GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Picture icon Hamburger Icon Close Icon Sorted

Community and Q&A

COVID19 & spray foam disaster

temj | Posted in General Questions on

I have an active post recently re my health issues post a retrofit spray foam job where my husband and I were not asked to leave the home nor did the installers use any fans to ventilate the space that is walk-in on our top floor with doors off our bedroom. 

For 12 days, I did not sleep upstairs. I’ve had ashmatic-like cough, headaches and eye irritation. The contractor asked us to run an industrial fan from attic to outside. Did that for 36 hours, made it much worse. So he said close attic and just run upstairs.  Did tat for the day, left the home and headache and eye irritation upon entering.  Opened downstairs door to walk upstairs (there is a door) and bam…couldn’t get past the fourth step. It was like a toxic wall.  I had been wearing a respirator downstairs unless I was in my sunroom or front downstairs bedroom next to window with door open. 

Last night, I just said I need to leave. I am now in a hotel. Past 2 days, called ERs but no one will take someone with my symptoms — not coronavirus like. At the same time, I am in a major city, the world is shutting down and telling ppl to just stay home. I would love to stay home. But, I can’t. I could probably in normal times, get therapeutics. Using a few puffs of my daughters old albuterol inhaler. 

My daughter needs to come home from college. But we can’t let her until we find somewhere short term to live. She has asthma from seasonal and colds. Can’t go to 80 year old parents. Hope to see doctor tomorrow.  

This is a becoming a nightmare on steroids.

GBA Prime

Join the leading community of building science experts

Become a GBA Prime member and get instant access to the latest developments in green building, research, and reports from the field.


  1. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #1

    You can overwhelm the fumes with powerful ventilation. Run A LOT of fans to exchange your indoor air with fresh outdoor air. The goal hear is to exhaust ALL of the indoor air and replace it with new air. This means box fans blowing out windows on one side of the house on the top floor (since you said the fumes seem to rise and be worst on the upper levels, so exhaust from that area), open windows on the opposite side of the house on the lower level.

    Let this run as long as needed. It’s going to make your house cold, and you’ll need to expend more energy running your furnace to heat things back up, but you have a bigger issue right now: you need to be able to live in your house. Once you’ve ventilated your entire home enough to clear the smell, leave the fan in the attic running with the door shut. This will depressurize the attic and should keep the fumes from getting back into the main house. Deal with actually fixing the problem after the virus issue has passed, keep the fan running up there as a bandaid for now.

    If you can find an activated carbon air filter unit (and you’ll need a large one), get one or more and run them in the areas with the highest fume concentration. The activated carbon filter will help to absorb some of the fumes and keep the air cleaner for you.

    I hope you can get your house into livable condition in short order with this info. I’m staying home this week (we consultants have flexibility in times like this), but I watch these forums and will offer you any help I can through the entire time. I’m sure others here will do the same.


  2. KauaiBound | | #2

    Agree - aggressively ventilate is about the only answer - presuming they didn't botch the job. There's a CBC video on YouTube showing what a nightmare a botched job can lead to - the family had very similar health issues - and led to demolition and roof replacement.

  3. temj | | #3

    Poison Control said I might have chemical pneumonia. CT looked ok but wheezing. Giving me asthma medication (still hacking outside) the home and referral to pulmonologist. Nightmare.

    1. temj | | #4

      ...CT scan but wheezing present. I am not asthmatic and I am still struggling. Ruled out the COVID19 and I can say it is directly related to my exposure.

    2. Expert Member
      BILL WICHERS | | #5

      Just a thought, but you might want to test for mold spores. Mold can cause symptoms like you have too.


  4. temj | | #6

    I guess I can add that to the list but no issues prior and only with application and when venting application.
    Next steps. Stay away as long as possible. City is slowly shutting down, staying in hotel right now.
    Going to get another company to review smell, etc.
    Need to work on feeling better and see if I can re-enter the home. IDK.

    1. vap0rtranz | | #13

      >Going to get another company to review smell, etc.

      They won't do anything about smells. Accuse the installer of failed install.

      Get the 2nd opinion to take pictures of the foam. Look for "weaping" foam -- foam that hasn't set, or foam that has now set but looks like it "melted" away from the application, etc. Have the 2nd opinion cut out a square sample of the foam. Perhaps the outside layer of foam has set but there's a 1st layer of foam that they applied that hadn't set. Anything that hints at a failed install.

      >my husband and I were not asked to leave the home nor did the installers use any fans to ventilate the space

      That is not right. My installer recommended the typical 48hr 'weekend away from home'. My partner and I lived in a camper for 4 days -- 2 extra days just to be sure.

      Your symptoms have happened to others. See this Canadian news station's coverage of a couple families:

      What was the outside temp when the spray foam was applied? I wouldn't have let an installer apply foam in winter. Half of their gear is outside or sucking cold air from outside and the sprayer must have all sorts of variables correct, including temperature, in addition to all the other variables (specific mix, specific depth, specific time to set before applying more layers, etc.).

  5. Expert Member

    I know these problems are statistically rare, but they are common enough that there is no way I would specify spray foam for more that spot applications. The consequences of a bad mix are just too high.

  6. MattJF | | #8

    Something doesn’t sound right about the ventilation setup. Do you have a sketch of the space and where the doors windows to the sprayed area are?

    Ventilation should be set up to pull a vacuum on the sprayed space relative to the house. Supply fans are helpful, but you want to maintain the vacuum.

    If it is as bad as you say it is, contact your home insurance to see if this qualifies for any coverage. You will have to prove your home has been damaged and not just faulty work.

    1. temj | | #9

      No sketches.
      Just a door. There is a dormer window but it does not open.
      There are no windows.
      It’s like an unfinished closet. Sloping roof but you can stand and walk on one side of it.

      1. temj | | #10

        ...but again, the door is on the top floor, like a linen closet, for example.

        1. MattJF | | #11

          The situation you describe is very hard to ventilate properly. It may make sense to remove that window. Ideal would be a fan blowing out that window.

          Are they using ducted fans? They really need to be ducted if they don't pull the window. Otherwise they just move the bad air into the rest of the house, which is clearly happening.

          If they can't pull the non operable dormer window, you want a ducted fan installed in a plywood door screwed to existing door opening. It would be set up to exhaust from the room and blow out an operable window somewhere else. This setup would be improved with a second ducted fan or at least a duct providing fresh air from another window.

          Isolate the sprayed room and provide ventilation.

          Edit: Just adding an example of the type of fan you need

        2. MattJF | | #12

          It also sounds like you would benefit from some professional help. These guys do articles here and are located in Georgia. Their focus is HVAC and they are likely well versed in air quality. If they can't help, they probably can tell you who can.

Log in or create an account to post an answer.


Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |