How safe and effective is Icynene Foam Insulation when installed in the new construction of a home?

Question

How safe and effective is Icynene Foam Insulation when installed in the new construction of a home?

Asked by undednor1939

This is a solid foam sprayed inside the roof and the exterior walls of a house under construction.

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Answers

Joel Hirshberg's picture

I would like to answer the safety side of your question, as there is ample information on GreenHomeGuideabout the performance side here, here,and here.

Isocyanates

Icynene brand, like similar brands of foam insulation, is composed of almost 50%
isocyanates, a questionable petrochemical in the eyes of many. Regardless of whether itis open cell or closed cell, this chemical is contained in varying amounts.

The EPA says it doesn't have sufficient data to accurately assess the potential hazardsof isocyanates. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (part of NIOSH),however, makes it clear that:

  • "Isocyanates are powerful irritants to the mucousmembrane of the eyes and gastrointestinal and respiratory tracks."
  • "Isocyanatescan also sensitizeworkers, making them subject to severe asthma attacks if exposed again."

Hazards during installation

The Icynene website clearly indicates the potential for harm, but primarily during theinstallation phase. One can argue, as sales people do, that once dry, the foam is inert andnot harmful.

Even though spray foam insulation has been around for 25 years with no known incidentsof serious illness due to incidental exposure, this fact does not necessarily make it safein all regards. As you will read below, the manufacturers of Icynene require anyone totreat this product with extreme caution because they know that potential hazards exist,especially for installers who are exposed on a regular basis.

It has been our experience over the past 15 years that homeowners that purchase sprayfoam for their new homes don't complain about off-gassing issues later on but at leastone spray foam contractor we know has become very ill and stopped spraying as a result.

Below is a section taken directly from the Icynene website from the last page of theproduct specification for Classic Max (here).

"Icynene products have an excellent health and safety record spanning more than 350,000insulation projects over more than 25 years. Nonetheless, safe handling practices duringand immediately following installation are required to eliminate the possibility of healtheffects from exposure to isocyanates. Asthma, other lung problems, and irritation of thenose and throat can result from inhalation of isocyanates. Direct contact with the skinand eyes can result in irritation.

"Different individuals will react differently to the same exposures; some will be moresensitive than others. Severe asthma attacks have been reported in some sensitizedworkers exposed repeatedly to isocyanates while not wearing proper protectiveequipment. Some reports indicate a reaction and sensitization can occur followinga single, sustained occupational exposure to isocyanates without proper protectiveequipment above the OSHA permissible exposure limit.

"But sensitization might not occur immediately in some individuals. Consistent use ofpersonal proper protective equipment to prevent exposure during spraying and within the24 hour-period after spraying is completed is critical to eliminating the health hazard.Once sensitization has occurred, a worker might not be able work safely with spray foaminsulation again."

Consider alternatives

If you care about reducing the production of toxic chemicals in general, then you mightwish to use less controversial insulation such as cellulose, cotton, wool, etc.

There arealso numerous other types of insulating materials you may wish to consider such asstraw bale, structural insulated panels (SIPS), insulated concrete forms (ICF), aeratedautoclaved concrete (AAC) and radiant heat barriers. While some of these containvarious types of foam, they are completely cured before they reach your home.