A picture of a spray foam gun spraying insulation downward, with a caution sign just to the left of it.

Are you installing new insulation and want to know what’s safe? Spray foam insulation is not as safe as you may think- it can be very dangerous to your health. You may want to reconsider what materials you use and choose a different type of insulation for your home.

According to the US EPA, the dangers of spray foam insulation include exposure to harmful chemicals, lung and eye irritation, shortness of breath, sore throat, and fever. However, you can avoid these adverse effects by using protective equipment when installing spray foam insulation.

In this article, you’ll learn more about the dangers of foam insulation, how to protect yourself from it, and what alternatives for insulation are out there. We’ll also take a look at their pros and cons. Let’s begin!

Spray Foam Insulation: A Basic Overview

Spray foam is more common in newer buildings. It helps correct insulation issues, allowing structures to hold in heat better by reducing energy loss. While it offers many unique benefits, such as fitting in any crack, the material uses many unhealthy chemicals. It takes a lot of experience to install correctly.

Pros of Spray Foam

These are the benefits you get from using spray foam insulation:

  • You receive lower power bills. If you spend a lot of money on utilities, adding spray foam insulation reduces the amount of energy that escapes your home. That way, you’re not spending as much to heat or cool the building.
  •  Your building receives an airtight seal. The insulation expands and fills all the cracks in your attic and walls. That way, air won’t flow through them any longer.
  • The insulation has a long lifespan. You won’t need to think about replacing the insulation any time soon since the foam lasts forever when taken care of correctly.
  • The foam strengthens your home. Next, the spray foam adds another layer to your home’s structure, increasing durability and reducing the amount of outside sound that enters.
A picture of an open attic ceiling with spray foam sprayed to the underside, showing energy efficiency and a tight air seal.

Cons of Spray Foam

The following are the downsides of spray foam you need to consider:

  • The foam can sometimes miss cracks. During application, the foam expands. If it doesn’t reach all of them while growing, there will be gaps left in the insulation. These gaps negatively impact the performance of the insulation.
  • The foam insulation might cause water damage. When gaps are in the insulation, your home has a higher risk of water damage. Air trapped in these pockets encourages water to enter- which would eventually lead to structural damages.
  • You need a lot of experience to install spray foam. You should only have trained professionals handling the installation of this material. It cures fast and can’t change shape afterward. You don’t want the installer to miss areas and leave gaps.
  • There are health risks to consider. The chemical compounds in the spray foam can cause health issues- exposure to the fumes can even lead to the development of asthma or bronchitis. Those installing the material should use goggles, gloves, respirators and take other steps to protect themselves.
  • The spray is dangerous until it’s done curing. Finally, you want to make sure you aren’t around the foam during the curing stages. It releases hazardous fumes, which can cause blurred vision and breathing problems. If not mixed properly, the foam would continue to release the fumes- causing health issues until you have it completely removed.

The Dangers of Spray Foam Insulation

There are some dangers you need to be aware of when it comes to spray foam insulation. Depending on how constructors apply the material, it could hurt your health later.

For example, if the experts in the proper ratios do not mix the two main chemical compounds, your health could be at risk. The insulation would then continue to put out harmful fumes, even after it should have cured.

If you want to spray foam insulation at home, you need to make sure trained professionals apply it. The pros have access to the proper equipment and have experience working with this type of insulation. You also will need to leave the building for at least 24 hours while the insulation sets.

A man in full protective gear is sitting on the attic floor while he sprays spray foam insulation on the underside of the attic ceiling.
Not only should trained professionals apply and install the spray foam, but take note of the protective gear they’re wearing while they are working. This is an indicator of the potential hazard of working with it.

Overall, this material is hazardous when not applied properly. You risk several breathing problems, including asthma or allergic reactions. Plus, the foam particles can irritate your eyes and your skin.

What Chemicals Are in Spray Foam?

There are different types of chemicals in spray foam insulation. The mixture ensures that the spray foam lasts and can fit into any crevice in your home. The real danger comes when the constructors mix the chemicals for application purposes.

The spray foam consists of polyurethane, which has two main liquid chemicals that construction workers mix on the site. The first liquid contains isocyanates, while the second half contains amine catalysts, flame-resistant chemicals, and polyol.

When the chemicals mix, they create fumes that are dangerous to breathe in. All workers need to wear protective equipment to avoid inhaling the fumes or making contact with the chemicals. Once the foam fully dries, it should no longer be dangerous, which is why you want to wait for a full day before returning home. However, if the chemicals aren’t mixed correctly, they remain dangerous.

Amine Catalysts, Polyol, and Flame Retardants

These three ingredients make up one of the parts of spray foam insulation. Amine catalysts irritate the skin and may even cause glaucoma or other eye problems. The CDC is still studying the impacts this chemical mixture has on people.

Inhaling these chemicals can cause severe lung irritation. The flame retardants used may also be carcinogenic, so you don’t want to handle them without protection. Overall, it would be best if you left mixing these chemical ingredients to the professionals who have experience doing it.

Isocyanates

Isocyanates are in the other half of the chemical mixture and have some dangerous properties. This material is most known for causing asthma in people. Once you’re exposed, you could have asthma attacks when you find yourself in any building that has spray foam.

There may also be chemicals that don’t appear on the label. You’ll want to research any brand you’re interested in first. That way, you know what chemicals can make their way into the air if you need to perform an air quality test.

How To Protect Yourself Around Spray Foam Insulation

First of all, you must wear a respirator and other protective equipment while the foam is applied. The professionals installing the insulation for you should have supplied air respirators or SARs.

They will also need to wear:

  • Protective clothing
  • Chemical resistant gloves
  • Eye and face protection

You will want to leave your home, according to the professional’s instructions. Then, you should wait at least a full day for the spray foam to set. The insulation doesn’t emit dangerous fumes after its application, as long as construction workers applied it correctly.

If you need to interact with any form of insulation, you should always wear the proper personal protection. The Breath Buddy Respirator Mask on Amazon.com comes with goggles and protects your lungs from insulation. You’ll also want to make sure you have your skin covered with the proper gear- a special coat and gloves are a must when working with any type of insulation.

A man in protective gear spraying spray foam insulation on the underside of an attic ceiling.
Polyurea Spraying, warming foam coating of roof

To summarize, you don’t want to breathe in the fumes that come off the spray foam insulation. Even when prepared correctly, it’s still in your best interest to take preventative steps. That way, you don’t need to worry about risking your health when handling your home’s insulation materials.

Spray Foam Insulation Health Risks

The chemicals in spray foam insulation can cause many health risks. Keep in mind that the material is most dangerous during installation and the curing period. After that, the insulation should stop releasing fumes- unless the installers didn’t mix it correctly.

You could be at risk of receiving rashes, lung problems, asthma, and even vision problems if exposed to the material for long periods. Because of this, workers who handle the material are at the most risk.

However, they should have the proper equipment and experience to handle the insulation with care. You’ll want to make sure you ask the contractors coming to your home what to expect to ensure your safety. The experts will likely ask that you leave the property for the day- so make sure you have a backup plan on where to go in mind.

Overall, you don’t want to breathe in spray foam insulation. Doing so can cause serious harm to your health. Some of which last for a few weeks, like a rash. At the same time, others endure the rest of your life, like asthma.

Final Thoughts

Overall, spray foam is the most dangerous when it’s first mixed for application. The professionals installing for you should always wear the proper protective equipment. It’s also vital that you’re not in the home as the insulation sets since it emits fumes you shouldn’t breathe in.

There are ways to protect yourself from this material, although you could use fiberglass insulation instead. It’s safer and doesn’t emit chemical fumes. It would help if you always thought about the benefits and risks of insulation before making your final choice.

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