The growing popularity of spray polyurethane foam insulation may be creating an emerging problem in some cases. While the majority of spray foam installations occur without incident, problems can be costly and difficult to repair, and have led to a string of lawsuits in the U.S. as homeowners attempt to recover costs. When installed incorrectly, spray foam insulation can result in a strong, unpleasant fishy smell from off-gassing that has driven some people from their homes, some complaining of difficulty breathing and other health problems. When contractors fail to address installation problems, homeowners can have little recourse.
Polyurethane foam is a two-part compound mixed at the job site as it’s sprayed from a high-pressure gun. Although some of its ingredients are nasty at the time of application, when it cures the foam becomes an inert material that should not off-gas any harmful chemicals. That, at least, is our common understanding and the word from manufacturers and installers. Part of the product’s appeal is that, when properly installed, spray foam insulation can reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 50%. The product has also received glowing endorsements on a variety of home renovation TV shows.
Some individuals returning to their homes a week after the insulation has been installed immediately began experiencing difficult breathing, coughing, nausea, headaches and watery eyes. The patients were diagnosed with asthma triggered by isocyanate, a chemical found in Side A and widely cited as the leading cause of occupational asthma. This is causing some home owners to leave their house or to be forced to try to find contractors to remove the spray foam insulation which is a near impossible task.
So, investigating in the products and the company prior to hiring is imperative, but also understand that there isn’t enough data and research on this type of insulation to truly know all of it’s pros and cons. The EPA is conducting studies, while more and more law firms are dedicating pages on their websites to filing suits for home owners who have gotten sick from spray foam applications.