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I live in a basement apartment — The landlord installed insulation (crawl space) giving off a chemical odor

Concerned mama | Posted in General Questions on

Hi. My landlord installed insulation today behind the walls of my living area. It is giving off an intense chemical smell… Is it safe for my son and I to be ingesting it while we sleep? He was coughing a lot before bed and it made me dizzy.

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  1. nvman | | #1

    I would find another place for the night if you are getting those symptoms.
    It does not sound safe to me.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    There are two aspects to this question.

    The first is the medical aspect. If you and your son have medical symptoms, you should definitely consult a doctor as soon as possible.

    The second aspect concerns building materials. We can't really help you with that part of your question without more information. (For example: What type of insulation was installed? Was it installed by a professional insulation contractor or untrained laborers? Where was the insulation installed? Is your apartment part of the basement or above the crawl space? Does your apartment have a mechanical ventilation system?)

  3. Concerned mama | | #3

    Thanks for both your advise… Martin - the person that did the work is a laborer. He works for a contractor but did this as a side job I can only describe the insulation it has three layers a aluminum a form core and a white backing… The smell is more like an adhesive smell… like an aerosol, like you would smell in a spray paint. I live on the same level as the crawl space and it's actually on the other side of my bedroom wall… I have a fake window that you crawl through to get to the space… N no, we do not have a mechanical ventilation system, I have very tiny windows to boot too. I actually opened it in the middle of the night just to breathe. I was trying to get more info from my landlord but getting no answers but being told no chemicals were used.. so there shouldn't be a smell. I smell a smell and I feel it's being swept under the rug...

  4. nvman | | #4


    If the landlord is not answering your questions, you may want to suggest to him that you may need to involve a tenant advisory board and/or possibly the fire department. From a safety aspect, bedrooms are supposed to have a window for egress that has an opening of 2 square feet.

  5. agurkas | | #5

    Call your local building department. They will send inspector. If landlord retaliates, in most states you have juicy lawsuit.

  6. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #6

    The description of the insulation sounds like fire-rated rigid polyisocyanurate, which does very little out gassing of it's own.

    Purely speculating, he may have used a construction adhesive that uses a xylene solvent to mount or air-seal the stuff, which has a pretty intense smell and has both short term acute health issues as well as long term issues for those with occupational exposure. If that is the the smell it will eventually dissipate, but isn't exactly something you want to live with in concentrations that are easy to smell. In the short term, "the solution to pollution is dilution" approach works- VENTILATE your living space to a rate high enough that you can't smell even a trace of it.

  7. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    The description was, "it has three layers: an aluminum, a form core, and a white backing."

    That might be a type of foil-faced bubble wrap. Some of these flexible bubble-wrap products include a thin layer of foam.

  8. charlie_sullivan | | #8

    I'm guessing it's an adhesive. Some that produce strong bad vapors immediately do so because the solvents are evaporating that case it should be gone quickly. If you want stay elsewhere for a few days that might be all you need to do. But others smell bad for a longer time.

  9. Concerned mama | | #9

    Thanks everyone...when I got home at lunchtime I opened the windows, hoping it would ventilate by the time I returned from work later on.... Nope still here, I live in a basemenr of a house, while I'm dealing with this headache and discomfort my landlords sit and do nothing! I'm the one who had to deal with their headache! It's very upsetting because I pay rent and this is so disrespectful and a lack of regard for our health! We have no where else to stay and we have to sleep in these conditions!

  10. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #10

    If you have kitchen & bath exhaust fans (not recirculation fans), run them 24/7 until the problem abates.

    An activated charcoal air filter may help some too, best if you can put it near the source of the outgassing

  11. Concerned mama | | #11

    Thanks Dana! I kept the circulation fan on and it worked very well! It's so much better tonite than the last two nights!

  12. Concerned mama | | #12

    I meant an oven fan oops

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