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Insulation Dangers: Closed Cell/Spray Foam vs. Blown-in Fiberglass

Most homeowners never consider what kind of chemicals are literally over their heads. And by chemicals, we mean attic insulation material.

There’s a myriad of choices when it comes to insulation. What most customers don’t know, however, is that several types of insulation may contain hazardous material that can fuel long-term health problems.

For the sake of space, we’re going to place two types of insulation under our “blog microscope” (blog-oscope?) – Closed Cell/Spray Foam and Blown-in Fiberglass. Spoiler alert: blown-in fiberglass turns out to be safer AND more energy efficient.

Danger Above: Spray Polyurethane Foam

Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF), as the name implies, is, well, spray foam composed of polyurethane. SPF’s are classified as high, medium, or low density. Attic insulation falls into medium or low. Medium-density SPF’s are sometimes called “closed-cell foam” because they are contained within an internal closed-shell configuration to improve thermal resistance. To make this simple: All closed-cell foam is SPF but not all SPF is closed-cell.

SPF has been a popular attic insulation choice because of its high R-value. Readers may recall the term from previous posts. EnergyStar defines R-value as “a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. The higher the R-Value, the better the thermal performance of the insulation.”

Sounds great, right? Well, here’s the problem. SPF contains a harmful chemical scarily named
isocyanates. Now, if isocyanates stay locked inside the insulation, it’s probably not an issue.

However, the EPA notes: “If SPF was not applied properly, chemical contaminants may have migrated to hard and/or soft surfaces elsewhere in the building and may be the source of residual odors; therefore, removal may not resolve the issue.”

Think about your attic for a moment:

• What do you know about the composition of your attic insulation?
• Was it installed before you bought the home?
• What were the qualifications of the installer?
• Why do you have 5 years’ worth of magazines up there?

It’s likely the answers are “Not much,” “No idea,” “Dunno who installed, “Hey, those special editions of Good Housekeeping will only increase in value!” Therefore, most homeowners have no way of knowing if they have SPF or if it has been properly installed and, as such, don’t know if isocyanates have seeped out. Yikes!

What’s the worst that can happen if your attic is a ticking isocyanate time bomb? Let’s ask OSHA:

“Health effects of isocyanate exposure include irritation of skin and mucous membranes, chest tightness, and difficult breathing. Isocyanates include compounds classified as potential human carcinogens and known to cause cancer in animals. The main effects of hazardous exposures are occupational asthma and other lung problems, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.”

According to Metropolitan Engineering Consulting and Forensics:

“We do know for sure that the prevalence of asthma in the overall United States population has
increased by almost 100 percent since the early 1980’s and links have been reported between these foams and the asthma or dermatitis incidents. A study that was done by Krone, et al. and published in the publication Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in 2003 showed that isocyanates in foam containing consumer products were present 30 years post-manufacture.”

Stay Safe with Blown-in Fiberglass

Commonly composed of fiberglass or cellulose, blown-in insulation is (surprise) blown into attic spaces like confetti. The tiny particles seep snugly into any space and can fill existing walls with minimal damage to any desired depth.

Of course, no insulation type is 100-percent without potential health risks. However, blown-in fiberglass offers maximum benefit with minimum risk – especially when installed by a qualified pro.

  • Blown-in insulation keeps indoor attic temperatures cooler in summer. In addition, blown-in stops heated and cooled air from leaking out. Since it fits into the smallest spaces, blown-in maximizes HVAC performance. Consumers report blown-in insulation often saves so much in energy costs that installation pays for itself in a couple of years.
  • Blown-in fiberglass insulation also reduces the risk of fire. Since it creates a tight seal across the attic, air can’t flow through small spaces to stoke a blaze.
  • Blown-in is easy to install quickly by a qualified installation team – often within a few hours.
  • Because blown-in creates such a tight seal, overall household noise is reduced. And, in these trying times when we’re stuck at home, a quiet home is a peaceful home.

Choose Wisely: The Right Pro for the Job

If you’re convinced that perhaps your attic needs some attention, the first step is an inspection. Attics and More offers a free attic inspection to determine if you have the safest and most efficient attic insulation, as well as uncovering other trouble spots. If blown-in installation is the best option, we’ve got you covered.

EnergyStar notes: “It is easier to get complete coverage of the attic floor with blown-in loose-fill insulation. It is best to hire an insulation contractor for this job.”

Contact us today to discuss how we can identify what’s above your head and … how safe it might be.