next year, I predict — the next year to 18 months — I think the landscape of the spray foam industry will be changed for the better.”

When problems aren’t resolved quickly, homeowners get frustrated

Any experienced builder knows that building materials are occasionally defective. A builder who gets a bad window or a bad sink wants to be able to call up a manufacturer’s rep and have that rep show up at the job site and resolve the problem quickly. If this happens, the builder becomes a loyal customer. In fact, most builders’ choice of window brand is based not on the window quality but on the service provided by their local rep.

By this standard, many spray foam manufacturers are failing dismally. There are a few exceptions; Heather Abello was pleased that Bayer stepped up to the plate and agreed to pay for the removal of all the drywall in her home, as well as the removal of all of the spray foam, the reinstallation of new foam, and the installation of new drywall — all at no expense to her. However, many homeowners report that manufacturers have ignored their phone calls or tried to blame other substances (such as paint) for the odors in their homes.

When I contacted BASF about reports from Bryan Kolodziej and Jospeh Dobbs — homeowners who say that their phone calls to BASF were brushed off — a BASF spokesperson, Michael Sievers, replied, “BASF has been very up front and proactive with respect to working with homeowners and contractors to resolve any questions or concerns they have with respect to our product.” Sievers cited BASF’s response to a complaint from another homeowner, Marty Donnelly, noting that Donnelly posted the following comment on the GBA website: “I would like to add that the manufacturer and the insulators have been very helpful.” However, Sievers didn’t quote this part of Donnelly’s post: “They went into my attic and did a sniff test. They deemed the attic and home to be free of the fish odor. We disagree. There is still a faint odor that drifts into the garage and living area, especially when it is hot.”

According to manufacturers, the odors may be coming from something else

When I asked Sheldon about reports that Demilec representatives have blamed other substances for these odors, he didn’t deny it. “When we have done indoor air quality sampling, we have found high concentrations of substances like formaldehyde,” he told me. “At one job, I observed solvent products stored in a garage area. At some of these jobs, the complaints are consistent with formaldehyde. At one house, the odor wasn’t really strong. We went in with a certified industrial hygienist, and the result of the test showed extremely high formaldehyde concentrations in the kitchen. In that case we offered to install a ventilation system, and the customer didn’t want it.”

Like Mac Sheldon, Paul Duffy of Icynene believes that some of these odors come from substances other than spray foam. “If you are air sealing a building, you have to be mindful of the potential for indoor air pollutants that were previously not recognized now being noticed because of the lower ventilation rate,” Duffy told me. “We have always emphasized the need to ‘build it tight and ventilate it right.’ Ventilation is a huge part of the energy-efficiency puzzle. … In an existing house, the installer may be applying the product on contaminated surfaces. In some case, perhaps the attic used to exist outside of the building envelope, and who know what was up there — squirrels, feces, urine — and now you’re bringing that environment into the living space.”

According to Mason Knowles, “Some suppliers think, ‘It’s another misapplication — why are they calling me in?’ At the same time, you want to provide goodwill. Each company will take their own legal advice as to how they go about it.”

My advice to spray-foam manufacturers is simple: it’s not acceptable to brush off customers with smelly foam. If these cases aren’t quickly resolved, the dead-fish smell is likely to taint the entire industry.

Last week’s blog: “Installing Mineral Wool Insulation Over Exterior Wall Sheathing.”


  1. Nathan Spriegel | | #1

    Contractor-manufacturer responsibilities
    Some manufacturers seem to be pretty quick on handing off responsibility for the incorrect installation to the contractor. However has ANY manufacturer refused to sell their product to an installer who has shown a history of not following the guidelines for installation? Contractors do not decide “I’ll take shortcuts on this one job only”. There will be a pattern of bad installs. I assume (a bad word I know) that contractors sign a waiver absolving the manufacturer of liability. However if the manufacturer continues to supply “bad” contractors it shows they DO NOT care about the consumers, just their bottom line.

  2. John Brooks | | #2

    Spray Foam Now
    I love the smell of Spray Foam in the morning.
    It's kinda like that new car smell
    Only Better

  3. J D | | #3

    Nathan Spriegel comment
    Good point. In our case BASF did not seem to care at all. They told me they only sold the raw materials. That is contrary to their web site.

    It is my opinion that their MSDS sheet is completely false. It should discuss reaction byproducts that are formed and what they are and their toxicity.

    The only thing that will resolve these issues is a class action lawsuit.

  4. User avater
    Michael Chandler | | #4

    Great and timely post Martin
    I've always heard that for every positive reference from a satisfied customer you get seven negative referrals from dis-satisfied customers. The Spray foam industry would do well to pay attention to this adage and invest marketing dollars in better training and customer satisfaction.

    Applicator training is the key to good spray foam applications and the best thing the industry can do is get a strong training and certification program in place. Cold weather, excessive humidity, bad spray practices and overheated or cold drums are the factors most associated with off-ratio and unsatisfactory foam applications. These are all things the installers have control over.

    Termite poison installers are subject to spot inspections and audits. Foam applicators could take a lesson here and institute a third party audit, testing and certification program that would help address these issues.

    Better education is needed for the home owners and folks working on homes w/ spray foam in process. I tell my people to stay out of the site until three days after foam has cured except for short QC inspections. Most of the foams have halogenated flame retardants that can be released as dust when the foam is trimmed and disposed of. These have been linked w/ birth defects and loss of fertility, so minimizing shaving and hiring well trained crews is imperative.

    The illustration at the top of this article is great! I don't think I have ever seen all of the best practices included in this drawing implemented on a job site.

  5. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Response to Michael Chandler
    If Demilec is accurate in its assessment that only 1/10 of 1% of spray foam jobs result in odor complaints, then it would appear possible for spray foam manufacturers to invest some of their profits from the 99.9% of jobs that are smooth and profitable to help resolve complaints lodged by 0.1% of their customers.

    Since they aren't doing a very good job at resolving these complaints, one might conclude that either:
    (a) the percentage of jobs with smelly foam is higher than Demilec reports, or
    (b) the spray foam industry is taking a short-sighted approach to business when they decide to fight these claims rather than settle.

  6. John Brooks | | #6

    Three Men and a Truck
    I admit that I have only witnessed a handful of sprayfoam applications. My experience may not be typical.

    There is usually One Guy who is "the cook" and the other 2 or 3 guys are doing the prep work.
    The cook fires up the machine and fusses with the equipment.
    The equipment seems to be tempermental....just when they think they are ready to spray...something goes wrong and the cook has to fiddle with the dials or give something a kick. Wrap some more duct tape around the hose and curse a little.

    I can't be sure...but I don't think these guys are highly paid. The cook is the guy who wears the "full gear".... the other guys may or may not be wearing a blue paper mask.

    As a witness...I was warned not to get too close .. but was allowed to view without any gear or a mask.
    The cook sprays a little on the wall ...curses and goes back to the truck for a while. Eventually the cook is either satisfied (or frustrated) and the work progresses.

    Ok, I did something VERY,VERY stupid on my personal home....
    I knew there were some tricky spots in my attic just behind the HVAC equipment.... I wanted to make sure this area was carefully I crawled under the Air Handler with the cook and supervised....
    I think he was trying to tell me that I was getting too close...but I ignored the warning.
    Later the guys asked me if I was experiencing "The Blue Haze" (and I was) I knew what they were talking about...everything looked fuzzy and had a blue halo around it. They told me it happened to them often and it may last for a day or so....and it did.
    I know...I was stupid....But it makes me think "this can't be good" for these guys that do it every day

  7. User avater
    Michael Chandler | | #7

    Prevention or resolution
    My experience with spray foam is that once a job goes off-ratio or the tanks are too hot and the foam is coming out with huge air pockets in it etc. it's really hard to go back and fix it. it's just really critical to get it right the first time. going back and pulling out bad foam just isn't a good solution. So good preparation and good equipment are critical.

    I was touring a neighborhood of whole house gut rehabs with a real estate sales woman and a bunch of green building geeks and they were actively spraying in the crawl as we were walking around above them No safety precautions, no sign of a blower as shown in the illustration. Some of these foams have halogenated flame retardants in the B-side component that have been conclusively linked to birth defects and loss of fertility. I'm old enough that fertility isn't an issue. but there were plenty of people of child bearing age in that group who definitely should not have been in an active spray foam site.

  8. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    A comment from Mason Knowles
    [Mason Knowles sent me this comment by e-mail and asked me to post it here.]

    I was wanting to put into perspective the odor issue. Considering that Roger Morrison and I are the only independent consultants in the country that specialize in sprayfoam applications, it is my opinion that I am aware of 30 to 50% of the odor issue claims made in the last 3 years.

    To put some numbers to the issue:

    There are approximately 3,500 to 5,000 sprayfoam insulation contractors currently spraying foam in the US. If each contractor sprays 25 houses a year, that would range from 87,500 to 125,000 houses a year. Times 3 years equals 262,500 to 375,000 houses.

    I have been contacted about odor issues a dozen times in the past 3 years from homeowners or building owners. I also have worked with a half a dozen suppliers (and their insurance companies) on odor issues during the same time. Roger has been involved in a slightly fewer number of cases. Based on our experiences, I estimate that there are between 30 to 50 odor issue claims in the last 3 years. The large majority of the claims occurred from projects installed from 2007 to 2009. I see fewer claims of foam installed in 2010 or 2011.

    Take also into consideration that of the projects I have personally inspected, 20% of the projects do not have odor issues from the foam. Rather it is other sources or the inhabitants have an extremely sensitive nose. For example, I have been in houses with 8-10 persons (including lawyers for the plaintiff) and no one except the owner can smell anything out of the ordinary.

    It is difficult for a supplier to "sweep" problems under the rug in an industry as small as this. So, it is my estimate that most of these odor issues are fairly well documented.

    So, I think the claim by one of the folks you interviewed that the odor issue problem represents 1 tenth or 1% of the sprayfoam applications is accurate. Actually the number of odor issues involving foam would conservatively be 2 one hundredths of 1% or 0.0002. Pretty low numbers.

    Plus, the number of odor problems has been greatly reduced since the industry began instituting specific quality control training as part of their basic fundamental instructions to contractors.

    Another item not mentioned in your article, foam that exhibits strong odors will have poor cell structure or discoloration in the foam that can be observed by quality control sampling during the project or quality assurance inspection after the project.

    Mason Knowles
    Mason Knowles Consulting

  9. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #9

    Customer service problems
    Thanks for the additional information.

    If your estimates of the prevalence of odor problems is accurate, it only makes the failure of spray-foam manufacturers to settle these cases all the more mysterious. I just can't understand why some manufacturers are so reluctant to help these homeowners -- even (apparently) brushing off customers who call the manufacturers directly, asking for help.

  10. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #10

    My spray foam contractor at a
    My spray foam contractor at a trade show discussed the smell of foam with me last year or so. He and I both like open cell icynene. But as to smell, he handed me chunks of foam and the closed cell foam definitely was giving off chemicals enough that one whiff close to your nose was enough. The water blown open cell had absolutely no smell. And the three homes I have had open cell installed in have no smell and are performing well as insulation and air barrier.

    IMO, make sure you hire the best, their best crew sprays using their best equipment during favorable weather conditions.

    Mason Knowles thank you for sharing first hand information that so many of us desire.

    I too second Martin in that the industry must insure their work and quickly remedy spray foam situations that prove to be less than satisfactory.

  11. Steven O'Neil | | #11

    Ensuring foam is applied in the proper conditions?
    I'm wondering how highly trained foam applicators control for all conditions required for safe and effective foam installation. For example, one foam installer told me that the way to fix my crawl space is to just open up the floor and spray the dirt with several inches of foam. Alternatively, they would go down there and spray under the floor planking. In either case, I doubt the temperature ever reaches the recommended install temperature of 70-80 degrees F in my crawlspace, particularly on the surface of the dirt!. But so many crawlspaces are foamed--and I doubt any of them are warmer than 70 C (in the northeast at least). Does the temp spec apply to only the bottles of chemicals themselves, or does the envrionment and surface need to be at the recommended temp? If so, do they use a space heater? That seems to come with its own dangers. Can they still ventilate properly if they're trying to control the temp? Was this investigated in the fires that accured recently in MA--where at least in one case spray it is suspected that the foam was installed in crawl space too thickly in one application? And what about the added expense of having an installer come out 2-3 x over a period of weeks to apply the recommended max 2 inches of foam at a time and allow for the recommended 2-4 day curing and unoccupied period per coat? Seems not very cost effective or convenient for either the installers or customers.

  12. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #12

    Response to Steven O'Neil
    Spray foam chemicals are heated in the truck or trailer before the chemicals are sent to the spray wand. Depending on the temperature of the surface being sprayed, different temperatures may be required for the chemicals leaving the wand. These details are covered in training.

    It isn't necessary to wait 2 to 4 days for foam curing after a 2-inch lift is sprayed before spraying a second lift. Once the initial heat of the exothermic reaction has dissipated -- often in an hour or less -- another layer of foam can be sprayed over the first layer.

  13. Robert Quesnette | | #13

    Free foam education courses
    My name is robert and I'm the northeast sales manager for a large foam manufacturer. You can reach me at 860-933-7076. Our company offers AIA as well as educational spray foam presentations at no charge. If after reading all of the articles you're unclear or uncertain on any aspect of spray foam please feel free to contact me.

  14. David Fay | | #14

    I had my basement walls sprayed with BASF's ComfortFoam. The contractor then sprayed a fire-retardant over the ComfortFoam, per code in Maine. The basement has stunk ever since (about two years now). I will admit that the smell is not as strong as it was right after the work was completed.

    Fortunately, little of the smell migrates into the living area, but I hate going down there to work on anything.

    I've always wondered whether the smell is coming from the ComfortFoam or the fire retardant. Has anyone heard of smell problems with fire retardants?

  15. Trish Holder | | #15

    Nice Job Green Building Advisor
    Green Building Advisor did an excellent job with this article. I've been following its development from afar for a while. I know this is not a report that developed over night, but rather months. I think your conclusions validate what many of us thought from the beginning when these complaints first began to surface. But you clarified the issue and substantiated your conclusions with a lot of research and interviews. I hope that anyone who is considering spray foam will happen upon this article FIRST. Not that I think foam is a bad thing -- I have it in my own home and have had no problems. But these are serious chemicals and people need to realize their are contractors out there who wield them like gunman without proper training or a license.

  16. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #16

    Response to Trish Holder
    Thanks for the feedback. Like you, I think spray foam insulation has its uses. But 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.

  17. User avater
    Pat Dundon | | #17

    smelly foam
    This from a contractor with 20+ yrs residential experience who is a lousy typist.

    SPFA had a convention in February 2011 in Reno where the website was introduced and contractors were made aware of the need for site ventilation. we were also told EPA is investigating spray foam in general. EPA, NIOSH,and NHTSA are 'encouraging' the foam industry to change their SOP's.
    To be fair, the manufactuers have very little control over contractors. This is one of the few industries where the 'manufacturer' is not the supplier, the end manufacturer is the contractor. Foam 'manufacturers' make hardner (MDI) and Resins, or polyols. they do not make foam. Contractors make foam. That is why manufacturers don't want to claim the problems of foam.
    But, is that ethical?
    What about this, if I want to send a crewman to get trained to be the 'cook' as one of your posters refers to them, I have to pay for the training, pay for a trip to the manufacturer's site, pay for the employees wages, travel, and lodging, and lose production for about a week. Then that employee can work for any competing contractor. Frankly, if the manufacturers are so worried about proper applications, they should at least offer the trainings for free.
    Training, weather it be building science, foam applicator, or BPI tech is always very expensive, and I don't think it should be if the trainer is selling product.
    On the subject of pay rates for foam applicators. they are usually paid pretty well becasue they are key personnell.
    On the subject of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for applicators and helpers, I spend several hunderd dollars per week on PPE, yet I still find crew personell on foam jobs without PPE. The OSHA people say 'terminate them or you will be fined'. I have been looking for a new applicator so I can start another rig for over a year now. I have lost a couple good candidates to our random drug testing policy. I cannot aford to terminate everyone. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force him to drink. Lately I have been telling guys 'if you do not respect yourself well enough to wear the PPE, how can I trust you with more responsibility and pay you more money?' They are catching on SLOWLY.
    On fishy foam, you have nailed the reasons in this article already, and removal and replacement is ALWAYS expensive. suck it up, or do it right the first time.
    You did miss a couple things though:
    The intumescent paints can give off odors that people find irritating (one component that lasts a long time is isopropyl alcohol, which responds well to ventialtion and heat)
    when Mason said the probelms were more prevalent prior to 2007, he didn't elaborate. In 2004 the EPA decided to get hard core on SPF to stop depeting ozone. that forced all producers to change formulations. Between 2005 and 2007 there was a lot of adjusting going on in formulations and installation guidance was not stable. Stability came in early 2007, and smelly foam became more rare around then too, coincidence?
    If you want a good job you need a good contractor. good contractors don't work cheap. stop looking for the low bid guy.
    This is harder than you think because there really aren't viable certifications to ask for. SPFA has one, but it costs several lost hours of production and several hunderd dollars PER Employee to get them, it also requires three inspections of jobs in process, which means flying an inspector (Mason Knowles or Roger Morrison are the only ones) to your site for the inspection. I know both of them and I like both of them, but they both live in the southeast and I am in the northeast. So, what do you think it will cost to get one or the other of them to come to NY and look at a job? I cannot get the builders to leave buildings open long enough to get three ready simultaneously, so multiply the inspection fee by three, and add travel and lodging for the inspector each time, then multiply that by the num ber of applicators. Like i said, training is expensive.
    The other applicator certification is Air Barrier Association of America, which is even more expensive and involves Bonding the company.
    Good contrators are not cheap. Stop looking for the low bid guy and expecting the high bid job.
    Foam suppliers want to sell product and will not hesitate to sell product to anyone with the bucks. this kills the good contractors because when they invest the time and money into creating a good market invariabley they attract competition and the suppliers will sell the competition anything they need.
    Anyone looking into becoming a foam contractor should look at these hidden costs more than the equipment costs, most don't, which is why you see newbies selling at discounts of 20 to 30% at times.
    if your deal seems too good to be true, walk away. if you get two experienced contractors with bids within 5% of each other and a third guy at 15% lower, the third guy is probably not your friend.

  18. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #18

    Response to Pat Dundon
    An excellent post -- thanks for all your details. You've provided a lot of food for thought.

    Here's one of your most important points: "Foam suppliers want to sell product and will not hesitate to sell product to anyone with the bucks. This kills the good contractors because when they invest the time and money into creating a good market, invariably they attract competition and the suppliers will sell the competition anything they need."

    The foam suppliers -- the group I have been calling the manufacturers -- are at risk of killing the entire industry unless they alter their current practice of selling chemicals to anyone who shows up.

  19. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #19

    Martin, Robert Quesnette, Pat
    Martin, Robert Quesnette, Pat Dundon, this thread is fantastic and exactly the kind of information all of us really desire in regard to spray foam. Contractors, architects, clients, customers, we all desire some real behind the scenes information, discussion, thoughts and opinions.

    Robert Quesnette and Pat Dundon, help us out here at GBA by sticking around the spray foam discussions. Martin, maybe GBA should ask these gents to participate in future GBA white papers.

  20. Robert Quesnette | | #20

    see my post above
    I must step in and say this is an unfair statement being made that all manufacturers will sell to anyone and charge for education. In my last post I listed my name and phone number and offered FREE educational courses. As far a sales are concerned at the end of the day it's a salesman job to sell chemical ...that being said, my company always runs a demographic on the territory were a new applicatior is looking to come on in order to be certain we're not over saturating a given market. I cant speak for all manufacturers only for my company and territory. Once again my phone number is 860-970-3515, please contact me directly if you have any further questions regarding our free education.

  21. Todd Crawford | | #21

    This is excellent information!
    I am a public health official who receives complaints about smelly spray foam installations. As there are no regulations, I am generally at a loss for what to recommend. When I suggest that the underlying cause is usually misapplication, the contractor always denies that could even be a possibility. I am interested in developing a sampling and analysis protocol which can be used to demonstrate the presence or absence of indoor air contamination from spray foam installations. Is this something that you have some background information on?

  22. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #22

    Response to Todd Crawford
    I don't have an answer to your question. Of course, IAQ consultants are able to test air samples for VOCs, formaldehyde, and a variety of chemicals. But smell is subjective, and I don't know of any tests that can confirm that spray foam is the source of a dead-fish smell.

    Perhaps another GBA reader will be able to respond.

  23. User avater
    Pat Dundon | | #23

    smelly foam
    In NY any business can ask (once every 6 years) for the NY Dept of Labor, Div of Safety & Health to come out and do an OSHA type inspection of your business practice for free. it is encouraged to find and mediate hazards owners may not realize are there. if the inspector sees someting massively wrong, he can call an OSHA guy and get the owner fined, but if they see stuff that can be easily fixed (and is), they just point it out and make no record of it. if you have this done, OSHA cannot inspect you for 6 months.

    I have had it done twice since 1993. both times I asked for an Industrial Hygenist to come out and do air sampling for MDI. Back in 1990's I was the guy on the gun and the guy in the truck. The first time we were using open cell foam, the second time we were using closed cell foam. both times, the hygenist had my sprayer wear a pump that trapped particulates and vapors in some sort of canister, and had another crew guy wear a similar apparatus in the back of the truck. The samples were sent out for anaysis. OSHA has an 8 hr PEL of something like 5 ppB (billion) for MDI, and we were under that limit on all tests.
    The Hygenist told me, and I have verified, that MDI is a material that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, but people do react to it over time. it works similarly to an allergy. eventually, MDI at levels that cannot be measured do affect people with sensitivity to MDI, and you get sensitized by repeated exposure. so, the Hygenist said wear appropraite PPE at all times.

    Happily, MDI is not a very common chemical in our world unles you are installing urethane products. However, urethane products include items like polyurethane caulk (availabe at your local hardware store), urethane glues (like Gorilla Glue), single component foams (Great Stuff & similar products), and urethane paint (your car us coated in it (even that Prius)) all have some level of MDI in them.

    what changed this year is the polyol, and the materials other than MDI that get released during the curing process are now being studied. No one has good data from long term study of these materials. the feeling is, and I ssume it is at least tacitly accepted by EPA and NIOSH, that these products are probably not very dangerous. However, the current guidance is to have unprotected people leave the premisis during the spray process and for 24 hours after we finish.

    Even EPA & NIOSH agree that after the curing process has completed there is no offgassing. in a home show environment, foam samples are pawed, crushed, cut, broken, etc. so there are constantly new pores being opened, and you will get smells, but that is not a valid test process for stuff contained inside a building cavity.

    Suppliers put out materials and directions for applicators to use and follow. if they are followed properly, things go very well. if someone tries to cheat somehow things can go terribly wrong. If someone does something wqrong just becasue they don't know what they don't know, things can go wrong too. there are lots of ways to do something wrong when you install any chemical process, and only one way to get it right. With foam, if you get way wrong, you usually don't get foam, and it shows quickly. usually is not always though.

    there is nothing anyone can do to make this perfect, but you can do a lot better by using someone experienced, and that begins with someone ethical to a point of admitting when something is not going well and stopping to figure out what it is and how to fix it. SPFA is doing that with the support of several dozen suppliers and EPA, NIOSH & NHTSA. Watch for reporting on their progress.

  24. Brian Hanks | | #24

    Update & Request
    I'm still suffering from exposure to whatever is coming out of the foam in my attic. I just returned from a week of vacation in Colorado and within 24 hours my family and I were again experiencing severe congestion, lung irritation, and dizziness. I even called my local HVAC guy and a different foam installer, both of whom have spent time in my attic recently and they both reported similar symptoms.

    Does anyone know a good lawyer who can help negotiate? Or a contractor in the DFW area that can help remove the bad foam?

    In the meantime, I'm working to publicize this as much as possible, hoping that awareness will ultimately bring a solution.

  25. K S | | #25

    Info for Brian Hanks
    Martin Holladay has my contact info, please contact him.

  26. K S | | #26

    If Mac Sheldon of Demilec thinks removing Spray Foam is not an answer to foam problems than why does Demilec remove it? They say they don't remove the foam, but they certainly have.

  27. Bob Sviet | | #27

    Important information about polyurethane spray foam insulation
    If you are thinking about using polyurethane spray foam to insulate your home, please read the following information at the links provided below. What you are venturing into is bringing a chemical manufacturing process into your home that uses highly toxic chemicals, that as folks in this article can attest, can go badly wrong. Please be well informed first, before making a decision.

  28. K S | | #28

    What is going on in some homes with SPF?
    Lately there is a lot of speculation that spray foam insulation is not as inert as once thought and in fact, SPF may continue to off gas for many years. The EPA has also voiced their concern about the need for further research on the short and long term safety of SPF in residential use.

    We are in contact with 30 other families in the USA and Canada who may be suffering from symptoms related to their SPF home (NOTE: schools and offices are using it too).
    Some families have moved out of their homes. Other families have removed roof decks and/or walls of SPF in hopes of reducing the chemicals and symptoms experienced in the home. Some families have no choice other than to remain in their home and rely on mechanical ventilation/filtration to help ease the chemical burden and symptoms, but find little relief.

    After nearly a year of research, ventilation, lots of lab testing (chamber and air samples), and expert opinions, our family has begun tedious process of removing our SPF (roof deck and wall cavities). The removal is being performed by a local remediation company (the company has removed SPF in homes prior because of mold and moisture issues.

    A detailed protocol created by our Certified Industrial Hygienist (other credentials include CSE, CIEC, CEICC, CIAQP, CIAQC) whom has experience (20+ yrs.) with isocyanates (Side A of the two part foam) is being followed to ensure safe removal (dust created from breaking the foam is a respiratory and dermal hazard).

    We are hopeful that removal of the SPF along with soda blasting will remove and neutralize the chemicals associated with the application of the SPF. We will do more testing after remediation is complete to ensure a safe environment prior to resuming to build

    According to the EPA the SPF should be cured (inert) and safe for re-entry 23-72 hrs after install. According to SPF companies, there should be no odor or off gassing after it is cured.
    Our home experienced something much different; a chemical smell has lingered and when we entered the home we experienced respiratory issues, headache, flu aches, muscle aches, throat, eye irritation and chest pain. On warm days, the smell and symptoms were more severe. Some visitors experienced the same symptoms while others do not. There is a varying degree of threshold levels, but almost everyone, after prolonged periods complain of eye, throat irritation.

    A lot of lab work has been completed by a well known leader in product testing. Our chamber and air tests show a long list of chemicals that at even low levels, chronic exposure to most of the captured chemicals in our home will undoubtedly cause health issues after little or prolonged exposure. Frighteningly, our chemical profile from both the chamber and air testing mimics most of the other homes experiencing the same complaints with the SPF.

    Is this all a coincidence that the same chemicals are found in homes with spray foam and the owners are experiencing the same symptoms?

    Today we are much more sensitive to things that contain isocyanates and flame retardants. Renting a car, walking into REI, IKEA, and HomeDepot can cause eye irritation, burning throat and chest congestion. Even running on a refinished track or wearing a wetsuit can evoke our symptoms.

    Other SPF homeowners have had severe reactions and illness thought to be associated with the chemicals from the SPF. Children of some of these SPF homes develop a chronic cough and asthma like breathing. Chronic low grade fever and autoimmune responses have also been observed. Muscle aches and mental confusion and chest pain are other symptoms and can be seen during exposure and/or develop after being in an SPF home for long periods.

    Our SPF manufacturer/supplier is very aware of our complaints and concerns (and the complaints of the other homeowners), but the company continues to deny any sort of problem with their product.
    The contractor who installed the foam (in18 degree weather, with zero ventilation during install [two weeks], and allowed us and others to be in the home during installation) denies anything is wrong. Needless to say, like most of the other homeowners, we are left on our own to handle this because the science is not yet 'there'.

    Do you have SPF insulation somewhere in your home (attic, wall cavities, crawl space)? Do you experience asthma like symptoms, chronic cough, headache, throat or eye irritation, nausea, skin rash, muscle aches, flu-ish, any new autoimmune issues since moving into or installing SPF?
    If so, do your symptoms decrease when away from the home OR during times of lower temperatures?

    Another issue has been seen in older SPF in homes. Have you had SPF insulation for 1-8 years and recently notice a new chemical odor or the above symptoms? A family we know has removed SPF from their home after 6 yrs. because in June 2011 it started to smell and the family had to move out because of their related symptoms. Test results indicate the foam is decomposing and releasing the same chemicals that we have in our relatively newly sprayed home.

    I hope our situation is a random, but if it is not and other homeowners with SPF are experiencing similar symptoms, it is important that information is being gathered and awareness is spread.

  29. K S | | #29

    contact email for Spray Foam problems
    It is unfortunate, but the number of families with spray foam issues is getting very long, we would like to hear from you if you have problems with your SPF. Please contact us at
    [email protected]

  30. Christine Stewart | | #30


    My family is having health problems related to Demilec that was installed March 2011. We moved in the house in January 2012 and our symptoms have been getting worse as the Texas temperatures rise. Do you have any updates? I would like to find out what Brian Hanks was able to do to remedy his situation (or if anyone else has found anything that works). It would also be helpful to find out what they've tried that has not worked. We've already contacted Demilec. Robert Naini came out and took samples. The official word back was that the samples all smelled like they were supposed to and that it must be the paint in the attic -- of course, there's no paint in the attic. In fact, we tried to be very careful with all of our choices as we were building to protect our indoor air quality (NAUF building materials, no carpet, etc.). Our builder used Demilec Sealection 500 without our knowledge and against our wishes because they wanted to.

  31. K S | | #31

    Christine, contact me. We
    Christine, contact me. We have been thru the same song and dance with Robert Nanai and Demilec.
    We are in Austin.
    [email protected]

  32. B Spitz | | #32

    Smelly foam
    I have foam installed in my basement and the installer is brushing me off. Does anyone know you remediation servers available to remove the product. My marriage depends on it. I am in the Midwest (Oh) region. Airing the basement out does nothing. I am at a total loss. Can anyone help me please.

  33. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #33

    Response to Barry Webber
    Contact the foam manufacturer. Some are responsible. You may also need to contact a lawyer. Document everything in writing. Good luck.

  34. Richard Beyer | | #34

    Responsible Foam Manufacturers
    Mr. Holladay, Please share who these responsible foam manufacturers are? From all the jaded consumers I have spoken to, only one has stepped up to help the consumer on their dime. This chemical manufacturer did not do this without first having the consumer waive their right to file suit. This same chemical provider is now hiding and denying the reasons certain hazardous chemicals are showing up in the spray foam lab tests. The testing is being handled by a licensed environmental engineer hired by the consumer. This experience has not been easy for this family however, it is at least getting somewhere which is unlike many in this circumstance.

  35. Richard Beyer | | #35

    Health Issues Related to Spray Foam Insulation
    The largest part of all Spray Polyurethane Foam discussions is ignored. "HEALTH."
    People are constantly asking for help and no one will touch the topic. There are a few who understand this is a real issue and there are those who dismiss the issues.

    Do any of you readers understand the health ramnifications of using spray foam insulation?
    Do you understand what these products will do to you, your family and others you recommend it to? Well, I do and it's not pretty. Try keywording some of your own health questions. You may be shocked to find there are very, very few answers. That is unless you know where to look. Here's a couple links for you: and

    All to often builders and industry experts make a claim to fame when something new is introduced to make our lives safer and more economical without doing the research first. I will be the first to admit, I did this to. However, I did do the research on spray foam insulation and came up with nothing but the positives of spray foam (aka SPF). The real issue with these SPF products (open and closed cell) is any keyword you use online dating back to 1997 to current is industry promoted.
    HGTV and many other DIY channels are promoting Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation without publishing any research on the health implications. Holmes on Holmes appears to be in the room as the guys are spraying the foam. Bob Villa and Norm of This Old House promote these products now and in years past. As a matter of fact, my SPF applicator was the same company which recently sprayed a home for This Old House in a Rhode Island home. This company is one of the largest in the northeast and sprayed my home with off-ratio foam. (ie; closed and open cell name brand foams)

    What would you say if I told you part A-side of SPF was modified Formaldehyde changed chemically to make (MDI) methylene diphenylene diisocyanate. Well, it is! This is the A-side of all SPF manufacturers foam insulation. Many have Formaldehyde in the B-side as well. In CT Formaldehyde containing spray foam is legal as long as it is Urethane or Styrene foam and not (UFFI).

    See: CGS Sec. 29-277. Urea-formaldehyde insulation: Definition; prohibition concerning use; penalty. (a) Urea-formaldehyde (UF) foamed-in-place insulation, also referred to as formaldehyde-based insulation, means any cellular plastic thermal material which contains as a component chemical formaldehyde, formaldehyde polymers, formaldehyde derivatives and any other chemical from which formaldehyde can be released, but does not mean urethane foam insulation or styrene foam insulation.

    (b) Urea-formaldehyde foamed-in-place insulation shall not be installed in any building or structure on or after June 1, 1981.

    (c) Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars for the first offense and for each subsequent offense shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars.

    (P.A. 81-250, S. 1-4.)

    Are you aware that if you are in a home when these products are installed without respiratory protection the chemicals can cause permanent lung damage and death?
    "Persons developing sensitivity to isocyanates may have dangerous systemic reactions to extremely small exposures, including respiratory failure. MDI should not be heated or sprayed except with strict engineering controls and personal protective equipment."

    Are you aware that the medical community is studying humans who have these products installed within their homes? Are you aware the medical community is studying the men who apply these products? Dr. Redlich of Yale University is the most known doctor researching the effects of SPF and humans.
    Are you aware our own government is just recently taking notice and most recently are studying the health implications of these products.

    Do you think the government is studying these products just because they want to help us. No!

    People are complaining and are injured. ie; health and property damage. Many believe SPF is the next Chinese Drywall and the next (UFFI) Urea-Formaldehyde Foam Insulation which is banned in many states.

    I know first hand because my contractor contaminated my house with 3 different spray foams and they all failed.

    My reason for posting is to help you. Every SPF company I have spoken to will not tell the truth and/or are afraid to. Reality is this... you complain, you are ISOLATED.

    Ask your State Department of Public Health and or Building Officials for information relating to health and SPF. Do not feel shocked when you learn as I did they do not know how to handle issues relating to spray foam insulation.

    Please do your homework first guy's. There is a lot more to building than energy conservation. There is responsible building to.

    I'll be the first to tell you, these products do not belong around people or children with Asthma!! If you still want to specify or use these products, call the manufacturer and verify your applicators credentials first. Do not trust the salesman! Call the manufacturers corporate office for credential verification. Make sure you get "EVERYTHING IN WRITING" from the manufacturer and the installer. Do not believe the verbal claim's because when you have a failure (odor, shrinking, cracking, etc.) and you do not take the proper steps, this will easily become the most expensive insulation you ever gambled on. One last piece of mind for you.....your homeowners policy will not cover you for any SPF failures. You better verify your contractor is insured for a minimum $1M policy plus an umbrella policy endorsement for at least $5M. General Liabilty Coverage will not protect you from a bad job. Make sure your contractor carries Contractors Pollution Liability Insurance. This will help you if and when things go bad. Also make absolutely sure they carry Workman's Compensation Insurance or you could be on the hook if their employee gets hurt in your home. Do not be afraid to ask to be named as an additional insured. The future is only going to bring numerous lawsuits as more and more people have these products installed in their homes and complaints surface. Builders, Architects, Designers and Applicators are not immune from the claims.

    I hope my experience helps you all. If you are like my family and have experienced smelly foam, health problems and off-ratio foam, feel free to call me 860-460-5434 and I will share with you my findings. I have spent hundreds of hours researching these products to find the answers for my family since my SPF application company and the chemical manufacturer refussed to take responsibility for their actions. I do not work for the industry and I do not have a financial interest in this. What I do have is failed Spray Foam Insulation and I'm not happy about what this industry has forced me to do to get answers.

  36. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #36

    Response to Slawek Rafacz
    The only advice I can give you is the usual: Take notes. Document everything. Talk to the manufacturer and the installer. And talk to a lawyer. Good luck.

  37. Slawek Rafacz | | #37

    Sprayfoam nightmare
    got basement sprayed. Wasnt done right. Got removed and resprayed and still smells. What to do?

  38. Zoe Olson | | #38

    Smelly Foam
    We had our one car attached garage ceiling sprayed a couple weeks ago. I knew there should be no smell a couple days after the application so when I noticed it smelled like rotting fish I got to googling and found this website. I had the installer come back out within a week after they sprayed it. He claimed he didn't smell anything but he did contact the chemical company they use: BASF and a rep came out to inspect it within a couple days. He determined the installer sprayed his passes too thick and before the first pass cooled down enough. We demanded the installer company remove it all and return our money. They complied thank goodness. They had 2 men for 3 full days tearing the foam out. No respirators in a 250 sq. foot confined garage?? It reeked like ammonia when they were tearing it out. It'd been a few days since they removed it and it still smells. The smell has been reduced I'd say by half it's potency but it's definitely still there. Thank goodness this happened to our garage and not inside our home! Although plans to turn the garage into a shop are on hold until we can figure out how to remove the remaining smell. Has anyone tried sand blasting wood that held the foam?

  39. Brad Dorken | | #39

    Smelly SPF Remediation
    I'm dealing with this problem in my entire house. Per the EPA website there are no known methods of remediation with studies or trials to verify the effectiveness.

    Has all the foam been removed by the installer? This includes wire brushing the roof sheathing and truss system. Are there pockets of foam in corners? A 100% removal is not possible since the foam expands into cracks and spaces between the lumber. Make sure they remove it all before proceeding with any other treatment.

    It has been suggested to me to try soda or dry ice blasting. It's softer than sanding blasting. As my engineer tells me, no amount of wood can be removed during any type of blasting. Its likely the odors and chemicals have penetrated the wood. Before spending $$$ on blasting, remove some lumber from the garage, only if it can be replaced to code. Take your samples to a blaster. After treatment place an untreated piece of lumber in a plastic bag and a treated piece in a different plastic bag. Place them in the sun and do your own smell test. Remember you will not be able to remove all of the foam in the garage with blasting.

    Sealing will be another method suggested. It comes with it's own set of VOC problems. A sealer against the roof sheathing will contract and expand daily in the summer and eventually crack, besides as with any paint the surface has to be clean.

    It's unfortunate that the SPF industry isn't proactive on conducting remediation studies.

  40. Matthew Roberts | | #40

    It's been a number of years since this was written and a few since the last comments. Is this still an issue in the industry, still a concern when applying foam to an occupied house?

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