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Fumes from closed-cell or open-cell spray foam, months later?

EightNineTen | Posted in General Questions on

I know this topic has been discussed here.  I had my home sprayed with mostly closed cell foam throughout, the roof deck and exterior walls, and some open cell in strange areas.  The product, I believe, is called HeatLok.

We kept the windows open for two days or so.

It’s a month later, the attic smells horrible and every time I walk into the addition that was spray foamed (the other part of my house has no spray foam), I smell that odor.  Fish?  Not sure.  It’s just an odor.  When you hit the attic, it’s the worst.

What’s going on?  Is this a health problem?  How do I fix it?  Window install in attic?  Attic fan at roof?  Vent system to siding?

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    It sounds as if you have already read this article: "Spray Foam Jobs With Lingering Odor Problems."

    I don't have good news for you. In cases like yours -- where objectionable odors linger for a month or more -- I have never heard of a good outcome. It's time to document all of your correspondence with your contractor -- in other words, to send registered or certified letters, keeping a copy of all correspondence -- and to consider consulting an attorney.

    1. EightNineTen | | #2

      Why would I do all of that? To sue for a smell? Or toxins? Or health issues? Please elaborate.

      1. GBA Editor
        Martin Holladay | | #3

        Of course, there is no reason to sue if you don't want to. (Attorneys can provide useful advice, by the way, even if you have no intention of suing. In general, lawsuits for residential construction defect cases are a lose-lose proposition -- the only winner is usually the lawyer.)

        Many people who have lingering odors after spray foam jobs have concluded that their homes are unlivable. That said, if you can tolerate the odor, you may have no reason to seek a resolution.

        It's also possible that your spray foam installer will be reasonable, and will agree to pay for all costs associated with making you whole. That's rare, but possible.

    2. EightNineTen | | #4

      Also, I recall the installer sprayed the roof, and 15 minutes later installed the ROXUL batts directly underneathe it. Should he have waited a few days before installing the ROXUL?

      I sense that perhaps the ROXUL absorbed the odor but I know very little about spray foam and ROXUL so I'm just guessing.

      1. Expert Member
        BILL WICHERS | | #5

        I suppose this is possible as the Roxul would have slowed down the offgassing of the sprayfoam (think a longer time with less smell instead of a short time with a lot of smell). If the foam seems properly cured everywhere (not gooey, and not brown), I’d try ventilating the area to the outdoors using a fan for few days to a week. Turn the fan off after that, see if the smell is less, then wait a few days and see if the smell worsens. If the smell worsens after a few days, try ventilating with the fan again. If, after several ventilating cycles, the smell keeps coming back, then you may have a problem with improperly cured spray foam.

        My dad is an attorney and would agree with Martins statement that only the lawyers win in court. My dad would also say that it’s not usually legal action that accomplishes things, it’s the THREAT of legal action. Try talking with your spray foam installer and mention that you’re planning to involve a lawyer. See if they are more responsive after that.


        1. EightNineTen | | #6

          Will do

  2. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #7

    While litigation is expensive and may not be warranted in this case, having a lawyer write a letter to the foam contractor demanding the issue be fixed, should be cost effective. Living with a stinky house is not a good option.

    I'll make my usual point here. Why does a green building site not simply say don't ever use foam, except under the slab, where reclaimed foam is fine? Even foam blown with a more benign agent than typical is hardly green. And since it appears impossible to tell ahead of time if a project will result in a stink that doesn't go away, why risk spray foam?

    1. GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #8

      I think a reasonable reader -- one familiar with Green Building Advisor -- realizes that this web site does not shy away from highlighting the downsides of spray foam -- the environmental downsides as well as the potential for a "lingering odor" nightmare.

      If this person ("EightNineTen") had posted a question that included the information, "I plan to insulate my new house with 100% spray foam," I imagine that a chorus of voices would have quickly responded, "Why? There are more appropriate ways to insulate your house."

  3. acama23 | | #9

    Did you ever resolve this? I have a recent install that is smelly in my attic (fresh paint like) and am racing to find a solution.

    The contractor is being helpful (well after an air quality test indicated issues as well as threatened legal action) and wants to fix.

    I don't want to quick fix it and still be left with issues down the line.

    Just looking for advice. It should be noted that the environmental testing company rep experience health effects from the odor. My wife and I also experienced issues as result. We let the house two weeks ago.


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