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Is Spray Foam Insulation Toxic or Safe?

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When people ask ‘Is spray foam insulation toxic?’, they are normally asking about Polyurethane. Polyurethane Spray Foam insulation research has pointed towards it having adverse effects on the health, and the chemicals contain high levels of toxic material.

Indeed, people are starting to turn towards eco-friendlier spray foam insulation solutions such as Icynene insulation or recycled insulation made out of materials, such as sheep wool, newspaper-or even soya beans!

But what's the real story on spray foam toxicity? Is it a healthy choice of insulation to use, and how does it compare to other traditional insulation materials on the market? We hear you, and we're hear to provide such needed answers, sorting the facts from the fiction on all aspects of spray foam safety. Let's begin!

What is Spray Foam Insulation?

Spray foam insulation is a compound of chemicals which is water blown into an attic space with the aim to insulate and seal a property. By expanding to up to 100x its initial size it works as the perfect alternative to traditional insulations such as fibreglass which does not achieve the same level of air-tightness.

There are two main types of Spray Foam Insulation, open cell and closed cell. It is important to understand the differences between the two as they both provide unique differences with their ability to insulate and are designed for different purposes.

You may come across misleading information on both types of foam through numerous sites on the web which throw up a variety of contradictory claims.

However, it is important to bear in mind that issues mainly occur when the wrong product is used for the wrong applications, or when installation is attempted without prior expertise, and proper protective equipment.

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Icynene is rather like a Gortex jacket, keeping wind and water vapour out, so that an ambient temperature is achieved

Open Celled Spray Foam: An Overview

Icynene open celled spray foam comprises of a very light, flexible texture, which strongly adheres to the surface its applied to, without the need for additional adhesives. It is sprayed or injected in liquid form, expanding up to 100 times its original size on application.

The H2 Foam Lite variety we install achieves two main aims simultaneously: providing an airtight barrier, whilst also enabling the building to breathe. an essential feature for enabling moisture vapour to evaporate. 

Think of it as a Gortex jacket; it keeps wind and water vapour out, whilst ensuring the body (the roof timbers) don't sweat in the process. This product is also fully BBA accredited, attesting to its suitability in both old homes and new builds alike.

Closed Cell Spray Foam: An Overview

When moisture breathability is not a requirement, closed cell varieties of foam can be used. The leading variety of this foam type is the H2 Foam Forte (MDR-210) formulation, and is most commonly used for commercial applications, such as warehouses and business premises.

The product itself achieves an ultra-low U-Value, and is applied in thinner layers than open-celled foam equivalents. It is inadvisable to use closed cell foam to insulate residential homes, as it doesn't allow the roof timbers to breathe.

Is Spray Foam Insulation Dangerous?

Although spray foam insulation has been applied to over 50% of homes in North America and is widely used across Canada, it has been known to have negative effects on health. This is mainly based on older insulation methods, such as Polyurethane, and modern insulation alternatives, such as Icynene, offer an economical and air quality improving alternative.

Main dangers and toxicity of older formulations of spray foam include:

  • Asthma
  • Sensitization
  • Lung damage
  • Other respiratory and breathing problems

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Modern insulation methods, such as Icynene, improve indoor air quality by preventing airborne allergens from entering

Our product Icynene has been deemed safe with no VOC’s present 24 hours after application. Information on the dangers of Polyurethane SFI can be found here.

Find out more here.

The Big Issue: Isocyanates

Isocyanates are what have caused the key issue people argue against when it comes to the safety and toxicity of spray foam insulation. Isocyanates are a class of highly reactive chemicals which formulate to create a compound which is widely used across industrial, commercial and retail applications.

As a BBA Approved company, we ensure correct application of our products by providing correct ventilation, application and re occupancy practices to provide a safe living environment.

Should I Be Worried About Spray Foam Off-Gassing?

After the 24 hour 'curing' process is complete, there is no need to worry about spray foam 'off-gassing.' During this period, your contractor will advise you to vacate the property, to allow the spray foam time to dry.

Once completed, your home is safe for re-occupancy, with no risk of noxious odours or toxicity if installed by an Icynene licensed professional.

Why Do I Need To Vacate My Home While The Spray Foam Is Installed?

As mentioned above, after the product's applied, your spray foam contractor will advise you to vacate your home for 24 hours afterwards to give the insulation time to cure.

After the Icynene has completely 'cured', the chemicals are inert and completely harmless to the homeowner.

Upon application, the foam expands up to 100 times its original size; a phenomenon which is fascinating to watch, and not too dissimilar to a cake rising as it bakes in an oven. Once settled, it exhibits a slightly 'spongy' texture, with no toxic VOCs present after the settling period has commenced.

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A modern and efficient insulation, Icynene open-celled foam has the lowest Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 1

Is Spray Foam Insulation Toxic To Pets?

No it’s not, 24 hours after spray foam has been applied there will be no toxic chemicals present, as the gas is made inert. This makes it perfectly safe for humans or animals to be present in the sprayed area.

However, although installers will take best possible care to ensure all excess spray foam is removed, please check as animals could chew on the soft foam causing health issues.

In Terms Of Safety, Are All Spray Foam Products The Same?

Although the building blocks of polyurethane-based foams are similar, the specific materials used in their formulation can vary, directly influencing whether emissions or odours will still be present after installation.

In terms of health, they are far safer than the older foams, which generally comprised of formaldehyde. Use of such foams is no longer common practice.

How Toxic Are Other Insulation Materials?

Although traditional Polyurethane insulation has been deemed as toxic, there are alternatives such as Icynene, a modern and efficient spray foam insulation which has achieved the lowest Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 1.

There are also other alternatives such as recycled insulation and fibreglass insulation which are deemed effective but do not provide the same R Values as Icynene.

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All Icynene licensed contractors will ensure that you and your family are fully protected before, during and after application

What Does The EPA Have To Say About Spray Foam Toxicity?

According to the EPA:

“Homeowners who are exposed to isocyanates and other spray foam chemicals in vapours, aerosols, and dust during or after the installation process “run the risk of developing asthma, sensitization, lung damage, other respiratory and breathing problems, and skin and eye irritation.”

How Will My Contractor Protect Me From Chemical Exposure?

All Icynene licensed contractors will ensure that you are fully protected, before, during and after application of the product.

During application, your installer will advise you to vacate your property, as well as for 24 hours afterwards, until the 'curing' process is complete. 

In addition to this, they will ensure that the space is properly ventilated both during and after the job.

Is My Home Suitable For Spray Foam Insulation?

Building materials have evolved dramatically over the past ten years, and can now offer an array of benefits not just linked to insulation. Icynene aims to make buildings healthier, quieter and more energy efficient.