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Community and Q&A

Long-term effects of spray foam?

Steve Greenberg | Posted in GBA Pro Help on

Hi all,

I have a client who’s “not sure of the long-term….20 years from now effects of open or closed cell foam on his family.” Right now his house is leaking like a sieve, and is balloon framed and back plastered. Of course he’s just finished painting all the interior walls.

A bit of history:

We just finished installing a lot of built in bookcase and he was not interested in insulating the walls from the inside before ( there was air gushing in!) we installed. This winter he actually had condensation on the lower sections of the inside of the bookcase! Since his exterior needs paint I think I’ve convinced him to go the dense pack cellulose route even though he’ll not get the full effect due to the back-plastering. My insulation vendor will drill through the backplaster and get some insulation in the remaining cavity. I think I can get them to, at some point before exterior painting, let me insulate and air seal the exterior using rigid foam, which will do them a lot of good.

Right now he has some sort of sprayed gyp-crete cement product acting as an air barrier on his mud sills in the basement. The product really didn’t expand much into the nooks and cranny’s and I can feel drafts working their way through. I’d like to foam spray the remaining mud-sills ( most of the untreated area is just bellow the bookcases). The problem is that, as above, he’s afraid of the product.

Can you offer me any advise or point me to info to either ease his mind about the foam ( I’d prefer to use closed cell, but if open is safer I’ll go that route). If he has a valid concern, I’d like to hear that as well. Maybe you have another suggestion or material that I can use to get the job done.

If he had contacted me earlier I would have tracked one of you down at the NESEA convention.

Thanks in advance.

Steve Greenberg

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  1. Ed Siff | | #1

    Steve, I think your client has valid concerns. Two components of spray foam - MDI and TDI - are currently included in a EPA action plan ( There are those who swear up and down that SPF doesn't off gas, and if it does, only because it's not been applied properly. I and many others don't agree and won't take the chance. If you Google spray foam health hazard, one of the first hits is to an article on this site; be sure to read the comments.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    The vast majority of homeowners living in homes that have been insulated with spray polyurethane foam are satisfied customers without any health complaints.

    A small number of spray foam customers have reported problems with lingering odors. Some of the homeowners complaining of lingering odors also complain of health problems. To read some of their stories, see Spray Foam Jobs With Lingering Odor Problems.

    Most experts have concluded that lingering odors are a result of installer error. The chemicals that are released in homes with lingering odor complaints are probably absent from homes with properly installed foam.

    So there are at least two categories of homes: those with properly installed foam, and those with foam that was installed wrong. I don't think anyone can say what the long-term health implications are for families that live in either type of home. Only you (and your customers) can weigh the risks and benefits of this product, in light of the many unknowns surrounding the issue.

  3. Steve Greenberg | | #3

    Thanks for your answers. Martin, I'll check out the article and yes it seems most of the complaints have been as a result of poor installs or improper mixes at the truck.

    Any idea if there are more complaints about open cell or closed?

  4. Steve Greenberg | | #4

    Just finished up the article, very comprehensive and I have mixed feelings. I do use a insulation firm here in the Boston area that has been around for many years and i know sends their guys up for training. I have been working with some of the same guys on their crews for years so I know that have low turnover, so I assume the've been trained.

    As to it only takes one bad day or it always happens on the job where you can least afford a screw up ( or Murphy's Law is lurking in the background) I'd have to weigh foam vs dense pack. I have not done tons of large scale foam insulation jobs for my clients, but so far so good. I do use fans after insulation as SOP and I always have a negative pressure fan on site to control dust and lead. Maybe using foam as a air seal, maybe cell and netting. I guess for right now I'll remain on the fence and take the jobs one at a time.

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