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Community and Q&A

Out-gassing of bad stuff from spray foam insulation

Dan Fette | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

Hi folks,
We are in design for a new home for a chemically sensitive family. It’s looking like the best approach for insulating this house will be spray foam to the underside of the roof deck, and treat the attic as part of AC space. However, my customer is concerned about the potential for the family breathing in bad stuff that gradually out-gases from the foam over time. I need to respond to that concern with specific information that is well backed up. I’m beginning my research with you guys. All advice welcome.

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Replies

  1. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Dan,
    Most of the information on this subject that is available online is provided by the spray polyurethane industry. It is reasonable to expect that information from the industry will downplay potential hazards.

    That said, you may be interested in this site:
    http://www.foam-tech.com/faq/faq_urethane.htm

    Here is the relevant passage:

    "Question: Do urethanes "outgas" and are they toxic?"

    "Answer: Urethanes are non-toxic and only require protection for our operators during installations, but the finished product is completely safe and has no formaldehydes. Demilec had an independent testing laboratory test their HEATLOK product for off-gassing. They tested the product using the Underwriters Laboratory of Canada 705.1-98 test method. It is a pass/fail test, where the estimated indoor air concentration of volatile organic compounds is compared to the permissible concentrations. The permissible concentration is defined as 1% of the threshold limit value. The off-gassing for the HEATLOK product was under the permissible concentrations so they passed the test."

    Here is another Foam-Tech page with an excerpt from a JAMA article:
    http://www.foam-tech.com/products/urethane_foam/ama_toxicity.htm

    A relevant passage reads, "A fully cured polyurethane foam contains no residual isocyanate or polyol and, in contrast to the urea formaldehyde foams, presents no problems of bleed-off of toxic products. Only fully cured panels are used in home insulation, and there have been no reports of human toxicity caused by this insulation material."

  2. Dan Fette | | #2

    Thanks, Martin. Very helpful.

  3. Anonymous | | #3

    HI, I completed an uber-green building project two years ago using closed-cell polyurethane, non-toxic wood finishes (Bioshield and Waterlux), and shockingly I actually DEVELOPED chemical sensitivity sometime during the build. I became ill after moving into the house two years ago, and had to move out. Any exposure to the indoor air induces neurological symptoms. I don't know to what extent the foam is the culprit, but the airtightness it creates (yes I have an HVAC system) seems to amplify the effects of any present substances. For example, one of the builders used an epoxy sealer in the basement, and I could smell it immediately in the floor above, on the other side of the house. I've done numerous tests on the home and on myself, and don't know the answer. I never had these sorts of problems before that I know of.

    I would be interested in learning of any foam off-gassing that occurs under NON-ideal conditions, say if the foam were incorrectly applied, if the material was damaged in some way, or upon exposure to high temperatures generated by metal roofing and sun exposure. I don't think I was exposed during application, but there was a lot of foam applied, and as I was living on the property in a different building, could have received some air-born exposure which led to sensitization.

    I also wonder if there are any other occupants out there who have had some kind of exposure issues. There is a preponderance of industry information, but very little about user-experience post-build. I think this is an important subject bearing further exploration, and I commend you for opening up the discussion.

    Thank you.

  4. Robert Riversong | | #4

    There hasn't been sufficient research into the health impacts of spray urethane insulation. One early study from the National Research Council of Canada detailed several potential problems http://nparc.cisti-icist.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/npsi/ctrl?action=rtdoc&an=5330438&article=0. A primary concern of the author was that two-part urethane foam is a site-fabricated material that is dependent on multiple environmental factors that are difficult to control outside a factory, and that it is vulnerable to high heat and humidity conditions (such as might be encountered in a hot roof).

    A current study comparing the indoor formaldehyde levels in tight homes with controlled ventilation vs conventional homes with natural ventilation, found that there was no statistical difference - in other words, by this measure, a controlled-ventilation home does not have improved IAQ ("Measured Formaldehyde in High Performance Homes with Outdoor Air Intakes"). Formaldehyde is often the trigger for multiple chemical sensitivity, and is found in many building materials and furnishings as well as in combustion gasses and cigarette smoke.

    Given what we know about the environmental and human toxicity of most petrochemical plastics (and the 80,000 petrochemicals that we've introduced into the environment), I believe it would be foolish to use foam insulation in a home for the chemically-sensitive.

    In addition to the known toxicity during application (http://www.americanchemistry.com/s_api/bin.asp?CID=2319&DID=10128&DOC=FILE.PDF) and the potential unknown health impacts during occupancy, spray foam creates a hermetically-sealed home that cannot breathe (transpire moisture) as all natural materials do. The non-hygroscopic nature of plastics means that humidity control is more difficult and relies completely on mechanical ventilation or dehumidification. Increased levels of humidity contribute not only to mold growth but also to outgassing of formaldehydes.

    I would suggest considering environmentally-friendly, non-toxic, fire-resistant, insect-proof, rodent-resistant, and mold-resistant cellulose, which is also significantly hygroscopic and assists with natural moisture management (as long as the thermal envelope can breath - i.e. no vapor barriers).

  5. Anonymous | | #5

    Nice response, Robert. Thank you.

  6. Robert Riversong | | #6

    Anony Mouse, how 'bout telling us your name?

  7. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    Anonymous,
    I'm glad you have an HVAC system. Most houses do.

    Does your HVAC system include a mechanical ventilation system? If so, what type is it? Exhaust-only, supply-only, or balanced? Plenty of homes with HVAC systems are poorly ventilated.

    In most parts of the country, a residential HVAC system simply means a furnace with an air conditioner. Such systems usually include no provision for mechanical ventilation.

  8. Phil Smith | | #8

    The following information was excerpted from EPA’s new website on Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) and green buildings at http://www.epa.gov/greenbuilding/pubs/highlights.htm#foamease

    Federal Partnership Focuses on Improving Safe Use of Spray Polyurethane Foam.

    Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation is a highly effective weatherization product that is playing an important role in national efforts to dramatically increase the energy efficiency of our homes, schools, and buildings. However, SPF foam contains diisocyanates, and dermal or inhalation exposure to these chemicals can cause significant health risks, such as asthma and lung damage, if specific workplace precautions are not followed during product application and clean-up. Risks also may apply to building occupants who may remain on-site during or re-enter shortly after application.

    On December 2nd EPA will host a Webinar on “What You Need to Know about the Safe Use of Spray Polyurethane Foam” : EPA is hosting an open SPF Insulation Workshop on December 2, 2009, from 1 pm to 3 pm, EST. The Federal panel will include speakers from EPA, NIOSH, OSHA, and CPSC. The industry panel will be represented by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Spray Polyurethane Foam Association (SPFA).

    The EPA keeps archives of webinars available on their web page.

  9. Anonymous | | #9

    I have been working with high performance homes (homes insulated with open cell spray foam) for over 5 years. I have found that the keys to ensuring a healthy home begin with a right sized HVAC system with a well designed duct layout, proper ventilation, both supply and exhaust and a detailed inspection of the building envelope before and after the insulation has been installed. Other than that, be aware if other products installed in the home. Homes can be made very tight using other undulation products as well. People always look at the foam as being "the culprit" of off gassing concerns. Look at the paints and the adhesives and even the lumber used. All new construction products off gas. It all goes back to, "is the home properly ventilated?". A tight constructed home, (less than .35ach) should ALWAYS have controlled ventilation. The type of ventilation used depends on what climate the home is located in.
    By the way, I have had no complaints on the homes I have been involved with.
    Hope this helps. Good luck.

  10. Al | | #10

    First to avoid the off gasing you need to use open cell spray foam. The closed cell not only will off gas, but can shrink as well. Now the next then to look for is a open cell product that is 100% water blown, reducing the chemicals altogether. One other issue depending on your area is to make sure the foam allows the water to pass through with out any absorbtion. Last and maybe most important, make sure the installers are a dealer that is 100% back by the manufacture. If not this could cause issues with warranty. The foam is the right direction for a more energy efficient home!
    Al, HERS Certified, BPI Certified.

  11. William Swietlik | | #11

    Dan:

    I am a member of the Federal Interagency Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) Workgroup and Co-Chair of the EPA SPF Workgroup. The mission of these federal groups is to ensure the knowledgable and safe use of SPF, a valuable insulating material.

    Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation, both open cell and closed cell, is made from diisocyanates (50% of the formulation), polyol oils, amine catalysts, flame retardants and blowing agents (the other half of the formulation). Dissocyanates are the leading cause of work place asthma and are a well-known sensitizing toxicant to humans. Once an individual becomes sensitized to diisocyanates there may be no safe exposure level. Sensitization can occur from excessive and/or chronic respiratory and dermal exposures. Diisocyanates are odorless. The amine catalysts (which have an odor) and the blowing agents, can also have health impacts, but these are used in smaller quantities in the formulations. When installing SPF using high pressure and temperature spraying, unsafe levels of these chemicals are released into the air in the building or home. This is why NIOSH and OSHA are recommending full personal protective equipment (PPE) including fresh air supplied hooded respirators for workers and helpers doing the installation. NIOSH, OSHA and EPA recomend that un-protected workers or occupants leave the building when spraying is being done and not return until all residual vapors are ventilated and all dust particles (from shaving the finished foam) are cleaned up to safe levels. The exact timing of this is not known for each specific building application as this depends on the amount of vapors and particles generated to begin with, the amount and type of ventilation, the size and configuration of the building, the foam curing factors and the installation and clean up techniques of the workers. EPA, NISOH and OSHA consider this an area that needs further quantitative research. These chemicals can also migrate to other parts of the building, such as a floor where the foam was not sprayed. This is why NIOSH and OSHA are recommending containment and positive ventilation of the vapors out of a building when spraying is ongoing. Whether or not there remains off-gasing from the finished foam that was applied days or months earlier that could affect sensitive, or sensitized individuals who occupy the building, is also a question I believe requires further investigation. EPA's current thinking is that once properly cured, ventilated and cleaned up, and enclosed behind wallboard or roofing materials, residual off-gasing at unsafe levels is not very likely. However, there are reports on the internet by some individuals that days, even months after installation of SPF they could still smell lingering odors from the material. I have personally inspected a large attic in a home that was sprayed with open cell foam on the underside of the roof (and left uncovered) weeks before I visited. Upon my entry into the attic, I could detect a distinct chemical odor. This was the same odor I sensed when I watched the real time spraying of closed cell foam in another house. Exactly what was causing this odor and whether or not it is unsafe, is another question I believe needs further research.

  12. Dan Fette | | #12

    Thank you all for your responses. It's all very helpful.

  13. Marlene | | #13

    Unfortunately, a member of my family has recently experienced a very dire situation with the installation of Icynene in his new home under construction . The off-gassing of the fumes from this product have caused him to have severe lung problems (never experienced any lung problems before installation of the Icynene and he was in the house all the time because he did the construction himself). He is being told that he will probably have to sell his half-finished home which he has saved his entire life for and put his entire life savings into. I think a class action lawsuit is in order (to the person in comment #3 above). Too many people are experiencing problems from this stuff. And to Mr. William Swietlik, it was a EPA person who told him he would probably have to sell his home. Do these Federal agencies that are supposed to help protect us even care enough to intervene when consumers have problems? My brother is almost 66 years old and he doesn't have time or money to start over. This has essentially ruined his life.

  14. Riversong | | #14

    Marlene,

    I'm sorry to hear about your brother's reaction to the blowing agents of Icynene. But, if he was building his own home, he should have taken responsibility for vacating the house for three days while the foam cured, as is required at all construction sites with spray foam. Applicators are required to use charcoal respirators and no other workers or occupants should be in the building.

    It's a terrible thing to suffer from chemical sensitivity, but one cannot blame others for one's own failure of due diligence.

  15. Dan Fette | | #15

    Hi John,
    I haven't sold out. In the case I've described, in order to do all the things my customer wants it appears at least a portion of the house will have to have a sealed attic.

    Dan

  16. David Posada | | #16

    We recently experienced a roof and wall insulation retrofit using low-density spray foam, Demilec Sealection 500, in a 95-year old house in Oregon where there is a strong odor two months after installation. It is a somewhat sweet ammonia-like smell.
    8" SPF was sprayed to the exposed underside of the roof sheathing in the attic and crawlspace, and the rim joists in the basement. A low-rise mix was blown into to the exterior walls from the interior since siding conditions made external access impractical.
    The odor is strongest in the attic and crawlspace and spreads into the second floor area through small penetrations in the ceiling and attic hatch. Installation was done in med-December with temps in the 40's.
    The occupants have been running a fan in the second floor bathroom 24/7 since installation and cracking a bedroom window to negatively pressurize the house and ventilate the sleeping area. The attic hatch has occasionally been left open to the second floor open during the day to provide some ventilation of the attic air.
    Some sources have suggested that an improper mixing of the A and B components during installation can cause this. Two spray foam discussion threads suggest that too much amine catalyst in the B component of the foam can emit odors for long periods of time. Some have suggested it may be cause to remove and re-install the foam, others disagree:
    http://www.sprayfoam.com/mnps/fullthread.cfm?threadid=9394&mnboardid=5&mnforumid=2&startat=1
    and
    http://www.sprayfoam.com/mnps/fullthread.cfm?threadid=8256&mnboardid=5&mnforumid=2&startat=1
    Much of the published information regarding low density spray foams addresses the low- or non- toxicity of "properly cured" or "properly installed" foams; little seems to be said about what constitutes a improper curing or installation, what chemicals can be released, what hazards (if any) may be present, and what remedies are appropriate.

  17. Riversong | | #17

    David,

    What you describe is one of many potential liabilities of this latest "miracle" product. Spray polyurethane foams are best used in a controlled factory environment. There are simply too many variables in the field setting, including climatic conditions and the competence of the installer.

  18. Elizabeth E. | | #18

    If your new home HAS a chemically smell and you suspect off-gassing from spray foam, how to you test for it?

  19. Matt Dirksen | | #19

    A few years ago, I thought that closed cell spray foam was a great concept. Now I don't see it that way any more - too risky, esp. for existing homes (and existing living habits). Having been in the green remodeling business for a decade, I believe that we are now paying for the fact that 75 percent of any conversation about "green" is always about energy efficiency. I think it's high time to focus on the health implications a lot more than we currently do.

  20. D C | | #20

    Spray polyurethane foams are best used in a controlled factory environment. There are simply too many variables in the field setting, including climatic conditions and the competence of the installer. Answered Robert Riversong

    What would be good alternatives to spray foam for sealed attic construction?

    DC

  21. Julia | | #21

    Cheers and kudos to you for reaching out to learn more.

    I have MCS and my building materials consultant won't allow her clients to use spray foam insulation of any kind--they all contain flame retardants, which are highly toxic. I know of four different cases of people (who relied soley on 'green' building materials and practices) who couldn't live in their homes that they'd intended to heal in.

    As the foam ages, the flame retardant expands as a gas, releasing into the space it occupies. Flame retardants are getting some eye-catching attention in the news lately. All kinds of studies about just how toxic. Put that in a home for someone with MCS? For my money, why tempt fate when there are healthier products, known quantities, already tested and on the market? It may seem frumpy compared to our heroic spray foams, but good ol' cotton batting is a very reasonable choice. One builder told me that because of its density, it actually has a higher R-value than it's actually rated for.

    For all our good Green intentions, Green still does not equal healthy. Unless all the products used in construction of a home for someone with MCS are researched in advance for toxicity, insulation is only one of the issues placing your building project at risk for your clients. There's sub-flooring to consider. Glues. Glazes. Box construction of cabinetry. Paint. Sealants. Urethanes. Petroleum on the forms you pour the home's foundation with. The list is long. But perhaps you already know this.

    Forgive me, but if you don't know it, consider these issues, too:

    Unless all subs working on the job are willing to sign a legal document stating that they'll only use the materials spec'd in advance, there's yet another level of risk of contamination.

    Plus, no fuel generators inside the home while its being constructed. And, go to your laundry room and read the labels of the products you wash your clothes with. If they are scented (including detergents, softeners and dryer sheets)--many builders and trades people use highly scented laundry products and aren't aware of it because someone else is doing their laundry--you are not only steeping in neurotoxins yourself and exposing yourself to as many as 60+ cancer-causing agents, you are also contaminating the very space you're trying to make safe for your client and making it very difficult for your client to be in conversation with you.

  22. Riversong | | #22

    Julia: "Green still does not equal healthy"

    I would put it differently. If it's not healthy, to the human and animal occupants and to the surrounding environment and to the local community-based economy, then it's not "green".

  23. Riversong | | #23

    DC: "What would be good alternatives to spray foam for sealed attic construction?"

    If by "sealed attic" you mean an air-tight cathedral ceiling, my preference is to avoid them but you can use any insulation material with air-tight drywall (which is the industry standard for air barrier materials). But I would ventilate any cathedral ceiling for durability, reduction of summer radiant gain, moisture control and elimination of ice dams.

    Cathedral ceilings are aesthetic amenities which don't make much sense from a hygro-thermal engineering perspective. They enlarge the heated volume, increase the area of the thermal envelope, cause air temperature stratification and increase the stack effect pressures.

    If by "sealed attic" you mean an unoccupied attic to contain HVAC equipment or ducts, there's always a better place to locate such equipment within the conditioned space. All it takes is clever design.

  24. D C | | #24

    "If by "sealed attic" you mean an unoccupied attic to contain HVAC equipment. . ."
    Answered by Robert Riversong

    I do mean an unoccupied attic. It will contain ductwork only, the mechanical equipment will be in a closet. The attic will also be used to some extent for dust free insulated but not conditioned storage, especially over the garage. I live in a tornado area (see my Q&A post about ventilation for climate information). Some of my research suggests un-vented attic spaces are stronger when subjected to the high winds of tornadoes and hurricanes. As I plan to use ICF construction, I want the roof structure as strong as possible as well. I don't have unlimited funds so am looking for the best bang for the buck approach to have a solid, healthy, energy efficient structure. Would appreciate any advice you and others have on this.

    DC

  25. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #25

    DC,
    In the north, we put our ductwork in the basement, not the attic. Builders down South assume, from tradition, that there's something about Southern soils that makes basements difficult. But there's usually no reason that you can't build a basement in Texas and Florida -- except perhaps for the strange fact that few contractors know how to do it.

    To keep ducts within the conditioned space, it's also possible to build soffits near the ceiling. Be sure you get your air-sealing details right, though. And plan for high ceilings if you don't like the furred-down look.

  26. Dan Fette | | #26

    To all,
    This is turning into quite a conversation. Thanks for all the input.

  27. David Posada | | #27

    Paper or Plastic?
    In a recent retrofit, we grappled with the cellulose vs. spray foam question and felt both choices involved compromises when trying to balance performance (insulation, airsealing, moisture management), environmental impact (material source, embodied energy & emissions), occupant health, cost, quality control, and the spatial quirks of the particular house.

    Context:
    90-year old house, 1400 sf, 2 stories with low attic, gable roof and two shed dormers. 2x4 rafters, 10-year old aluminum shingle roof over OSB sheathing with no venting at eaves, and aluminum siding. Roof sheathing was open to the attic except in three “cathedral” ceiling sections over walk-in closets and stairwell, where the plaster & lathe ceiling is the underside of unvented 2x4 rafter bays. No wall insulation, 1-2” cedar bark insulation on attic flats. Knob and tube wiring ran along the attic flats and in a few outside wall locations. Forced air heating with all but one duct riser located in interior walls. Initial blower door test was ~12 air changes per hour at -50 pa. Location: Oregon, 4400 Heating degree days.

    We felt cellulose offered several environmental advantages over foam. Cellulose would be dense-packed in the walls and cathedral ceiling sections, blown in from the interior. The knob and tube wiring in the attic would need to be replaced and cellulose blown onto the attic flats. The main drawbacks we saw: 1, the difficulty of providing good airsealing, especially in the complex and hard-to-reach areas of the attic and roof-wall-dormer intersections, and 2, risk of condensation on an organic substance in the unvented cathedral ceiling sections. The 3.5” depth of the rafter bays made venting there seem impractical. The cost of rewiring the attic and loss of a low storage area was also drawback.

    On the spray foam side, high density foam would have a greater r-value, especially in the 3.5” stud and rafter cavities, but appeared to have a worse environmental footprint from materials and blowing agents, higher off-gassing during and possibly after installation, and the risk of trapping any moisture against the underside of the roof sheathing.

    Low density, vapor permeable, foam had a lower cost and better blowing agents than the closed cell foam, and would provide better air sealing than the cellulose. We wondered if condensation could still be a risk in the unvented cathedral sections. A local engineer advised that risk was very low given the inorganic material and lack of air movement within the foam. The cost was close to cellulose, and by spraying the underside of the roof sheathing the attic storage could be maintained within the thermal boundary. Still, there was the concern of spraying long-lasting, hard to remove petro-chemicals, but the condensation and airsealing issues tipped the balance toward the foam. Off gassing health risks appeared to be low.

    The post-installation blower door test showed the ACH had been reduced to 5.1, close to the high performance homes standard, and considerably lower than many local retrofits done with cellulose and caulking for airsealing. A utility-sponsored rater used an infrared camera to verify if stud and rafter bays had been adequately filled with foam. In several spots foam was then reblown through new holes to fill some gaps found. This points to the challenge of getting a uniform and complete layer of foam in a retrofit, where blocking and debris can obstruct the path of the foam.

    Speaking with the manufacturer and installer about the chemical odor in the attic two months after install prompted some suggestions we’re going to explore: activated charcoal filters with a recirculation fan to scrub the catalyst odor from the sealed space, and possibly barrier paint on the underside of the foam. We’ve been told there are no tests for the chemical concentrations in the attic as the tertiary amines in the catalyst are not considered toxic.
    In making these inevitable compromises, I see design decisions as hypotheses about what’s the best solution to a complex problem given the resources at hand. Building science can’t tell you everything you’d like to know, and will always be an evolving mix of consensus, observations, interpretation and opinion.

  28. Dan Fette | | #28

    David
    Thanks for the thorough response.

  29. Riversong | | #29

    Building science can’t tell you everything you’d like to know, and will always be an evolving mix of consensus, observations, interpretation and opinion.

    In fact, Building Science ignores the most important thing: that homes are for human habitation. The health of the occupants (as well as the health of the environment which supports human and non-human life) must always take precedence over energy efficiency (which is now required only because of our over-reliance on science and its handmaiden, technology).

    Common sense (if it were only truly common anymore) can tell you a great deal that science doesn't even comprehend. Natural materials should always be preferred over the 80,000 petrochemicals we've introduced into the world (245 million tons per year), including the 17,000 available for home use, only 30% of which have ever been tested for safety.

  30. Julia | | #30

    Here here, Robert.

    Consider this, too: We now know the breadth of health hazards in the following once-standard building materials: lead (paint), PCBs (plastic pipe), asbestos (shingles, insulation), among others. It is safe to assume that as well-intentioned, and sometimes arrogant, as our green community is, we're still on a learning curve.

    It's also safe to assume that just as manufacturers knew of the health hazards sometimes decades before the public knew, we are not immune to corruption and greed just because we're 'green.,' though we might like to think we're different or better because of it.

    To get back to Dan's original question about building for people with MCS in particular: The flame retardants in the blown-in/spray foam insulations are problematic for humans, and have no place for people with MCS whose immune systems are compromised and cannot defend against the chemicals--even if they're in sealed off spaces. There is some evidence to suggest that flame retardants work their way into the particulate matter (dust) in homes over time, no matter how sealed off they are.

    Building for people with MCS is not like building for anybody else you'll build for. If you're not prepared to alter the way you think about building--the priority is health not carbon footprint--then one should be prepared to walk away from the job.

    It will be a wonderful moment in the building industry when green equals healthy. We're not there yet.

    There are a host of other areas of the house you'll want to pay close attention to, when building for people with MCS, right from the foundation up, but that's for another discussion thread.

  31. B. Kolodziej | | #31

    As a recent purchaser of a spray foam insulation product for use during a kitchen remodel, I'd like to throw my two cents in here regarding things to watch out for if the decision is made to use it for insulation in a residential space. My house is in Southern California, which requires R-30 insulation minimum in the ceiling. Part of the remodel included the creation of a cathedral ceiling, but as the rafters were 2x6, insulation offerings that could meet the R-30 requirement were extremely limited. A 5 inch thick SPF installation won out after comparing all the various factors (in this case, the product used was BASF Comfort Foam 178).

    After all has been said and done, I have to concur with the previous comment about SPF being something best left to carefully controlled factory production settings. The BASF product seems like it probably does everything it's supposed to... provided it's installed correctly. That's the big variable, and one that in my opinion makes me feel as though SPF was the wrong choice. The installer sprayed too aggressively during installation, exceeding the manufacturer's stated maximum of 2 inches per pass. The end result (as explained to me by tech support at BASF) is that the deeper layers overheat during curing, resulting in a discolored and insufficiently dense foam that smells of rotten fish (a result of the amines in the product offgassing, or so I'm told). The only solution offered by BASF is that the installer needs to remove the foam and respray if the smell doesn't dissipate in a reasonable span of time. It's been several weeks of constant forced ventilation of the SPF, and the smell is still there, even after one pass at removing and respraying a section the installer confessed wasn't sprayed right from the beginning.

    In short, as just a regular homeowner trying to make the right decision of what to install without having any sort of trustworthy professional guidance available other than what I can find online, I severely regret the choice to go with a sprayed-in foam product. Removing it is a nightmare due to the presence of electrical wiring that was encased in the foam during the install, plus all the expected delays associated with a construction step gone awry. I would absolutely steer any other people away from products such as this, unless they know exactly what they're doing and what they're getting into. The person in tech support at BASF put it best when he said that BASF doesn't sell insulating foam, they just sell the two chemicals that an installer mixes to make the foam. That makes for a huge margin of error relating to human factors that, if they occur, are too late in the process to be easily corrected. It's the sort of "if" I wish had fully understood before I went this route, because had I fully understood the variables, I simply wouldn't have done it.

  32. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #32

    B. Kolodziej,
    Thanks for sharing your valuable story — a cautionary tale for sure.

  33. eggman | | #33

    Oh man, I just prepped my camp for BASF SF. Sealed up the ridge and eaves with tar paper and everything.. It has a sleeping loft open concept with exposed cathedral celings...

    After reading this I'm going to completely change my direction. I'll do cellulose for the walls but the question is, what to do about the cathedral celings??

  34. D C | | #34

    Eggman - I thought I would toss out that B. Kolodziej's story seems to be one of installation error only and does not necessarily mean there is a problem with the product. Almost any building product, when installed improperly can be a nightmare for the homeowner.

  35. Daniel Neufeld | | #35

    What an amazing read from top to bottom. Thank you for the info!

  36. eggman | | #36

    D C: What's to stop an installer from doing the same thing to me? Luck I guess... I just can't take a chance with my family. The cons out weigh the pros on this one for me...

  37. B. Kolodziej | | #37

    D C - To confirm your statement, yes, the core problem (according to the manufacturer, at least) is installer error. But in my conversation with BASF's tech support, I got the impression that the problem I am having is not altogether uncommon. There are definite overspray issues in my installation, and so far they have all occurred in similar areas, namely the corners where the walls meet the roof. It seems to go like this. Per BASF's specs, the max rated thickness in one application pass of Comfort Foam is 2 inches. Consequently, the installer tries to always do 2 inches in one pass to save time, which means they've already eaten up their margin of error. This isn't so bad on a flat surface, like on an interior wall, but at a corner there's no way an installer will be able to make an absolutely perfect spray that conforms to the contour of the wall. You get a fillet, where it's rounded off and thicker than 2 inches at the very corner. It's also very hard to judge visually, and in the case of my house, where the wall meets the roof it's a shallow angle and there's not much clearance between the top of the wall and the roof. This means that foam on the bottom rises up to meet the foam on the top and gives even less space for heat to dissipate, which as I have been told is key to the foam not doing what the foam did in my install. Having dug out large chunks of the foam myself, the above description is exactly what seems to have happened. The surface of the corners looks fine, because the final pass was fine. But if you dig down even slightly, the foam is discolored, incredibly soft (it looks like it changed from a closed cell to an open cell), and stinks to high heaven. But you can't tell by looking at the top layer where all the problems are. The installer dug out maybe 15 square feet of foam, and I dug out maybe another six (out of 130 total), and the odor still persists, especially if the sun comes out and heats up the roof.

    I do feel that the product, if you could install it correctly, would behave as advertised. But removing it in the event of an improper installation is a nightmare, and even finding the areas of bad foam is an incredible pain. You have to poke the foam full of holes to find the soft spots, which I am assuming negatively impacts the insulation properties of the foam. If you have lots of Romex running through the foam, as I do, it's even worse to remove as you simply can't power through it with any degree of force. Plus, how green is it when you create a bunch of landfill from all the bad foam that gets ripped out and thrown away?

    I'm sure I sound bitter about this, and I am, but I've tried to be as factual and objective as possible in what I've relayed. I do think that the major downfall of this product is the potential for installer error, but I think that is a highly probably outcome after what I have seen and what I have been told by the manufacturer. And to make matters worse, the company who installed it was one pointed to me after I went to BASF's site and asked to be directed to a Comfort Foam installer in my area. I tried to do my homework, and it didn't seem to help. At least with some other insulation product, even if it didn't insulate and seal as well, had the installation gone poorly it wouldn't be so difficult to remove. I should have hedged my bets better. I found out after the fact that I could have reached my insulation goal using a polyiso foam board product, and if I could go back and time and change course I would have done exactly that. It would have taken infinitely longer to install, but given all the time I've lost due to the bad SPF install, I'd have either come out ahead or at least broken even. The best advice I could give on this is to echo the comments of others. In my opinion, don't install something in your home that involves chemical mixing on site. It should be complete in its chemical makeup when you bring it home. The only exception would be paints and glues, because even the foulest of glues get used pretty sparingly as compared to the total surface area of a home, and the issues with paint are much better understood. And even with paint, in the worst case you'd have to rip out all the drywall to get rid of it, and to be quite frank I'd rather re-drywall an entire room than have to chisel out all this foam.

  38. Riversong | | #38

    "how green is it when you create a bunch of landfill?"

    I have said this a hundred times, but it bears repeating: there is nothing green about petrochemical foam plastics (or any or the 80,000 petrochemicals we've brought into the world). They are unnatural, toxic non-biodegradable compounds with dramatic and often unintended consequences.

    These include: significant environmental impacts at all phases of the life cycle, significant embodied energy and embodied global warming, health hazards at every phase of production, application, use and disposal, non-biodegradable landfill mass or incineration toxins at the end of useful life, manifold site variables making proper chemical mixing and application a near impossibility, and degradation of function (insulation, air barrier, vapor barrier) if not perfectly installed.

    Green means mimicking the materials and methods of the natural world: converting sunlight into usable heat and energy, bio-compatible and bio-degradable materials, non-toxic, renewable, synergistic and stunningly efficient.

  39. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #39

    Hear, hear.

  40. Marlene | | #40

    In response to Mr. Robert Riversong's answer to me in February. This is total bunk...talk about a foam representative or lawyer trying to skate out of a legal issue!!!! I have a letter from the Icynene company stating the home can be occupied within 24 hours after installation (NOT THE THREE DAYS YOU STATED), but that the foam cures "within minutes". My brother didn't install the foam himself but had it installed by a certified Icynene installer from their web site. My brother was very responsible is selecting this product according to these claims, but the fact remains that he cannot go back into a brand new home where the Icynene foam was sprayed in December. He had no problems working in the home daily for the entire six months before this crap was sprayed in. Don't to talk down to someone who HAS performed "due diligence" according to the company's guidelines and has never suffered from any type of chemical sensitivity before in his life. His resulting health problems are a direct result of the icynene product instalaltion and yet he cannot get any response from the installer or the company. I have talked at least 10 people I know out of using this product based on my brother's horrible experience.

  41. Marlene | | #41

    And oh by the way, the installer did come by two weeks ago and stated "I didn't expect it to smell this bad in here after this length of time." (over three months later). But he is still unwilling to do anything to correct the situation. Talk about crap....the installer blames the product and the company blames the installer. Just stay away from it! Period.

  42. Riversong | | #42

    Marlene,

    Due diligence requires more than accepting a manufacturer's or installer's claims. It requires independent research to verify or disprove the claims of the salespeople.

    As I've stated more times than anyone here cares to remember, there is nothing either "green" or healthy about petrochemical foams, or any of the 80,000 petrochemicals that never existed on earth before we created them.

    Unfortunately, most of American society is brainwashed into believing in the "magic" of chemistry, as the advertisers and marketers have impressed on us for generations. Every product produced since the start of the petrochemical age is toxic, either to people or the environment or both.

    Again, I'm sorry that your brother had to learn the lesson the hard way. Perhaps his story will help others learn before it's too late.

  43. Jim Vallette | | #43

    Great discussion here about SPF. We are evaluating these and other insulations' toxicity (manufacture and user exposure) and renewable content in the Pharos Project. I recently posted a blog on this subject, which dissects some of the common ingredients. Please see: http://pharosproject.net/index/blog/mode/detail/record/52/spf-explosive

  44. Helene Jorgens | | #44

    I was just about to have closed cell foam installed in my attic, when I am came on this discussion. I now I have changed me mind. I am very concerned about off-gassing and toxins. However, it is still not clear to me which products are safe for people and pets. Can anyone recommend specific insulation products (type and manufacturer) for a floor in an attic in a 90 year-old house in Washington DC.

  45. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #45

    Cellulose (ground-up old newspapers plus borate).

  46. Tom Eagleman | | #46

    Flash and Batt or Flash and Cellulose
    Best of both things Flash is 1/2" to 1" of SPF( flash to seal ) and then cellulose or glass batt for R's if you have space

  47. Heather | | #47

    This thread has been so helpful; thank you. We had Bayseal Closed Cell polyurethane spray foam (by Bayer) put in the unvented eaves of our 1.5 story 1825 timber frame cape in February in Maine. This is our "attic" and is planned for lots of storage. Sheetrock (not mudded nor taped) was installed overtop except for one 2'x2' area (no idea why). The outgassing is still occurring. Because this is actually a new construction project (the timber frame was taken down, moved, and re-erected on a new foundation), we have been over there painting, etc. and luckily have not developed a chemical sensitivity - yet. The contractor met with the installer and a rep from Bayer and has indicated that they (not clear which one) have offered to mud, tape, and prime the sheetrock, or rip out the spray foam altogether. My husband and I are trying to figure out what to do. Thoughts are welcome and appreciated.

    Also, just wanted to share that some of the websites that have been mentioned *may* actually be paid for by spray foam companies and related industries, so you have to be careful of biased advice. For example, in the product guide for our spray foam product, Bayer says, "More
    resources are available at spraypolyurethane.com,
    polyurethane.org, sprayfoam.org, baycareonline.com." Not sure what to believe!

  48. Riversong | | #48

    Heather,

    If you're noticing the chemical smell, then I would recommend removing the foam rather than trying to encapsulate it. It's always better to eliminate a problem than to attempt to contain it.

  49. Tracy Nelson | | #49

    Here is the simple truth of spray foam in an existing building: Mixing this material in the field can be inconsistent and as mentioned many times above, completely depends on the skill level of the installer (don't confuse the actual person who shows up at the property with the company who sells you the product and promotes themselves as experts). And if the installer is in a crawl space or under your house, how good do you think that application will be?

    Also, spray foam encases everything in the different building cavities … walls, under the floor, between rafters, little small spaces you shoot it into because there is no other point of access. Here is just one problem with that ... if at a later date you wish to rewire your house or there is a short in your ssytem that you have to find, this work cannot be done without removing either the interior sheetrock or the exterior siding as new wiring cannot be snaked through the existing channels (these are now covered in spray foam). And even if you do pay the money to gain access to the spray foam, the electrcial cost will be excessive due to the extra work of the electrician because he has to carve out a space for the new wiring. Same goes for plumbing in your walls or under your floors. And if you want to remove this material in the future because it makes the occupant ill or because new research shows that it is like lead paint or the newest horror of Chinese drywall, this is almost impossible to remove. Yes, you can scoop out the majority of it as it cures into a spongy substance, but it cannot be completely removed without tenacious and labor intensive efforts. And then, there is almost always a residue left attached to every piece of wood framing it has come into contact with.

    Do we not have enough petrochemical based products causing the experts to scratch their heads as they try to evaluate health and environmental risks, without volunteering to be the manufacture’s canary in the minefield? They are many other options out there and what most people are trying to achieve is a lower energy bill not a zero energy usage. Any minuet amount of energy savings that you lose by having a lower R-value in your building by using a safer product, can easily be addressed by humans interacting with a structure. By turning the thermostat down 5 degrees when you leave in the morning will re-gain any loses that are being used as scare tactics by the spray foam sales force. And this is just one of many options available to everyone.

    For those who do want to do research into a product, here is a simple way to evaluate any issue when you are making these critical decisions for your house and your health … if it is a new man-made product, do you want to take a chance with it before it has been proven (remember, only about 30% of materials are regulated), and if you do, is the application reversible therefore allowing you to remove it if problems occur in the future.

  50. adkjac upstateny | | #50

    Difficult to like spray foam after reading this entire thread. I have done one Icyenene install and all went well. Water blown and does not need to be sprayed in 2" layups. Installer has insurance. I am in the home often and do not smell foam. I just went in attic this week to do a rewire. We sprayed for unvented roof, wire change was easy to get to. 1st floor is a diifferent story, we sprayed it underneath, nice for encapsulating duct work, but I would never spray that area again after wiring, and most plumbing. etc.

    Really losing interest in foam.

    Cellulose, cotton... wood mass, and whatever else others think are real green products.

  51. rustyjames | | #51

    To Heather:

    Is there any windows in the attic that you can leave open so you can try doing a "flush out"? I would try doing that if you already haven't.

  52. Riversong | | #52

    Best use of spray foam:

    Permanently sealing the blown-out well-head of the Deepwater Horizon, and permanently sealing the corporate offices of BP (Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, British Petroleum, Beyond Petroleum, Beyond Prosecution, whatever).

  53. Allan Bullis, CEM LEED AP | | #53

    There has been great discussion on the out gassing issues with foam and how green is it to put a bunch of petrochemicals in one's home. There has been little discussion of performance. I always thought that it was better to use cellulose. This was based on the price vs increase in performance. Regardless I always thought it was the absolute best way to insulate. After seeing several foam jobs with de-lamination problems, shrinkage and curling issues, I became a little skeptical. Then at an infrared training, there were several examples of failures in the system in specific areas on foam insulation projects. In my eyes that was the nail in the coffin for foam in stud cavities and attic spaces. I am now convinced that cellulose is the way to go!!!

  54. Riversong | | #54

    Allan,

    Please elaborate on the failures of foam installations.

  55. Dwaine | | #55

    Just a quick note from Canada. I am a contractor who installs all types of various insulation materials. I have been installing foam for 3 years now, the other types for 20. Hands down the other types of materials fiberglass, cellulose etc... cannot compare efficiency wise. We are completely in awe at what this product can do in some difficult designs. I am also a Certified Energy Advisor as well as Infrared Thermographer. We test these buildings after the different materials are used and can see the weaknesses in each and the different designs.
    I want to state that what I am reading in my opinion are true problems out in the industry, BUT the blame is being laid in the wrong places. When someone like myself sits back and reads these various comments, it is easy to see they are all for the most part human error. The biggest problem reputable companies are having right now in the foam industry is companies who are trying to make a quick buck and not follow proper manufacturer guidelines and installation instructions. I blame the governing agencies. There are no official inspectors out there to my knowledge, whether it been in the American or Canadian governments that regulate the foam industry. You have some (few mind you) companies that are very strict with how their certified installers are to carry themselves and install their products, along with all safety procedures and practices, but it is ultimately the contractor who decides on the job what is being done out of site from their manufacturer. In Canada we have an association called CUFCA. (Canadian Urethane Foam Contractors Association) It is an association that is trying to regulate this industry and promote professionalism and quality workmanship within the industry. When a manufacturer produces foam, they are required to have a quality assurance program. This is where Cufca came from. The benefit to Cufca is that it is a completely 3rd Party Program. Any of the manufacturers who want them to run their assurance program and who sign a contract with them are treated just as we the independent contractors who pay to be listed and trained as a certified installer are. There is no big money from the different manufacturers changing hands to sway any decisions. Under CUFCA, as a certified installer, I am required to submit daily work records that show the exact barrel of foam, it's associated Lot #'s and dates, where it was installed, temperatures, density checks etc ...to CUFCA. This is all done to know where all foam that was manufactured and installed has been tracked and recorded. When hiring a contractor who is certified under CUFCA and who is installing CUFCA certified foam, the homeowner is also getting an insurance policy. If there are ever any problems on the job whether it is manufacturer problems or contractor problems, all the homeowner has to do is call CUFCA and they send an inspector to that jobsite at no cost to them. They review the problem, decide who is at fault, and can force the contractor or the manufacture to fix the problem, again at no cost to the homeowner. How to force the contractor or manufacturer can vary, but usually is a fine such as $5000.00 or at worst case scenario their license with them is revoked, cancelling the ability to install or even sell foam. A big problem though is the manufactures get to decide who they use as a Quality Assurance Provider. That being said CUFCA is the only independent provider that exists and only has one manufacturer to date (Demilec Canada) that is willing to protect their customers to this level of service. All other manufactures pay big money to their own Quality assurance programs and unfortunately at the end of the day write all the cheques to these people. Do you really think if they find a problem that their manufacture who gives them most of their work is responsible for, that said manufacture is going to be held responsible? I think not! There is too much money on the line.
    My point to all this is that we as consumers need to lobby to our government to push for more regulations to who is allowed to install and what procedures are to be followed. We need an association just like CUFCA to be where the “buck stops” so to speak. They or someone like them needs to be appointed the association in charge of it all who has the authority to stop these manufactures and contractors who live to find the loop holes in any system to increase their profit margins. It will be a sad day when customers lose the huge advantages and savings they are entitled to by using spray foam, just because they are too scared to install it because of the unprofessional conduct of greedy people out there. It truly is a very good product people, but we need to regulate who is allowed to install it so that homeowners are not being taken advantage off.
    Check CUFCA out at http://www.cufca.ca and make sure any contractor you are looking at hiring can explain there quality assurance program their manufacturer provides for you. If they can’t I would be escorting them to the door.
    Dwaine

  56. JimPicton | | #56

    Regarding "Flash and Batt" (#47, Tom Eagleman): If you use this method, be very sure to use open-cell foam for its vapor-transmissivity. Closed-cell would put the "condensing face" way on the wrong side of the assembly, at least in northern climates . See various articles by Dr. Joe Lstiburek on this subject. -JimPicton

  57. Read | | #57

    This may sound cliché, but like others I wish I had found this list sooner. I had Demilec foam sprayed in my home attic in mid May and the smell is still to strong to go into the space, which was intended to be a future game room for my children. After noticing some health concerns, headaches and difficulty breathing, I moved my family into another room above the garage--not spray foam insulated or connected to the bad attic.

    My installer was out yesterday to witness the smell and he cut openings into the gables and installed a fan with a tube to the gable. The smell was still poignant this morning, 24 hours later. I have also had another installer out who told me he does not see any problems with the install, but doesn’t think the odor should still be there. I have written my installer today and essentially asked to have it removed if the smell persists beyond 2-3 more days.

    I am very concerned and would just like the foam out. Has anyone had the foam removed? Were there other steps required in the removal to stop the ruminants from smelling? Should I get an air filtration system for the house?

  58. Audetat | | #58

    Give me foam, radiant floors and a heat recovery ventilator.

    You are like a breath of fresh air.

    Thanks Dwaine

  59. Riversong | | #59

    Read, sorry but ruminants will always smell since they leave their droppings wherever they graze.

    AUDETAT, Dwaine a breath of fresh air? He offered a screed for "regulated" foam, which was immediately followed by a consumer's account of the "only Canadian certified manufacturer", Demilac, installing bad product.

    Dwaine's (and other hucksters') faith in foam as "hands down" the most efficient insulation product simply ignores the other facets of an efficient building material, including low ecological footprint, low cost, fire resistance, insect resistance, rodent resistance, and ability to buffer moisture fluctuations in the home. In all these areas, foam flunks.

    Add to that the many cases of serious health problems following foam installations, and you have a material that mostly benefits those who sell it.

  60. Heather | | #60

    Well, we have moved ahead with the removal of the spray foam. The sheetrock was removed yesterday and the side facing the foam was wet. Condensation? An effect of improper curing of the foam? If the former, how do we correct for this next time? Suggestions for replacement insulation? We are quite confused by all the different schools of thought. Seems like everyone has a different way of doing things and we're just trying to gather as much information as we can to make the best decision now. Thanks-

  61. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #61

    Heather.... yaa need some local eyes with building science knowledge to check out your situation onsite IMHO... Wet sheetrock... disaster.

    aj

  62. Dwaine | | #62

    Tks Audetat.
    Robert, maybe read my posting with a little more attention instead of putting people down. The more logical comment would have been to ask Read if he was located in Canada or the USA? If in Canada than my comments in regards to CUFCA will be very helpful to him. As for your negative comments in regards to foam, I find it funny how you don't acknowledge the fact that any man made product has the same pros and cons, pretty hard to say they are all only associated to one product. Read, if you are in Canada, don't worry, Cufca is there to help you. Look at the contact info on the website and tell them your situation. They will investigate and force those involved to correct the situation if there was something done wrong. Let me know if I can be of any help.
    Heather, if you found moisture, as Adkjac stated there is something wrong there. You should not have any moisture like that. If the company offered to pay to remove it, they obviously knew something was wrong with the foam or you have a leakage issue. Again, sounds to me like a contractor who didn't know what he was doing and installed it off-ratio, or the construction was completed with materials that are too wet (lumber etc) and sealed it up too fast without it properly drying. I have seen a new home have to be completely gutted due to a contractor throwing the house together in the rainy season. I know you had a bad experience already, but you are still better off finding a qualified installer of foam. Trust me, it can be installed properly which will make your home more efficient, healthier and will add value to your home. If you don't want to consider the foam again, I would look at Spayed in place cellulose. It's the next in line to Spay foam in my opinion. Not an airtight barrier as foam is and that is where you are getting the main benefits of foam, but as close as you can get.
    Dwaine

  63. Laverne Dalgleish | | #63

    The short answer on all of this is no one can say anything without testing. Both BASF and Demilec has went through the rigious testing required in ULC S771 for the product being sold in Canada. No company who produces the resin for the spray polyurethane foam can say they do not off-gas unless they have tested it. All foams will off-gas, the question is for how long. The BASF and Demelic 2 pound product shows that it reaches 1/100 of the allowable levels in less than 24 hours. There needs to be strict requirments during spraying and for the "time to occupancy" as spelled out in ULC S705.2.
    However keep in mind that all building products off-gas including thermal insulation products. No one can say it is safe or not safe unless testing has been done.

  64. Riversong | | #64

    DWAINE: any man made product has the same pros and cons

    More hype from from foam hucksters. Every building product is distinct and some are decidedly more benign and healthy than others.

    As I already stated, some of the more important qualities of an insulation material are ecological footprint, low cost, fire resistance, insect resistance, rodent resistance, and ability to buffer moisture fluctuations in the home. R-value does not vary enough among the insulation options to be a primary consideration, and air resistance can be created by other layers of the thermal envelope.

    With those criteria, cellulose (100% recycled paper and non-toxic boric acid) is the only insulation material which scores high on all. Sprayed foam scores low on all and presents serious potential health issues when installed in a less-than-perfect manner (which is often the case in the field).

    LAVERNE DALGLEISH: all building products off-gas including thermal insulation products

    Only products that use gas or volatile organic compounds in their manufacture off-gas. These include almost all engineered wood products and all blown or sprayed foam insulations. Cellulose does not off-gas. Mineral wool does not off-gas. Straw bales do not off-gas.

  65. Anonymous | | #65

    I am a building engineer.
    I am somewhat chemically sensitive.
    Had to redo and insulate my basement.
    Insulating basements is somewhat complex because the vapor drive is reversed.
    After much research and deliberation with other, "Reknowned " building scientists I chose BASF walltite Spray foam insulation.

    I was very weary of using the product until the last second. I even requestioned the choice before the sprayer began spraying.

    I made a mistake with this choice. !

    The product off-gasses an odor 2 weeks after the install. A member of my family has allergy like symptoms.

    No question the product performs well.

    However, inasmuch as a house is a sanctuary, do not poison it with chemicals !!!

    After consultation

  66. Riversong | | #66

    The Google Ad-Bot needs a little more refinement. This is what came up on this page:

    Spray Foam Insulation
    Spray Foam Insulation Kits.. Insulate & Save Energy Dollars
    http://www.foampower.com

    BRP Foam Insulation CT NY
    CT Spray Foam Insulation Aplicator. GoGreen Save 60%on your next bill.
    http://www.brpfoaminsulation.com

    Polyurethane Foam
    Resilient & Flexible Foam. Search For The Best Deals.
    FreshDeals.com

    DIY Spray Urethane Foam
    Easy, no training required VOC Free, non HazMat
    Soythane.com

  67. Leon S. | | #67

    Good Stories Everyone.

    I am writing from Canada.

    Industry reps will protect their bread and butter. Seems logical, especially when they are given 'proper application' guidelines that they can fall back on to prove a point. Part of does not blame them. Part of me does...

    When you have a lemon vehicle, you blow it out the door, and take a hit so to speak. Most are willing to eat a loss of a couple of grand on a lemon vehicle b/c they can sell and move on. Seems like that approach has been used for houses too. Only difference is lemon vehicles do not make you physically ill, and do not cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    I have been living in a brand new house that I built 10 months ago. The idea was to make the house efficient, since winters are brutal up here. I used ICF blocks for the basement. I I used BASF Walltite to seal in the floor joist spaces on three sides. The final joist space I used Versi Foam 2 part spray foam. I used the remaining foam for sound deadening the master ensuite, and in the floor joist space of two rooms for similar reasons.
    I do have a Vanee Bronze ventilation system.
    I am quite sick in my house. I will likely have to sell it and take a loss. I am highly suspicious of the two part versi foam. I would have to remove the celing drywall, and drop all the main ducwork just to get at most of the versi foam.
    I love the question 'when will green equal healthy?' Windows open, vanee on, etc., I am sick. I sleep somewhere else for a week I am fine.
    I do not detect a specific odor. I am sick. Weak joints, raccoon eyes, tiredness, confusion, the list goes on.
    Do homeowners not have enough to worry about? Radon, (cancerous foundations), asbestos, formaldehyde, glues and adhesives (bamboo flooring) glues and adhesives, ... now spray foam.

    *****To all the naysayers...until you, your spouse, or your children are sick , and you take a huge financial hit b/c you are the one holding the 'lemon', your comments do not hold a lot of water.
    Many building product are made in China where quality control is suspect (ever researched where most trim and doors come from), or they are formulated with untold chemicals that have untold effects.
    I spent every cent I've earned in the last 20years building my dream home, and I have to walk away at a loss no less. I am not an expert and never claim to be. I am an average Joe living a nightmare.

  68. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #68

    Leon ... get a lawyer and get out of your home. Start a new day and soon this will be your past. I feel for you. There are home specs that are specific to the chemically sensitive

    I am no fan of litigation but you need assistance IMHO.

  69. rustyjames | | #69

    ADKJAC

    If goes to court who will he sue? How would you be be able to determine that it's the foam making him sick when it could be another material/product in the building?

  70. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #70

    That's what a good lawyer is for not me.

  71. Marlene | | #71

    To Leon S from Canada. My 66 year old brother is living the same nightmare as you. He saved all his life and built his home from the ground up. On December 23rd of last year (2009) he had icynene spray foam insulation installed by a "sanctioned" installer listed on their web site. After the installation, he had at last four hospitalizations with respiratory problems after he had entered his home. He had worked in his home daily for six months prior to the Icynene installation. Both the company and the installer are unresponsive. They say that their product is not off gassing. However, their own company rep from Atlanta visited the house and upon exiting became ill and had to sit down on the steps outside to catch his breath. SOMEBODY in the spraty foam industry needs to start making these health issues a priority. It is now six months later and my brother still cannot go back into his half-finished home and at this point seems to have no recourse with either the installer or the manufacturer. STAY AWAY FROM SPRAY FOAM...AT LEAST ICYNENE. If you wish to contact my brother his email is Xla1492@yahoo.com.

  72. Marlene | | #72

    To Dwaine from Canada.

    Sounds like CUFCA is a great organization. The only problem with this in the good ole USA is that most Americans are completely averse to any type of regulation or inspection (even if it is by industry peers) and certainly not any regulation from the Government. Just look at the BP mess I do agree with Robert Riversong on that one....best use of spray foam is to plug the hole on the ocean floor!

  73. Kurt | | #73

    Martin,

    Per your comment; "But there's usually no reason that you can't build a basement in Texas and Florida -- except perhaps for the strange fact that few contractors know how to do it. "

    In South FL we have water tables that are often 6 feet or less deep. If you don't keep water in your swimming pool the water table can rise and pop the pool out of the ground. Historically, I think it is safe to say that most builders here have experience with building basements, having moved here from the North. Also, slabs on grade help in cooling which is our main concern.

  74. Kurt | | #74

    In the event the architect and /or the owner wants a spray foam product before an all natural foam product comes on to the market, does anyone have experience or opinions on the product “BioBased Insulation”? It is still a polyurethane foam, but soy oil is used as part of the mix and it is “water blown”. Are these thin veils and marketing strategies, or substantial improvements? Thanks for any input.

  75. Riversong | | #75

    "Bio-based" foam insulations are an improvement only in terms of the feed stock being less of a depletion of non-renewable and energy-intensive resources.

    But they can be just as toxic as petroleum-based foams, and they are competing with limited foodstocks in a world that has close to a billion people going to bed hungry every night.

  76. Dwaine | | #76

    Tks Marlene, in my opinion unfortunately that is why CUFCA had to be formed here as well. There is no one officially policeing the foam industry on a day to day basis from the government . They tell you in the Can/ULC standards how it is to be done safely but no one is out there enforcing it so, it was left to a group of contractors that want the foam industry to be regulated and run by someone who is not going to allow these materials to be installed improperly causing all these problems that you are reading on this site. We all know it can be installed safely, the hard part is getting people/contractors to take the time and spend the money to do it right instead of trying to make the quick buck. That is why I like CUFCA as we are made to send in our daily work sheets that have a lot of info on them about what we are using and where we are installing it. That way all our foam is monitored and they can tell if we are doing things properly or not. Our foam is sold by the Kilogram and has it's own lot #. They can tell how much foam I have bought and then when and where I installed it and what the densities, temperatures, substrate temperatures etc... are on the job.

    Kurt, I see you are in Florida. My manufacturer Demilec has a division out of Texas. They have a foam called Heatlok soya. I took this out of an article for you. "In 1985 the Vienna Convention established mechanisms for international co-operation in research into the ozone layer and the effects of ozone depleting chemicals (ODCs). 1985 also marked the first discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole. On the basis of the Vienna Convention, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was negotiated and signed by 24 countries and by the European Economic Community in September 1987. The Protocol called for the Parties to phase down the use of CFCs, halons and other man-made ODCs.

    After a series of rigorous meetings and negotiations, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was finally agreed upon on 16 september 1987 at the Headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal. The Montreal Protocol stipulates that the production and consumption of compounds that deplete ozone in the stratosphere--chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform--are to be phased out by 2000 (2005 for methyl chloroform). Scientific theory and evidence suggest that, once emitted to the atmosphere, these compounds could significantly deplete the stratospheric ozone layer that shields the planet from damaging UV-B radiation."
    I was happy with Demilec when I first got into the foam business in the sense that they took this ruling and changed their products to meet these standards and produce a product that has ZERO ozone depleting substances. It is partially made from renewable vegetable oils (Soya beans). It is my understanding that they did this two full years before they had too and before any of their competitors. They are also the only manufacturer that currently is a paying member of CUFCA. To me it shows that they are trying. As for the people that say there is still chemicals in these soya products, yes I agree...but again...at least they are trying. There is a lot more companies in all forms of manufacturing out there that can't say the same.
    As for the comment where it was stated "they are competing with limited foodstocks in a world that has close to a billion people going to bed hungry every night." I prefer to look at the "glass half full" scenario and hope that maybe these resources that will be needed can give work to some of our farmers who have nothing to plant in their fields anymore and possibly can help the economy if the need for them becomes greater.

  77. Kurt | | #77

    This blog has a presented many good reasons to avoid SPF. However, when I look at my own house in hot humid North Florida (1980, 1800 sq ft, cbs, slab on grade, 2x4 roof trusses w/ 5/12 pitch) and consider options for “attic” insulation I am drawn away from my “emotional” choice of loose fill cellulose on the floor towards my (perhaps uninformed) “practical” choice of SPF at the roof plane. The biggest reasons are difficulty in air-sealing at the ceiling plane, lost access to “attic” and lost use of the “attic”. The ceiling plane has 45 penetrations; Recessed lights (not IC), A/C supplies, ceiling fixtures, bathroom fan vents, smoke detectors and A/C trunks for supply and return air. This is not counting interior partitions with their top plates swiss-cheesed for original and added (phone, cable, security system)wiring, central vacuum, etc, or the entirely unsealed ¾” vertical channels created by the furring strips on the perimeter block walls that hold the drywall. All ductwork is relatively under-insulated, probably quite leaky and in the currently unconditioned space. The soffit vents provide an unlimited supply of hot wet air to condensate wherever the cool A/C air is escaping. On the access front, if I have a foot and a half or more of loose fill cellulose everywhere I can’t access, well, anything. Separate from not being able to spot roof leaks early, or add or remove electrical, cable or phone, or inspect, repair, add or remove any type of ductwork, what about adding solar when my budget allows? What about doing any type of remodeling or implementing any future improvements on any front? Ever? On the use front; We have no basement for storage. Rather than building and maintaining usable space for bulky, light-weight, infrequently used items like Christmas decorations, suitcases, air mattresses, coolers, etc we use the area adjacent to the attic access ladder. This will be gone or un-insulated if we go with the cellulose. Won’t the off-gassing be isolated in the rarely and briefly used attic provided I don’t create negative pressures in the house?? We do open the windows a lot during the cooler, drier months. Wouldn’t the petroleum used in the SPF be largely offset by energy saved via having ducts in “conditioned” space and better air-sealing? Am I missing something? If I am, can you offer ideas that allow me to have my cake and eat it too? Good answers to this situation would be of great service and utility since they will apply to almost every existing home in Florida. Thank you in advance for any help.

    PS I know there are answers to this “out there” and I am diligently looking, but since you offer this extremely convenient and more “personal” service I’ll take advantage. It’s a great site!

  78. Cit_J | | #78

    I shall be blunt.

    I am having a heck of a time trying to reconcile the dichotomy between a utopian vision of CUFCA as it is portrayed here and what I have experienced and observed in the actual world. I am also seeing from Dwaine a number of statements with imbedded legal disclaimers which leads me to suspect that CUFCA's mantra – like the rest of the spray-foam world's – is not "Fohhhhmmmm, fohhhhmmmmm ..." but rather, "We're not liable, we're not liable ..."

    Long story short, I hired a CUFCA licensed contractor once. After receiving his CUFCA certification he went on to be "stringently selected" and "intensively trained" by Icynene Inc. and it was that company's product that he was hired to install. He turned out to be a hack and a cheat. The application was riddled with voids ranging in size up to a soap-bubble-like 18x14 inches, and in some spots there was no foam at all. There was extensive and substantial damage to the plaster substrate where the foam was injected between the sloped ceilings and the roof decking of the 1 ½ story house. The work was not done to code. His only nod to safety equipment for this confined area job was a negative pressure, dual-filter face mask which the fumes consequently breached. This contractor installed substantially less foam than he quoted on in writing and charged for. He also sealed the access points to the side attics with plugs of foam, effectively hiding the hack job and cheating from view. His first impulse was to walk away, and when presented with a Demand Letter he tried to lowball his way out. He eventually reneged on the terms and conditions of a written settlement agreement, shorting us once again, this time on the payment. And those are just some of the highlights.

    Top level management at Icynene was apprised and to the best of my knowledge the company did nothing to ensure, or even investigate this contractor's competency. They did, however, continue to provide full marketing and sales support to this Dealer. Although the contractor used his CUFCA certification as part of his sales pitch, I did not file a complaint with the Association because Icynene was not a member and its foam was not a CUFCA certified product (this would not have changed if the foam had been Demilec's open-cell Sealection 500 as that product is also not certified by CUFCA). So, an association and a manufacturer, both soliciting the consumers' trust by implying that their contractors and installers are the bestest and most competent bunch of people you are ever going to meet; and both claiming that they have a system of accountability in place to remove any bad apples that might fall into the basket.

    But that was then, this is now. After reading Dwaine's comments I whistled on over to CUFCA's Web site to see if there had been any significant changes to the presentation since back in the day. I saw a news release about a CUFCA certified product and contractor getting promotional exposure on an HGTV show, Real Renos. I set the DVR to record several episodes and what did I eventually see but a CUFCA installer's bare-armed assistant assisting without a single item of personal safety equipment, at times his head just a foot away from freshly applied foam. For gosh sakes, if CUFCA's training regimen cannot even instill the most fundamental element of workaday knowledge – that of self-preservation - in its trainees, then what possible reason is there for we the readers to blindly accept that CUFCA associates have matriculated as aces in their field? (Remember, Dwaine's position is that off-gassing issues are installation issues.) What possible reason is there to think that it would even occur to them to warn their customers about occupancy times? (We certainly weren't warned.)

    Pony up the proof. We the readers need to see some statistics. How many end-user complaints have been received by CUFCA and out of those how many were acted upon, and in what manner? Were the complaints fully resolved to the end-users' satisfaction? The same challenge goes out to Icynene Inc. Give us some way of differentiating what is marketing and sales and business training (which has nothing to do with installation and therefore of no benefit to the consumer) from the technical and practical instruction.

  79. Joe Lanc | | #79

    If you are Planning to build new, all of the above problems can be solved by building with Concrete Plastic Units. (CPU). The CPU Building System. The CPU's are a Stay in Place, Sectional Clear Rigid PVC- U (un plastized) Wall Forms For Concrete. Because the forms are sectional you can build an 8 7/8" thick concrete wall that consists of 4" of High strength fiber reinforced concrete and 4" of High Insulating Cellular Foamed Concrete poured into the forms at the same time. All the interior wall forms are 4 1/2" thick filled with the same High insulating Foamed Concrete. All utilities are inastall inside the Clear PVC-U forms prior to filling with concrete. The roof system is also Poured Concrete over 12" of rigid Expanded Polystyrene (ESP). The entire house is a solid monolithic concrete Structure that can be completed in only two monolithic concrete pours that is totally encapsulated in !/8" of clear PVC-U. The structure is totally Water Proof. There is no drywall and the PVC-U can be Coated with a bonding agent and a polymer based cement stucco can be applied in any texture or Color. The completed structure will protect against all hazards both man made and natural.

  80. Anonymous | | #80

    Only use Spray foam insulation in a cavity wall between the sheathing and the clading. Therefor any outgassing will vent to the outside.

    Do not install on the inside of the sheating. ! If you install on the inside of the sheathing, the toxic outassing will difuse and mix with your indoor air. Don't be fooled by claims that the stuff is inert and does not outgss. It's not true.

    I speak from experience.

  81. Dwaine | | #81

    Sorry Cit_J to hear of your problems but again it points back to a crooked contractor taking advantage of the consumer and the homeowner not researching things properly. I find it funny how people automatically blame other people or organizations for problems that they don't fully understand. I notice how you never mentioned how I stated that the industry was being regulated poorly and that an organization like CUFCA had to be formed by a group of VOLUNTEER contractors that want to do things right and the safe way. They are TRYING to build a system that the government hasn't to try and hold some accountability to these guys out there that are going to ruin the industry. Instead you blame an organization because you didn't perform your responsibilities and research properly. I'm sorry but I have to be blunt too. You say you hired a CUFCA contractor but you don't take the time to research his products? You very easily could of been made aware that Icynene is not supported by CUFCA. Sounds like you were more interested in getting the lowest price. And, as far as the Sealection not being supported by CUFCA, you are wrong.
    That being said to anyone else who is trying to use this site for a legitimate purposes, I apoligize for sounding caddy, but I'm only on this site because I'm interested in the topic. It bugs you when you try and write something on here to help give somebody some guidance and you get these hecklers who only want to argue. Someone else on here keeps trying to put me down but I come to find out they build sod houses. How I am supposed to be as environmentally friendly as that I have no idea.
    All I can do is give people advice on the best system that I know about. It is still up to any homeowner who is looking at having renovations of any kind to fully investigate the products and the contractor that they have contacted. Get everything in writing and have them write in that contract exactly what materials they are using. That way if something does go wrong than that is your protection in court. I'm just here as a contractor who sees first hand how CUFCA does try to help people and guide this industry the best they can with the support they get. If I can be of assistance to anyone who truly does have a question I can help with please ask, and to all others who think I'm just trying to pull the wool over peoples eyes, all the best !

  82. Riversong | | #82

    Dwaine,

    The only thing you're accomplishing here is destroying what little is left of your credibility. It's clear that CIT_J did his homework, understood the product, negotiated a clear contract, and made the mistake of accepting the credibility of the CUFCA certification.

    The problem in the foam industry is not simply the hacks or poor installation, it's also the inherent liabilities of the product and the inescapable reality of having to perform a delicate chemical reaction in an uncontrolled setting.

    I find it funny how people automatically blame other people or organizations

    It's not funny at all that you insist on blaming the victim rather than acknowledging the culpability of the negligence and inadequacy of CUFCA as a trade organization.

    I'm only on this site because I'm interested in the topic.

    If you were merely "interested" in the topic you would take the opportunity to learn from the experience and insights of others. No, you're here to preach the gospel of Demilec and CUFCA and engage in a Crusade against all infidels.

  83. John Brooks | | #83

    Hello Dan Fette,
    See what you started ;-)
    Dan,
    Since you started this thread....
    Have you decided what to do with your project?
    JB

  84. Allan Edwards | | #84

    In talking to a few other builders here, a handful of people who have spray foam, and 4-5 of my own homeowners who have Icynene, I’ve gotten no reports of off-gassing or air quality issues with Icynene. Everyone claims their monthly utility bills are low(er). These are all new homes, not retrofits. This is only anecdotal, but this along with my own research is enough to convince me to continue using it.

  85. Dan Fette | | #85

    Hi John
    We just set forms on the project I queried about. We've decided to use R-49 cellulose with a ventilated attic. We'll enclose our ductwork either in the upstairs floor joists or dedicated chases as you've seen me do before to bring the ducts into AC space.

    Incidentally, I shared this thread with another customer and after weighing all the pros and cons they've decided to stay with SPF and a conditioned attic.

    Thanks to all who've contributed.

  86. Dwaine | | #86

    OK Robert, I have a question for you.
    If you have an organization such as Department of Transportation which is in charge of training people to drive. Such organization trains an individual to the best of their ability. They explain to the individual how once they are trained and on their own, they are responsible to follow the training they are taught and to follow all safety rules that are applicable. The individual agrees to this understanding and signs their name that they will follow the rules/training they have received.
    Lets say sometime later this such individual gets caught for drinking and driving, speeding etc...
    In your opinion, would you hold the Department of Transportation at fault and claim they are hucksters???
    Dwaine

  87. Riversong | | #87

    Dwaine,

    I have a question for you: why do you persist in digging your own grave?

    The DOT (or Dept of Public Safety) issues license (permission) to drive at one's own risk and responsibility, not certification of driving ability.

    CUFCA, which admits that it's primarily a product advocacy organization, certifies products and installers, with a "Quality Assurance Program" that will "Provide customer satisfaction" and "Ensure professionalism".

    There is an obvious difference between a building professional and a proselytizing true believe such as yourself. This is a forum for professionals, not hucksters and shysters. Go away.

  88. Dwaine | | #88

    Lol...whatever Robert.....and just what is the driving test for that must be scored? Sounds like a certification to me! Thats it, skirt around the question instead of admitting you there is more than one way to look at things.
    Listen never mind, you're waisting peoples time with your negativity. You obviously are the type of personality that gets enjoyment out of "fighting the system" and promoting negativity instead of trying to offer any helpful advice.. No one wants to hear the two of us or you doing this childish bickering back and forth. After this email I'm going to be the bigger man and stop playing your little game and waisting peoples time that have to read through all this nonsense. Anyone can look back and see that besides comment #17 where you show some different websites every other message you posted was negative and putting down other peoples comments.
    Awesome job man! Have a good life! Fight the power!

  89. Riversong | | #89

    Dwaine,

    If you had spent any time on this forum beyond lurking on this one thread pushing your agenda, you would know that nobody has contributed more constructive information and advice than myself, and nobody has a more thorough knowledge of building science, hygro-thermal engineering, sustainable building and healthy house issues, gleaned from 30 years of designing, building, consulting, research and teaching.

    And you would know that my mission here is twofold: to share knowledge and expertise and to expose ignorance and bullsh**. I don't play games, and I don't suffer fools gladly (including those who put one foot after another in their mouths without even realizing it).

  90. CIT_J | | #90

    From the Manufacturers and Suppliers page of the CUFCA Web site, sub-heading Approved and Licensed Manufacturers: "Demilec [...] APPROVED PRODUCTS: HEATLOK SOYA, AIRMETIC SOYA, POLARFOAM 7300 SOYA" [upper case theirs]. All three are Type 2 medium density foams. Following up on a comment made by Dwaine above, I went around to the side door to have a look at the current CCMC Evaluation Report for Sealection 500 (12697-R). Under sub-heading 4, Usage and Limitations, it is stated that the insulation shall be manufactured on-site by "(CUFCA)-trained installers specified by Demilec Inc. with subsequent field auditing of installers by CUFCA." I shall tentatively interpret this to mean that the light density Sealection 500 is now CUFCA approved. I will not fully commit until such time as CUFCA commits and updates the Web page.

    Rhetorically, for Dwaine: why the need for me to acknowledge your comment on regulation when I myself would like to see the industry put under the heaviest of regulation? I don't want commercial interests calling the shots or exerting undue influence on matters of policy relating to training, and health and safety for the workers AND their customers. I want the tablets ... thou shalt teach this and this; thou shalt do this and this; thou shalt inform of this and this. Spin it however you want but both CUFCA and Icynene trained our contractor and both certified him competent by licensing him. There is a question of whether or not the voids in the foam on the knee walls were the result of an intentional fluffing of the foam, but beyond that he clearly demonstrated that the full load of required knowledge just wasn't there. As I said during a telephone conversation with one of Icynene's representatives, THE question for me was how did this Dealer ever manage to get his hands on a foam gun in the first place.

    I did indeed do my homework prior to hiring the contractor, a small part of which included verifying his claim of CUFCA membership and reading through the training and quality assurance material posted on the CUFCA Web site. Also confirmed was the contractor's claim of membership in the local Homebuilders Association and I paid particular attention to the membership application form which contained an ethics clause. The guy wrote the url for his Web site on the Icynene folder and there I read things like, "guaranteed satisfaction". (I still have in my possession digital and hard copy of all of that stuff.) Icynene's foam was more expensive than Sealection 500 (which was far more expensive than fibreglass) and the two products are of comparable quality so I fail to see the logic that led to the conclusion that we were cheaping-out. Speaking of homework, have you ever actually read Demilec's warranty statements?

    Since drunk drivers and speeders have come up; this whole deterrent thing that CUFCA has supposedly got going on, that it might penalise an errant contractor, well, pickpockets used to work the crowds at public hangings back in the days when theft was a hanging offense.

    I've got a screen cap from the Real Renos show open in another window as I type; it's of the young assistant in profile as he passes behind the working sprayer. There is this look on his face, and he's breathing through his mouth, and I find myself wondering if it's a sign that his career in the spray-foam industry is coming to a premature and permanent and unwitting end.

  91. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #91

    I just spent hours with an Icynene dealer this weekend. We played with foam samples from 1/2 pound, to 1.2 pound to 2 pound closed cell. We talked about how a foam can be applied wrong and how to apply it right. We talked about temperatures, and ratios and equipment used to spray. We talked about crew and crew leaders and companies and warranties. Very enlightening. I am not a journalist but may do my best to write up a summary of questions and answers that followed.

    A this point I can say that I have faith in my installer, his newest equipment, both of his water blown products and his top spray man. I know what is a correct spray job and what is not. And if we do more spray foam work together they are the only ones I would let on the job after reading all the horror storied posted in this thread.

    I still am a bit concerned with spraying foam in other than new construction. In new construction there is time before occupancy to make sure the foam is error free and safe for living within.

    This company has done hundreds of projects and I was told they have never had to remove foam do to sensitivity. They are having to remove some for a paint VOC issue.

    Their vapor barrier paint and there fire barrier paints do not contain some of the listed most questionable fire retardents that are being banned by 2012.

    A note about the closed cell foam we looked at, broke and took a smell of: nasty smell emitted when you break a piece. Try it. For me, it is my least favorite foam to have anywhere near to inside air that I will be breathing and living in.

  92. eve bardo | | #92

    Extremely interesting discussion, i'm trying to figure out what to do in my crawlspace. I live in a cold cold place in the wintertime. I feel the product we choose really will need to differ whether we talk about houses in Florida or in Canada where heat and humidity conditions are radically different, and whether we talk about attics or basements OR crawlspaces and whether we do all 4 walls or just two as when you live in a townhouse. When i mentionned cellulose to my contractor (and he's not the one doing the insulation job, he gave me 5 references) he actually laughed at me and said cellulose was for attics, not crawlspaces and can definitely not be used in crawlspace (is that true?). There are probably other materials (natural, or the environmentally friendly) that would not be fit for my specific crawlspace with it's humidity level, the fact that i have an opening at each end and the possibility to ventilate, etc.
    I happen to think after reading al this that the installer is nearly more important to investigate than the product intself, and we really have to check all the details with him as previous commentator #42 mentionned. Do our homework in checking their credentials and certification and make sure before signing the contract that all grounds have been covered and specified possibly in the contract in case of a possible problem. m still not sure though about what product to use... so much reading and checking to do...
    .

  93. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #93

    Eve,
    Cellulose insulation should not be installed in a crawl space.

    Insulate your crawl space walls with rigid foam (XPS, EPS, or polyisocyanurate) or closed-cell spray polyurethane foam.

  94. eve bardo | | #94

    My yesterday comment disapeared, i don't see why??

  95. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #95

    Eve,
    I'm not sure what you mean. I see your comment from yesterday -- the one beginning, "Extremely interesting discussion, i'm trying to figure out what to do in my crawlspace."

  96. eve bardo | | #96

    Thx Martin.
    I got your answer and finally see the end of the tread. But what should i do with all the opinions ruling rigid or spray foam out and saying how toxic it can be?

  97. eve bardo | | #97

    Oh, and another doubt : how reliable or trusthworthty is the Greenguard certification?

  98. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #98

    Eve,
    We're all adults. We all have to make our own decisions based on the evidence.

    I wouldn't hesitate to use rigid foam to insulate my crawl space walls.

  99. Theresa | | #99

    OK - I learned a few things here - thanks everyone. I have MCS, too. My husband and I have not been able to find a suitable house to purchase. We are considering building our own, but overwhelmed and concerned that we may do it "wrong" and inadvertently contribute to the MCS problems. I do my homework, but it's impossible to be an expert on everything, especially given the conflicting (and maybe outright misleading or negligent) information available. Two questions:
    1. someone mentioned that there are specific home specs for the chemically sensitive - where do I find these?
    2. where to find a "building materials consultant" who is qualified to help those with MCS?

    many thanks,
    Theresa

  100. J Chesnut | | #100

    Theresa,
    Here is the website for Oram Miller a 'Building BIologist' (from the German practice of Bau-Biologie).
    http://www.createhealthyhomes.com/
    In Minneapolis he used to lead an interest group for people with chemical and electro-magnetic sensitivities but he has since moved to Los Angeles. If there is a spec for building for people with MCS I think he would know about it.

  101. Jacqueline Colson | | #101

    Hello Theresa,

    As you may have guessed, there is no one "spec" for all MCS people, since we may each require different trade-offs in our living environments. I agree with you, it is tiring to try and be an expert in building, but it is risky to turn over the responsibility for choosing materials to others. I've just put a much needed and very small (16' x 24') oasis project on hold for that reason--I need more time to investigate and get it right before pouring concrete, and now it is getting to be winter where I live.

    Here are some resources that may help: http://www.eiwellspring.org

    http://www.aehf.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=30_83&products_id=801

    http://www.amazon.com/Prescriptions-Healthy-House-Paula-Baker-Laporte/dp/0865714347 (contains excellent sample specs)

    http://www.amazon.com/Healthy-House-build-cure-revised/dp/0963715690/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1285962334&sr=1-2

    Best wishes,
    J Colson

  102. Brett E | | #102

    This entire post has been very helpful. I live in a early century home with no wall insulation, and was looking at DYI slow rise foam insulation such as Tiger Foam. Ive always questioned vendors claims which seem to be focused on VOC's and the lack of them. But there are other bad things out there besides VOC's. I just wanted to say thanks to all the contributors.

  103. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #103

    Brett.... you just posted nothing of value unless you could help me out. Exposure to some chemicals for some people ends up being very life altering. VOCs are becoming very regulated for good reason. What is your opinion as to VOCs and Tiger foam? You didn't state your conclusions upon reading this whole post. Go out on a limb and tell us what you really think. Am interested.
    Aj

  104. Riversong | | #104

    you just posted nothing of value

    That's pretty funny, coming from you AJ.

    Brett: This entire post has been very helpful... I just wanted to say thanks to all the contributors.

    Offering gratitude for all of those who DO actually contribute something of value here is a wonderful thing. Why would you slam him for that?

  105. SS | | #105

    I had my bedroom sprayed and it still smells so bad we have to use a fan to ventilate it to keep the gases from going into the rest of the house. After 3 months we are going to try and remove it and get on with the project. I wish I had known about this site before as when I had read up on the spray foam before all I found was how great it was. Does anyone know the easiest way to try and remove the foam from walls, ceilings and crevices?

  106. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #106

    Robert I'm starting to think you like me. Yaa didn't snip enough of my post lover boy. "Unless you could help me out..."

    My post is of interest as to what Brett might have concluded as he left that out of a gracious post. I too have enjoyed this entire thread. My added thought for those that have bad foam is it seems you should be going back to installer for compensation, removal and or whatever remedy is needed.

    Brett, I think you are one great guy and amazing poster... words above came out poorly apparently. Apologies to all that ever pass this way especially to his holiness...

  107. Riversong | | #107

    SS,

    There is no simple way. I would suggest demanding that the installer do the removal at no charge in return for your not suing him in court.

  108. Riversong | | #108

    Apologies to all that ever pass this way especially to his holiness...

    AJ,

    I'm not the one who uses GOD as an alias.

    I'm just a competent and knowledgeable designer/builder and teacher who demands honesty, integrity and factual reliability from people who claim to offer advice to others.

    You have consistently violated those minimum standards more often than anyone else on this forum, so it is important for unsuspecting participants to know not to take you seriously on any substantive matter.

  109. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #109

    AJ and Robert,
    A gentle reminder: this forum is for discussion of building science and green construction issues. Please do not post any personal attacks aimed at other participants.

  110. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #110

    Raining in Vermont too it seems... the rivers at floodstage?

    Martin, did Yaa notice that I posted to Brett about the discussion?

    So, back on topic, I have used Icynene successfully in new construction, but am very leary of the use of spray foam in an occupied home.

  111. eve bardo | | #111

    This forum has been great for me, too bad some personal issues seem to spring up from time to time.
    I just feel like giving a follow-up about my decision and the results. I finally did choose Demilec Heatlok Soy Spray Foam for my crawlspace and i'm DELIGHTED. First checked with a square foot of the stuff in my office to see if i had any allergic reaction to it. Part of my decision dealt with the fact that i only needed it on two walls of the building, not four. I made sure with the guy who came to spray he had his card and reiterated i wanted a nice even spray everywhere (2 inches thick), He came in a 7AM, it took him an hour and a half to do the job, I stayed outside. Once he had finished, I wanted to check the job, the house itself hardly smelled at all, the crawspace a little more so, but i had i made sure though that i had great ventilation all throughout. As i left the house 1/2 hour later, coulnd't smell anything any more, so the smell itself lingered for only 1/2 hour. The job seems to be very well done: my crawlspace looks terrific. And i already feel a difference on the floor, no heating in the basement and it stays warm.
    Of course i don't know 5 or 25 years from now, but all in all, i feel for me, that is for my specific situation with just a crawlspace to do, Demilec was the right choice. And i really feel delighted with it.
    Maybe it's a question of luck after all, like many things in life.

  112. SS | | #112

    I can't sue him as he is a family friend. My husband is trying to remove it but I think it will kill him first.
    How dangerous is is for him. I got him eye googles and a mask for sanding....

  113. Anonymous | | #113

    SS
    I think it is highly dangerous to try to do this yourself. I believe it needs to be done by a skilled environmental remediation firm, such as one that does asbestos and lead remediation. I am trying to find some one who has experience in doing just that as well as cleaning vapors, over spray from the balance of a residence which wasn"t properly protected when the SPF was installed. We are trying to find out what the right solvent/ cleaning agent may be. Any advice from the other posters would be appreciated. Thanks.

  114. Dave | | #114

    In addition to offering thanks to the many thoughtful contributors to this forum, I would like to return to the question posed by Kurt on July 7, 2010. I live in coastal South Carolina and so am more worried about the effects of hot, humid air penetration into my dwelling and attendant mold growth than about the extreme cold faced by those living to the north. These concerns were stoked by Joe Lstiburek but his arguments against permitting moisture penetration into the structure make sense to me. It also makes sense to me to use as little advanced chemistry in my dwelling as necessary to attain an acceptable level of comfort. Thus, Mr. Riversong's comments regarding the use of cellulose are appreciated and I am investigating the potential for its use in my climate.
    I am wondering if it would make sense to consider using cellulose in wall bays (4" studs) and the attic and polyisocyanurate panels on the outside of the wall sheathing and under the roofing material for a vapor barrier and added insulation. This would seem to provide a means for minimizing the use of off-gassing products near the living area AND decreasing the likelihood of mold growth in my walls and attic. I realize the use of foam boards isn't green in the minds of many but neither is the use of more A.C. than is absolutely necessary to condition a house given our current means of generating electricity.
    Any thoughts on my specific building ideas or on building green in a hot, humid climate would be appreciated.

  115. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #115

    Dave,
    Lots of people are building the way you propose -- with rigid exterior foam sheathing and cellulose between the studs. As long as you allow your walls to try to the interior (that means no interior polyethylene), you'll be fine.

  116. vicki faust | | #116

    we built our house in 1999 in Austin TX - the house is partially cmu block, iron framing, steel studs, galvalume siding and sheetrock walls - where it is not block. The builder use a spray in insulation on the block but also in the sheetrock. At the time we were told it was 'brilliant'. The hung the sheetrock first - drilled holes along the bottom and filled it up! The next day I remember being freaked out because the sheetrock was totally soaked. Told not to 'overreact' that it would dry we calmed down and it did indeed dry. I do not remember if there was any offgassing at the time. Over the years we have had and especially our daughter - now 13 - has had various health problems and we always joked that the house was making us sick but now are beginning to take it seriously. We recently did some remodeling and cut into the walls to find that the foam had desinegrated into a fine powder and the odor from it chokes. one carpenter refused to come back because he said it made him too sick to work. Our daughter just tested positive for mold toxicity - water has been coming in at the windows in her room - while there is little visible damage - perhaps the steel has concealed or mitigated much of it - we are now trying to piece this puzzle together . A contractor experienced in mold rediation is opening up the walls tomorrow and we are determined to get to the bottom of this - has anyone ever had experience with the spray in insulation getting wet? the application in sheetrock? what that may hve created? Is thee anyone near us who can examine or test for toxicity? any help is greatly appreciated. We are potentially moving out but it will be expensive to say the least so I want to make sure we are not overreacting. Ie the house is a million dollar house - or at least was....... thanks you all in advance - this site at least gives me hope that we can find some information finally.

  117. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #117

    Vicki,
    It's hard to offer advice until you tell us more. "Spray-in insulation" is a method of installation, not a type of insulation. Do you know what it is?

    Cellulose? Closed-cell spray polyurethane foam? Open-cell spray polyurethane foam? Something else?

  118. David | | #118

    I was directly sprayed from my waist up with DEMILEC Sealection 500.
    I received skin burns to my arms, face and head, as soon as it hit me. A few days later my nose, tongue, and throat started to hurt and now I can’t taste anything. A week later I started to get very sick to my stomach. This is week 3 and I’m not getting any better. If you know of any info that could help me please send my way. I don’t see how this is a green product or organic like it is advertised. I don’t work with this product I was on a jobsite and a company sprayed me. No help from Demilec.

  119. Anonymous | | #119

    There are foam insulations that work very extremely well but Foam It Green is NOT one of them especially for a DIYer, and I would not recommend their product. After purchasing several canisters and having a 3rd arrive at a cost of close to $1000.00 for all 3, we had a faulty canister that would not spray as promised while on a job site. I spoke with their office while in the middle of an application and they INSISTED we stop the job, close the site so that I could take photos to "prove" the product wasn't working. As everyone knows, you cannot stop workers, run home, grab a camera, drive BACK home, download photos, upload them to foam it Green and then wait for their little judges to decide if it was their fault or mine. They have refused to work with me on this or even SPLIT the difference in the cost of the product. Instead their answer is to force me to buy ANOTHER canister and they'll give me 30% off the price. I said thanks, but no thanks. I'm not a moron. If they don't stand behind their product and instead insist on treating customers with suspicion or criminals wanting to take from them - NO ONE should buy their product. It lacks reliability, their company lacks professional integrity I’ve received from others I do business with, and when a faulty canister arrives, you're stuck with it along with a high price tag!

  120. Riversong | | #120

    Thank you for sharing your experience, but unless you're willing to put your name to your words, they cannot be taken seriously. You could be an employee of a competing foam company for all we know.

  121. Amy | | #121

    I am a home owner in the process of rebuilding my house near San Jose, CA. My priorities are IAQ, performance, cost. After reading this thread, it seems Cellulose is a good overall option.

    We live in Northern California that requires more heating than cooling. The winter rarely go below freezing and never snows with high in 50s and low in 40s. In the summer, around 10 days a year over 90 degree. I hope to build the house tight enough that we will not need AC and require minimum heating.

    A few questions -
    1. Best brand? Any real difference among different brands?
    I am ok with borate for pest/moister control but I am unsure about ammonium sulfate. We will have fire sprinklers, so fire is somewhat less a concern.
    2. What should I look for during installation to minimize settling and reduce fire hazard?
    3. I need insulation for
    (A) Walls - Should I use wet spray cellulose for all the walls? Does the process add chemical agent that may off gas after a couple of months? If you need to fix plumbing in the wall, do you have to take out the insulation and spray it again after the plumbing problem is fixed?
    (B) Crawl space under the wood floor - what type of cellulose would work under floor? Would sealing the crawl space with plastic cause the warm moisture to be trapped in the crawl space and cause mold issue later.
    (C) Sloped 14-20' high cathedral ceiling (composite roof) - Should I use stabilized cellulose?
    (D) Small Flat roof attic - I was considering durafoam. After reading about the field installation issue that I am giving up on foam. What do you recommend for flat roof (slope 1/4" per foot)? BTW, any experience with IB single ply (recommended by a contractor) - would it work well with cellulose?
    (E) Space between the flat ceiling and sloped roof (6/12) - I am debating to put air duct in this area or crawl space. Should I use loose fill? What happens if I need to fix ducts/pipes leak? Do I need additional insulation around the ducts/pipes?
    (F) Rough cost per square foot? I read about wool but it sounds more expensive, so I did not look into it. If the cost delta is minimum, I may concern it. The house is 3,000 sf.

    THANK YOU for your guidance in advance. It is quite a journey trying to learn about green building in a budget without using the expensive green architect and builder.

  122. Riversong | | #122

    Amy,

    Densepack cellulose in walls and other closed spaces and loose fill in open attics is perhaps the best and healthiest insulation on the market, but it should contain only borates (as fire retardant, insecticide, rodent inhibitor and fungicide). Some less expensive brands use ammonium sulfate which can produce ammonia smells and corrode metal if wet.

    Dry installed cellulose is always preferable to damp spray, and ammonium sulfate-containing cellulose should never be installed wet. Cellulose can be dense-packed behind drywall or through netting (insulweb) stapled to open framing before drywall.

    Of course, a reliable installer is necessary for a quality job. If they test their installation with an infrared camera to find unfilled areas, you will get your money's worth.

    I use National Fiber cellulose because it contains only borates and uses over-production newsprint before inking (so there are no formaldehyde residues) and only pre-consumer recycled material to avoid contamination.

    Cellulose can tolerate moisture as long as it doesn't become saturated. It can absorb and release up to 30% of its weight in water. If it gets soaked, it must be removed and replaced. But, in normal use, it helps buffer indoor humidity and can protect wood framing from mold and rot.

  123. Amy | | #123

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you very much for your guidance. A few more questions/clarification:

    1. "Densepack cellulose in walls and other closed spaces" - I assume you mean wall cavity, space between 1st story and 2nd story, and cathedral ceiling?

    2. How about between floor and crawl space? I think it's open and I don't know how the insulation will be held in the space?

    3. Why does dry install better than damp spray?

    I looked at National Fiber but it does not have installer in CA. I will look around for natural products without ammonium sulfate in CA.

    Thanks again!

  124. Jill Iwaskow | | #124

    Just to add to the numbers...I have MCS and personally know others with MCS who now can't tolerate their homes because they used Icynene. We're building now and struggling with which insulation to use...they all have downsides for people with MCS (even the cotton). The hardest choice I'm having is whether to use window/door /penetration spray foam. Many MCS consultants say not to go near it, and I've personally found that even when cured I still react months later (likely to flame retardant chemicals). BUT our contractor left 1/2 inch to 7/8 inch gaps all around our windows and we have to find a decent way to seal it in. Are there any window/door spray foams that do not have flame retardants? What else can be used for all penetrations/gaps in house? This is an important issue for anyone.

  125. Riversong | | #125

    Jill,

    I don't think the canned foams have fire retardant in them. It's more likely the petrochemicals themselves which are the irritant.

    There are some latex expanding foams on the market now, such as DAPtex and Touch N Foam Easy Fill, which may be less problematic.

    Another option, if you can tolerate EPDM synthetic rubber, are the "pacman" gap gaskets available from Energy Conservation http://www.conservationtechnology.com/building_gaskets.html (scroll down to the BG series).

  126. User avater
    Michael Chandler | | #126

    For gaps between window and door frames and the rough opening frame you can also use narrow strips of sill seal folded in two and then caulked in place. It's very economical and you can drive utility knife blades into the end of a plank and pull the lengths you need through to make 2" wide ribbons to stuff in spots as "backer rod" for caulk. We've used the Bostik low VOC caulk and its pretty good stuff.

    M

  127. Jesse Thompson | | #127

    Jill,

    Tape can be very helpful for these areas to get a solid interior air seal without the toxicity of spray foams. It's fairly standard European practice. The SIGA tapes Martin wrote about earlier use water based adhesives and have a vapor open version. They're quite impressive tapes, perhaps they would be non-toxic enough for you to use.

    SIGA US: http://www.smallplanetworkshop.com/applications/

    Martin's writing:
    https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/air-sealing-tapes-and-gaskets
    https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/one-air-barrier-or-two

  128. eve bardo | | #128

    Hi Just a wrapping up comment about my previous inputs: it's minus 10 degrees centigrades outside, my house temperature was left at 16 when i left this morning and i ust checked my crawlspace temperature:out of curiosity, the heating boards are off and it's 14 degrees C. down there, with no heating. So i feel my Demilec was a great decision for my particular circumstances. I think the installer has to be chosen very carefully. Thx to everyone for the discussion and great info. I actually give special thx to Dwaine who highly contributed to my decision making.

  129. ROY HARMON | | #129

    .....

  130. ROY HARMON | | #130

    Dense pack cellulose is the way to go.

  131. Matthew Amann | | #131

    Once again, I am glad Riversong is alive and part of the discussion. I tend to agree with him, and believe we have to consider ALL factors involved, not just the energy saved. I don't see how our solutions for the problems we face are going to come from petroleum laden products, with huge embodied energy, that contribute to global warming heavily, and do not biodegrade. Cellulose is definitely the way to go.......IMO

  132. K S | | #132

    We are 30 days post Sealection 500 OC SPFinstall and the chemical, fishy, ammonia smell is still in the house. When all windows are open, the smell lessens, but it continues to build up on warm, humid days. Symptoms include scratchy throat, watery/burning eyes, tight chest during and after site visits.
    All construction is stopped. Any words of wisdom? Anyone ever remove all their SPF?

  133. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #133

    KS,
    You need to negotiate with your spray-foam supplier. The short answer is yes -- reps in the industry admit that they have, on occasion, found it necessary to remove all of the spray foam installed on a job because of the smell.

    Good luck negotiating with your rep to see who will pay for the very high cost of foam removal.

  134. Terence Britton | | #134

    My attic was foamed 3 months ago. The space has been continually ventilated with a large exhaust fan. A Strong smell and an irritant causing burning throat and eyes and a tight chest remain. I would like to know what is causing the irritation for an insurance claim. The product is SOY THERM and was clearly not installed properly.
    Any thoughts,
    Thanks,
    Terry

  135. John Martin | | #135

    I had Demilec Sealection 500 (two part open cell urethane) installed into my home this past November. It has been an absolute nightmare. Same issues as other posters. Constant odor and associated resperatory distress. Unlike other homeowners, I ventilated the space from day one (for four months now), and it has not helped one bit. I have spoken with the EPA and I am in the process of undergoing independant air testing. From my discussions with EPA it has become apparent that removal of the foam can create its own set of new problems as airborn particulates created when the foam is disturbed can present additional problems. I Am a lawyer, though I do not specialize in tort actions or product liability. I am however looking to connect with other homeowners who have had a similar problem. I have little doubt that in the end I am going to have to tear out the shingles, roof decking, and rafters to resolve this nightmare. God only knows what the long term effects of this exposure will be. I would like to coordinate a discussion group and share experiences, health problems, and test results.

    This is not meant to be an attack on the industry. I am not trying to engage those of you who have had good results from properly installed foam. My concern is finding a way to help myself and those others who have experienced the nighmare of issues relating to an improperly installed product.

    Pease contact me at Foamproblem@gmail.com only if you are experiencing similar problems.

    Upstate NY

  136. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #136

    W Will,
    I wouldn't hesitate to use one-component spray foam to seal the gap between window frames and the window rough opening. I've never heard of lingering odor problems with one-component foam.

    Don't overfill the gap or you can cause the window frames to bow inward, making the sash bind in the frame.

  137. Robert Hehlen | | #137

    First time on this website and this discussion have been very insightful and a bit worrisome. I'm currently framing our new home, and so this information if very timely. For those who have had problems with spray foam insulation, my heart goes out to you. I was planning on spraying foam on the underside of the rafters to create a conditioned attic space. Is there another product on the market that will adhere to the roof sheathing/rafters other than foam to still allow this without needing to apply sheetrock to keep it in place?

  138. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #138

    Robert,
    The question isn't so much about choosing an insulation that "adheres" or whether you need drywall. Your main decision points revolve around whether or not to include ventilation channels between the insulation and the sheathing, whether to use air-impermeable insulation or air-permeable insulation, and whether to include rigid foam above the sheathing.

    If you don't like spray foam, you can:

    1. Create a ventilated roof assembly with dense-packed cellulose (or some other type of air-permeable insulation) below the ventilation chutes.

    2. Install a certain amount of rigid foam above the roof sheathing, and anything you want below.

    3. Install individual pieces of rigid foam, carefully air-sealed with caulk or canned foam, between each pair of rafters -- although this is fussy work that no professional would ever do.

    For more information, see Creating a Conditioned Attic.

  139. W Will | | #139

    A

    [Evidently W. Will decided to edit his question so severely that everything was deleted but a single letter - Editor.]

  140. Peter Kidney | | #140

    Dan,

    I believe that your question has been answered by a few other posts, but I would like to add my 2 cents for the other readers. I am a certified spf installer with 3 manufacturers.
    1. Always have a professional (building engineer / architect) design or at least review your wall assembly. Material compatability, building code, and location of the dew point being 3 reasons among many.
    2. Never put any insulation over a wet substrait.
    3. Never install spray foam insulation yourself (for trained professionals only).
    4. Always read and understand the material data sheets for any material you put in your home.
    5. Always get and check refferences. There are many spf installers out there like myself that have thousands of people living and working without issue, in buildings insulated with spray foam.

  141. John Joyce | | #141

    I can offer my personal experience as a home owner whom has done a DIY spray foam project. We moved into our 3500 sf home last fall only to find the heating expense thru the winter driving us to the poor house. Our home is of non-symmetrical design with much of the roofline a gambrel style. While this roof style allows us to maximize the usable interior space, it also has knee walls that are not accessible from the main attic space. When doing some remodeling in one of the bedrooms we had to remove some of the sheetrock, exposing one of the areas behind a knee wall. We discovered that animals had gotten into the roof end vent and setup a home in all of these areas. They had removed the R-19 batt and stuffed it down in the soffit vent, restricting air flow to the main attic.

    Fortunately, we were in the process of re-roofing the house and found a roofing contractor whom agreed to pull up the sheathing in various areas so that we could access all the knee wall areas to inspect and insulating using closed cell spray foam or batt or combination of the two. In selecting how to do the spray foam, we had quotes from several professional contractors, but none could accommodate the multi-day “inspect then treat” process I decided to use DIY kits from "Foam It Green" company based out of the Chicago area. I was somewhat skeptical, as I have used a spray foam kit, however have done many DIY construction project. In the end, my "go for it" attitude beat out my wife's anxiety due to reading all the safety risk posts and I purchased 3 of the 600 board foot kits. I am so glad that I made this decision as the product exceed my expectations in every way. The customer service was first class, as they initially forgot to ship a Tyvak suit, but quickly corrected the problem by shipping a replacement via next day delivery. This kit uses a 2 part system where one chemical is yellow and the other is blue, so while spraying you can quickly see if one of the kits is running low, the color will change. I also noticed that after using 3 of these kits, the more hazardous chemical always ran out first, so this minimized any safety risks, The 600 bf kits contained all the safety stuff (less a good mask that I ordered separately) and each of the kits contained more spray foam than expected. I believe that the key to installing properly is to make sure you done spray thicker than what cures to 1-2 inches at a time. Most of the areas I would do an initial coat and then ~5 minutes later would do a second coat. This allowed me to do an R21-R40 on these vertical knee walls that was sealed air tight.

    The initial off gassing was exothermic and lasted 3-5 minutes. After this initial curing, there was no noticeable gas smell of any kind. I am completely satisfied with this DIY spray foam product and would recommend to any home owner. It was really quite simple to setup and use... much like a power paint sprayer.

  142. Dan D | | #142

    Hello,
    I built a house that I've lived in for 4 years now. I sprayed the exterior walls with closed cell Corbond. I am not sure if this is why, but my health has been on a downward slope(). This year (2011) in the process of finishing the basement I sprayed(hired a respected contractor) the walls with open cell, water blown, Icynene. My health appears to be going downhill a bit faster. Things like muscle exaustion from simply walking or eating, Irregular heart beat, confusion, overall body confustion, dizziness. (btw I have always been in good shape - I am 40). My house has radiant heat and 2 ERV's.

    In my quest to build an energy efficient and healthy house, I feel like an idiot for doing what I did. But, before I jump to conclusions I hope to find some certainty. There has been much talk about what's good and what's not. My question is: Are there tests that can be done to check if/how much off gassing? Is there a test that can be done to test my family and I to see if we are being affected by foam insulation as a potential cause? My wife does not appear to have the same symptoms as I. My kids are too little to tell.

  143. Building Science | | #143

    Anything misapplied is never good. As an example, let's consider building ventilation, exhaust and exhaust fans, as this applies here.

    Negative pressures are never OK, they create IAQ problems, and are dangerous. Exhaust fans without make up air should never be used. 

    Building pressures should be designed as neutral or slightly positive.  Infiltration is always bad, but a slight EXfiltration is OK if the air is filtered & conditioned.

    Using an exhaust fan without makeup air, produces negative pressures.  In a 'standard' built house, using fiberglass, the makeup air ends up coming from infiltration. This infiltrated air carries moisture, mold spores, pollen, and other outdoor contaminants. The fiberglass fibers themselves, also become an indoor contaminant and allergen.  The home now becomes a 'vacuum cleaner', concentrating these pollutants within the home over time.  Further, the fiberglass acts as a filter, and ends up holding some of the moisture and mold spores that have infiltrated through. You've created a 'diaper' in your wall, and you know what diapers hold.  Misapply a vapor barrier without an integral thermal break, and you've also created a pretty nice condensation plane for the infiltrated air.

    In a truly 'tight' home, such as when spray foam is used, different problems arise when only exhausting. You've solved the infiltration problems, and infiltration is NEVER a good thing, but you've created other problems, potentially just as dangerous. As was mentioned with the standard home, an exhaust fan will create a negative pressure....but in this case, where does the makeup air come from?  It has to come from somewhere!  You can't suck air from a bottle!  So either you end up exhausting much less then you think, or the air comes from somewhere, and it does.... chimneys, fireplaces, flues, plumbing fixture drains & vents....yep, an equally hazardous situation. You may also see condensation around defects in the construction you might never have otherwise seen, as again, the air has to come from somewhere.

    In both of these situations, the problem is solved by first- always provide positive combustion air for all fuel burning appliances. This is required by the mechanical code for a reason, obey it. Second, NEVER, exhaust without providing an equal or slightly positive amount of filtered & conditioned make up air. Using dedicated ventilation systems, such as HRV's or ERV's make this simple. 

    For those with chemical sensitivities, or homes that have IAQ problems, these can be mitigated by keeping the building under a slight positive pressure with fresh clean air, maintaining a slight EXfiltration. If your building is leaky (which most are) this won't be cheap on your energy bills, but you will have a healthier home.

  144. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #144

    Dear "Building Science,"
    Thousands of homes successfully use exhaust-only ventilation systems. You are wrong to condemn these systems with your broad-brush generalizations.

    For more information on ventilations systems, see Designing a Good Ventilation System.

  145. Building Science | | #145

    For those with chemical sensitivities, my heart goes out to you. Not only do you suffer physically & emotionally, but also financially... And who do you trust for correct information? It's a challenge indeed.

    For a home, the truth of the matter is, there is nothing perfectly safe or chemical free in our modern age. Therefore, a set of choices have to be made along with due diligence given to understanding how a home operates as a SYSTEM.

    This is important, as just one simple change, can affect how the whole performs. Let's take a quick tour of our buidling history for some perspective. This will help you better understand how we got where we are today, and understand principles in making buildings, our homes, better.

    In the old days, the building envelope was completely open to air movement. It provided shelter from rain & wind. Comfort was derived from huddling around the stove or fireplace or putting on wool socks. Energy was your own, you chopped wood to burn, or paid someone else to do it. Building materials were basically wood, stone, mud, grass & concrete. Foundations and basements were wet, critters came in, and everyone clamored to snuggle in grandmas feather bed. Those were different times, with their own set of quality of life problems.

    Some of those same homes were later converted to 'central heating systems'. Wood or coal fired furnaces, some boilers with gravity hot water radiators. Later the wood & coal became oil, then gas & electricity. Buildings didn't change much yet, just conveniences. Remember some of the old black and white movies where the man would put on his heavy pajamas and night cap before going to sleep? What did he always do before going to bed? He would open the window wide, take a deep breath, and sleep with the window open. It didn't matter that it was the dead of winter. Fuel was cheap and people weren't concerned with efficiency. Somehow, though, they knew that fresh air was good.

    Fast forward, post WWI & WWII, we have the energy crisis, sky rocketing fuel prices, & new government mandated energy codes. Our building practices were shaped, not by science, but by knee jerk reactions of the times. Compound this with modern manufacturing processes and the cavalier attitude toward human safety so prevalent during that era, we began constructing with cheap materials, not fully understanding the unintended consequences. Instead of wood floors and tile, we put in carpet, instead of plaster and paint, we put in wall paper, wall vinyl, and paneling. Instead of open walls, we installed fiberglass batt & plastic. We used particle board and asbestos, plastic and glues. Building was cheap and fast, people started becoming sick, mold, VOCs, formaldehyde, off gassing, carcinogens....

    Old buildings, which have stood the test of time, were retrofitted. Cellulose blown into the walls. Fiberglass rolled into the attics. Windows replaced and doors weather stripped. Good right? Maybe. Maybe not. We're just now beginning to understand the consequences.

    Now today, building codes are finally catching up to building science. We are learning, but old habits die hard. We need to be energy efficient, we need performance buildings...but we also need healthy buildings, safe homes for our families. How do we do it? I'm going to give you some guidelines. This is not exhaustive or in order of importance, but all are good principles to apply.

    ** Understand, that INFILTRATION is the enemy. Yes, you could build like we did 100 years ago, and then infiltration would be OK. But if that is not your desire to live like that, then we have no choice, infiltration is always bad. Besides being a horrible waster of energy, understand that infiltration brings in pollutants, pollen, mold spores, contaminants, moisture, and concentrates these along with any VOCs from building materials. Infiltration in modern buildings is NOT healthy fresh air for human consumption.

    ** Negative building pressures are dangerous. Besides exacerbating infiltration, negative pressures make the home into a vacuum cleaner, further concentrating contaminates. Further, negative pressures will cause air to back feed through areas that can kill us, such as chimneys, flues, fireplaces, and plumbing drains.

    ** Vapor barriers should not be used unless you understand exactly what you are doing and why you are using them. Plastic should never be used, except under a concrete slab. Vapor drive and infiltration are two completely different things, don't confuse the two. A product can air seal, stopping infiltration, yet still allow vapor transmittance (this is actually good). Any vapor barrier used, should be part of an engineered and tested system and be for a specific purpose. Further, a vapor barrier system, should also BE an air impermeable & continuous thermal break as part of its makeup or assembly. Vapor barriers that are not also an air impermeable thermal break become condensation planes (not good).

    ** Do not use Fiberglass for insulation. Fiberglass is listed as a carcinogen. The pink & yellow varieties also contain Urea & formaldehyde in an attempt to keep mice from nesting. (Doesn't work very well, mice love nesting in fiberglass- mice & mouse droppings pose their own health risks). Yes, there are long fiber urea & formaldehyde free varieties now. However, fiberglass does not stop air infiltration, and it's effectiveness as an insulator is greatly diminished if its not installed in a completely dead air space. Further, poorly installed or misapplied fiberglass will actually amplify building deficiencies, since it is an air permeable filter.

    ** Natural insulations that dense pack work well. Cellulose, cotton, denim, wool, etc. all work very well. They each have their caveats, understand the product and make sure the installer does too.

    ** Spray foam is an excellent insulator IF installed correctly. I am not anti spray foam, fiberglass is much more dangerous in my opinion. However, besides open and closed cell varieties, there also a variety of manufacturers, proprietary blends, and blowing methods. Understand that all spray foam is not equal. As an example, a high quality SPF will not require pre-agitation or temperature conditioning. It will be 100% water blown. The amines are kept to a minimum. Smell will quickly and completely dissipate. Cheaper SPFs are blown with HFCs. They might say, "water blown", but they may use "co-blowing" agents and are not 100% water blown. These cheaper SPFs usually require either mixing and exact temperature conditioning, or both. This creates more room for installer error. What does it mean to be water blown? One part has a lot of water in it, the other reacts with water. The reaction causes CO2 and steam, the blowing agent, which is completely safe. The end product is inert. If using foam, insist on seeing a fresh sample at another job site and evaluate the installer. Insist on 100% water blown, no co-blowing agents, no HFCs, and a reputable formula that doesn't require pre-agition & pre-conditioning. The SPF should also have an ESR listing in the International Building Code & independently tested.

    ** Never use an air permeable (like fiberglass) insulation against masonry or steel. You WILL have condensation problems if you do. You are pretty much limited to premanufactured foam board or spray foam here, for the best outcome.

    ** Consider using modern building systems, such as ICF, SIPs, Log systems, AAC concrete block, etc. There are many engineered systems today, that work very, very well.

    ** Heat does not rise, gravity is not a pulling force, & Christ was not born on Dec 25th. I say this, to stimulate your thinking, you can look these up on your own. The point is, in building, some of what we 'know' isn't exactly, or completely true, or is different then what we think it is. Think outside the box and think in terms of complete systems. Ok- I'll give the first one away in the next point...

    ** Consider heating with radiant energy instead of air. Indeed, heat doesn't rise, if it did, it would be an inferno at the top of the mountains and a frozen waste land down at land & sea level. The truth is, hot AIR rises, as it becomes less dense and more buoyant. Heat, however, obeys the Second Law of thermodynamics, which simplified essentially says- "Heat goes to cold"... and this is independent of direction or gravity. Additionally, heat likes to cling to mass. Good thing for us, otherwise life couldn't exist on this planet. With this knowledge, we come to understand that we don't need to blow air around for sensible heating & cooling. Rather, we can use the mass of the building for heat storage, in floor radiant heat, and be comfortable & healthy at the same time. No air blowing, means less dust, allergens, VOCs, etc. stirred up. By not heating air, we have less possibility of pressure variations and infiltration problems within a building (this is very good). The building moves less and is more stable year round. Vapor Drive (another topic- just know that a primary motive is temperature change) is dampened (which is good). Air, having little mass, has no storage. Radiant systems utilize the structure, the objects, and therefore is inherently efficient.

    ** Consider whole house humidity control, not just dehumidification in the summer, but humidification in the winter. Humidification protects us from getting sick, but not necessarily how you might think. You see, our bodies filter out wet viruses very easily, but have trouble with dry viruses. Wow, what's that mean? Essentially, it comes down to size. We can filter out down to the "wet virus" size. Think of a soaked up sponge. With low humidity, viruses shrink in size so much, we can no longer filter them. Add to this system a good filter and UV light, you've done everything practical to ward off air borne illness.

    ** Ventilation is mandatory for the people in the building. Filtered and conditioned fresh air through an ERV or HRV works very well, but there are other means too. If you have chemical sensitivities, make sure the building is maintained at a constant positive pressure whenever you are present. This pushes contaminants OUT using clean fresh air. Consider having your bathrooms exhausted using the ERV. An ERV will both exhaust and bring in fresh air, and simplifies engineering for a home. However, if you are taking in fresh air through other means, this should be engineered by someone that understands ventilation systems, and what relief air, and make up air is. If you want to get really fancy, a VOC sensor can be installed, and the ventilation system will operate based on actual VOC levels. (Very cool). Exisitng home's that are causing human illness, can actually be remediated by having a competent ventilation system installed, maintaining constant EXfiltration with clean and conditioned air.

    ** Use finishes that are natural. Tile, stone, wood, plaster. If you have chemical sensitivities, no carpet allowed! (Another good reason for radiant heat!). Look at each componant in the building before hand, and ask what your options are. Some examples, use real plywood over particle board, use cement board or aluminum over vinyl siding. No wall papers or wall vinyls. No fiberglass. Use high quality low VOC paints. This coupled by your well done ventilation system will make a beautiful, comfortable, and healthy living space.

  146. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #146

    Dear "Building Science,"
    Like your last post, this latest one is a mix of truth and half-truth, all jumbled together.

    Believe it or not, exhaust-only ventilation systems can work very well, if well designed -- so I don't understand your strong prejudice in favor of supply-only systems and balanced systems.

    I disagree strongly with your statement, "Consider whole house humidity control, not just dehumidification in the summer, but humidification in the winter." If your house is relatively tight, as it should be, you will never need to install a humidifier. Humidifiers are dangerous, and can quickly destroy a house.

  147. Jeff Hogan | | #147

    I admit I haven't been able to read this entire thread; but, I do have a contractor who wants to use "Owens Corning Blown Fiberglass" which contains (according to the literature provided) 60% recycled glass and the other 40% being comprised of sand and water.

    This isn't for a whole house insulation; but, just for a small attic in a home built in the 50's. There currently is very very little insulation in the attic.

    I'd say only about 35% of my living space has an attic above it. It won't go in the walls; but, just in the attic.

    If there are cautions against this product -- why product would be advised?

  148. User avater GBA Editor
  149. Richard Beyer | | #149

    Comment #143 written by Dan D.
    If you are still on here please call me 860-460-5434. I had JM Corbond III and Icynene Open and Closed cell SPF products installed in my home during October of 2010. All failed and I mean failed! Cracked open, stunk, shrunk, disappeared, changed colors and caused significant damage to my home, health and my families safety. These products have created elevated levels of "Carbon Dioxide" in my home amoung many other chemicals. ( Do not confuse with Carbon Monoxide)

    In my case the installation company installed the SPF products while my family was in the house and removed failed SPF while my family was home. All they continued to say over and over was the products are 'SAFE" and "Water Blown" which also implies "SAFE". They never said you have to leave while the job was done. They never brought fire extinguishers in to protect their men if something combusted due to over application, they never used mechanical ventilation.

    When I first read Mason Knowles article on SPF failures published in the Journal of Light Construction, I swore he visited my home to write that. Every failure picture illustrated is my house.
    These failed products together make one bad chemical cocktail in the air you breathe and the surfaces you touch. I have been researching these products day and night for many, many month's since I figured out the foam was causing issues with my health. I had to dig really deep to find answers.

    The typical consumer will only find the "Good" about the products, as I did in the beginning. I can safely say, if you dig deep you will find things that are not readily available by key wording SPF, Spray Foam, Spray Polyurethane Foam. All those searches will bring you to industry sites which they want you to read. The blogs will dismiss your complaints, including installer complaints.

    You are not alone with your symptoms. The manufacturer's are useless when you need their assistance. They will blame everything else but their products and without hesitation, toss the installation company under the bus.

    There are many, many people who have these symptoms and there are those who are living with these products wondering, is this normal, is it my age? It very well may not be. I can safely say it's not my age playing tricks on me. It's the SPF that's playing tricks.

    These products are "Extremely Dangerous" when placed in the wrong hands. The installation company I hired sent a guy who supposedly had 5 years experience spraying SPF. This company is home based in Rhode Island with offices throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They bragg about their company being featured on This Old House in an upcoming episode. They also employ well over 100 people. I thought I did my home work by hiring a large company who portrayed nothing but positive attitudes, education, experience, HERS membership, OSHA on staff trainers, Lead safe Certified employees, in house Hygentist and the products still failed. Industry membership promotion does not mean or make the company a responsible company.

    I asked questions related to my families health and they slammed the door on us. I demanded answers and they refused to answer. I asked the manufacturer and they refused to answer. JM Corbond finally got so mad at me for asking questions, their attorney sent me a letter telling me to back off and to hire an attorney. Icynene never commented in writing.
    I went to the government for help and they did not know what to do. Department of Public Health said there is no published data on how to safely remove SPF so just wash it off the house with soap and water. I told the lady to smear Gorilla Glue on her hands and to call me when she got it off with soap and water. (Never heard back from her.)
    OSHA said, we do not have jurisdiction in a residence. EPA ignored my repeated request even after the company disturbed lead paint mechanically. They said what they will do is issue a "Citation" to me and I could use this in my court case against the company. Department of Consumer Protection closed the case before they even had the documents they requested. When I questioned it they said we sent you the means of how to collect from the Home Guarantee fund. First you have to sue the contractor and exhaust all means of collections then you qualify for up to $15k.

    My story is not much different than most I have read on here and other blogs.

    One huge problem is the government does not want to hear about complaints related to SPF. It tramples on the "Green Movement" so the "Science" is ignored and so are you.

    I strongly urge consumers and installers with SPF Failures and health issues to immediately call and write your State Representatives and Senators to let them know you exist. To many people are being kept quiet by means of "Isolation". If you listen to the industry you are the only complaint they have heard of or your house is a special case.

    This industry is very, very disturbing to me to say the least! It takes 12 years to get a High School diploma and we still technically come out of there stupid with a diploma in hand.

    With SPF, you receive 3 Days of training and you are now a "Scientist." It only cost the installer $40k to purchase equipment and now they have a permit called "Certified" to wreck havoc on your life. It's not that all installers will behave this way but are you willing to take that risk? Does it make sense? Would you allow a "Doctor to work on you with 3 Days of training?" Would you hire a "lawyer" to represent you with 3 days of training? Would you allow your Child to drive your Mercedes Benz with 3 Days of Training?

    To make matters worse, the manufacturer's tell you it's not their fault you hired a bad installer. But, they Certified the guy and /or company to sell their chemicals to the homeowner. The Chemical Maker claim's we only guarantee the chemicals are what they say they are, and they are what the MSDS states. If the chemical is sprayed off-ratio there is no "FINISHED PRODUCTS MSDS" to refer back to.

    The Government tells you they do not know what to do either. For that matter they do not know anything about the B-side chemicals due to "Proprietary" protections within the law. Connecticut proposed a bill 5248 and a portion of that bill was to have the Chemical Giants testify under Oath the products do not contain Formaldehyde and our Governor vetoed the bill.

    See: http://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2012/03/sprayfoam/

    To make matter's even worse!!! You are not insured as you think you are!! Homeowner policies do not cover "workmanship", "gas", "faulty planning" and any other related issues with SPF!! Some will cover cosmetic damage. What good is cosmetic coverage if the chemical's soaked into your buildings frame and /or foundation walls? Contractor policies do not cover "Workmanship"!!! So if it is mixed off-ratio...."Workmanship"!! Your on your own!!

    It has been almost 2 years and the walls in my home are still torn apart!! And yes, I did and still have air exchangers running. A Venmar 4100 HRV and 2 Easy Breathe units. With all 3 running (Rated for 3000sq.ft. each), the house still smells horribly. Imagine the toxins without them?
    This house is 2870 sq.ft and was built in 1890! Sorry critics, can not blame it on the OSB, plywood or drywall! This gem which was the former childhood home of Priscilla Presley is made from real old growth wood!! Not the chemically enhanced version we are sold today. BUYER BEWARE!!!

  150. John Brooks | | #150

    Dan Fette: "It's looking like the best approach for insulating this house will be spray foam to the underside of the roof deck, and treat the attic as part of AC space."

    Dan,
    It is very ironic that you are considering including the attic as part of the AC space.
    I remember that when you toured my home (with conditioned attic) you planted a seed in my head.
    You reminded me that including the attic increased the surface area of the enclosure.

    While almost everyone in North Texas was turning to spray foam and conditioned attics...
    You were the only one I know of who was exploring other methods of air sealing.

    I realize that your motive was partly because you had no other options...
    You were building Affordable Low Energy Homes.
    Spray Foam and conditioned attics are not cheap.

    I have done a 180 since we last talked and I believe that you were on the Right Track Before.

    For those who may not know Dan Fette ..... He is THE force behind Green Built Texas

    Now Dan......get back on the right track!!!

    John

  151. It Aint E.C.B.N. Green | | #151

    Thanks to so many of you for the informative replies. I think we can sum things up pretty neatly after all this discussion:

    Spray foam off-gasses toxic chemicals. More independent study is needed before any other firm conclusions can be made regarding its safety. It would therefore seem unwise to use this product for now.

    To expound a little: Even if most of the off-gassing happens during the initial cure, it’s conceivable it still off-gasses for a time after that, particularly if it has not been installed correctly. But no matter who installs it, or how, or where, or whether or not it off-gasses after it is cured, it still off-gasses toxic chemicals at some point. In other words, it pollutes the air, our shared world, and thus it is not all that ‘green’, nor is it completely safe. We can be sure of that, but not much else.

    As it happens, I stumbled across this discussion because am looking to insulate my North Country basement (having just added 12” of blown-cellulose to my attic), and after reading this discussion, as well as a couple on TreeHugger.com*, I am now very tempted to use Air Krete instead of urethane foam. There doesn’t seem to be a thorough discussion on Air Krete on this site, but everything I’ve read here and elsewhere seems to make a much more convincing case that it is currently the greenest and safest insulation out there — for my purposes, anyway.

    * http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/is-sprayed-polyurethane-insulation-safe.html
    and http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/air-krete-green-insulation-from-cement.html

  152. Michael Lieto | | #152

    Hi Dan & others. Once installed Spray Foam Insulation is totally inert Thermoset plastic. In rare cases will off gassing occur, usually from improper application if the products were applied while off ratio.

    Thus, It is very important to use a well qualified installer. Hopefully this helps.

    Thanks,
    Mike L.

  153. Brigitte Klein | | #153

    on January 11 2013 we had spray foam installed by reputable company in our home. they only told us 'you can't go in for 48 hours'. that afternoon we unloaded something in the back yard. 15 mins later burning on tongue. left. we were never told don't go into the back yard. never told remove food and medications or pillows etc. nothing. after we left that day, January 11, really sick for 3 weeks - slowly recovering. went into backyard February 20 to check things out, had to leave after 3 minutes: burning on tongue. haven't been back to house, don't know what to do. the gas had gotten into our truck we didn't realize, but after driving it for 2 weeks were so sick had to park it and got rental. now allergic to all kinds of foam, in buildings, in cars, pillows. in some buildings i can't breathe. usually it's a burning on tongue and in mouth. renting a condo which seems ok sleep w windows open and a un-insulated van. no help from government agencies. doctors: not my field. installer and manufacturer (from canada) came to house haven't heard anything nor received any help. during the time we (me more than husband) so sick in desperation i called person on MSDS sheet for help (which we received AFTER the installation)she said she'd call back, nothing, no help whatsoever. the government agencies send you from department to department in the end no help. same. doctors: not my field. if we can't even go into the back yard how can we hope to ever go into the house? all our stuff, our papers, everything is in there. I WANT TO GO HOME. I want some help. Brigitte Klein 352 318 0143 772 461 9443

  154. Hein Bloed | | #154

    Go.
    This isn't a home no more.

    Take a lawyer.

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