Problems With Spray Foam Insulation in Attics

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disadvantages of spray foam insulation

Every home requires insulation to ensure an energy-efficient home. Without proper insulation, you can put your home at risk for drafts, mold growth, and higher energy bills.

Certain areas in your home, like attics and crawl spaces, require extra insulation attention. Spray foam insulation works great for sealing and insulating open areas like these. However, problems with spray foam insulation in attics may arise over the years with improper insulation.

Spray foam insulation expands upon application, filling gaps and creating an airtight seal. This makes it effective at reducing air leaks and improving energy efficiency. However, spray foam insulation can pose several problems despite its benefits, particularly in attics.

What Is Spray Foam Insulation?

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Spray foam insulation is a product used to insulate homes. There are typically two different kinds of spray foam insulation: open-cell foam and closed-cell foam. The chemicals in spray foam insulation to seal and insulate the area, preventing airflow.

Spray foam insulation insulates homes and seals gaps, providing a barrier to airflow and enhancing energy efficiency. It is created by mixing and reacting unique liquid components that expand on contact to create foam. There are two main types of spray foam insulation:


Open-Cell Foam

Open-cell foam is soft and flexible, with cells that are not completely closed. It is less dense and more pliable.

Its R-value is approximately R-3.5 per inch.

Open-cell foam is often used for interior applications where soundproofing is desired, such as in walls and attics. Its flexibility makes it suitable for irregular spaces and areas where settling is expected.

Some advantages of open-cell foam are that it is less expensive than closed-cell foam and excellent for soundproofing.

The disadvantages include a lower R-value per inch, which is unsuitable for moisture-prone areas as it can absorb water.

Closed-Cell Foam

Closed-cell foam is denser and more rigid, with completely closed cells. This type of foam forms a solid barrier that can also act as a vapor barrier.

Its R-value is approximately R-6.5 per inch.

Closed-cell foam is ideal for exterior applications and areas exposed to moisture, such as basements, crawl spaces, and exterior walls. Its density provides additional structural strength.

Closed cell advantages include a higher R-value per inch, moisture resistance, and structural strength.

Its disadvantages include being more expensive than open-cell foam, less flexible, and harder to install in tight spaces.

Common Uses in Residential Construction

Spray foam insulation is widely used in residential construction for various purposes:

  • Attics: Open-cell and closed-cell foam insulate attics, providing an airtight seal that helps maintain a consistent temperature throughout the home.
  • Walls: Spray foam can be applied to interior and exterior walls to improve insulation and reduce air leaks.
  • Crawl Spaces and Basements: Closed-cell foam is particularly effective in these areas due to its moisture-resistant properties.
  • Rim Joists: Insulating rim joists with spray foam helps prevent air leakage and improves overall energy efficiency.

Spray foam insulation’s ability to expand and conform to the shape of the space it’s applied to makes it an effective option for sealing gaps and insulating hard-to-reach areas. However, despite its benefits, several issues and drawbacks are associated with its use, especially in attics, which will be explored in the following sections.

Health Concerns Stemming from Spray Foam

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Despite its popularity, spray foam insulation poses significant health risks that homeowners should be aware of. It can become a serious health hazard when not installed properly or allowed to cure for the appropriate amount of time. Even under ideal conditions, there are specific areas in your home where spray foam insulation should be avoided due to the inherent dangers associated with its chemical composition.

Potential Health Risks

Spray foam insulation contains various chemical ingredients and flame retardants that can pose health risks if improperly handled. Some of the potential health issues include:

  • Respiratory Issues: The chemicals used in spray foam insulation, such as isocyanates, can cause respiratory problems if inhaled during installation. Symptoms may include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and asthma-like reactions.
  • Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions from direct contact with the chemicals in spray foam. This can result in redness, itching, and swelling.
  • Long-term Health Effects: There is concern over the long-term health effects of exposure to the chemicals in spray foam insulation, including known toxins and carcinogens. Some studies suggest potential hormone disruption and other chronic health issues.

Areas to Avoid Using Spray Foam Insulation

Certain areas in your home are not suitable for spray foam insulation due to the risk of health and safety hazards:

  • Basement Leaks: Applying spray foam in areas with moisture issues, like basement leaks, can exacerbate mold and mildew problems.
  • Near Electrical Work and Lighting: Spray foam should not be applied near electrical wiring or lighting fixtures, as it can pose a fire hazard and complicate future electrical work.
  • Roof Insulation: Using open-cell spray foam in roof insulation can lead to moisture retention and mold growth if not properly ventilated.

Typically, spray foam insulation doesn’t cause mold and mildew. However, the right mixture of excess condensation and humidity mixed with cracks and gaps near the foam insulation can become the right combination for mold and mildew growth.

Spray foam insulation containing chemical ingredients and flame retardants can cause health complications. It contains known toxins and carcinogens that may disrupt hormones.

Research Studies and Expert Opinions

Several research studies and expert opinions highlight the health risks associated with spray foam insulation:

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): OSHA has identified isocyanates, a key component in spray foam, as a significant health hazard. Exposure can lead to respiratory issues, skin irritation, and sensitization.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA notes that spray foam insulation chemicals can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during and after installation, contributing to indoor air pollution and potential health risks.
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): NIOSH has conducted studies indicating that workers exposed to spray foam insulation chemicals may experience adverse health effects, underscoring the importance of proper safety measures during installation.

Environmental Impact


Spray foam insulation poses health risks and has significant environmental drawbacks that homeowners should consider. The production and disposal of spray foam insulation contribute to various environmental issues, making it a less sustainable choice than other insulation options.

Contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The manufacturing process for spray foam insulation involves using chemicals that emit greenhouse gases. These emissions contribute to global warming and have a detrimental impact on the environment. The blowing agents used in spray foam, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), have a high global warming potential (GWP).

Non-biodegradable Nature

Spray foam insulation is made from synthetic materials that do not break down naturally in the environment. Once installed, it remains in the building structure indefinitely, and when disposed of, it contributes to landfill waste. The non-biodegradable nature of spray foam means that it persists in the environment, leading to long-term ecological impacts.

Installation Issues

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The installation of spray foam insulation presents several challenges and risks that homeowners must consider. Proper installation is crucial to ensure the insulation’s effectiveness and avoid potential problems arising from improper application.

Challenges and Risks During Installation

Spray foam insulation requires precise mixing and application techniques. The chemicals must be mixed in proportions and applied at the right temperature to ensure proper expansion and adhesion.

The installation involves handling hazardous chemicals, which can pose health risks to installers. Proper protective gear, ventilation, and safety protocols are essential to prevent exposure to harmful fumes and skin contact.

Why Experts Recommend Professional Installation

Due to the complexity and safety concerns associated with spray foam insulation, it is not recommended as a DIY project. Professional installers have the training, experience, and equipment to apply the insulation correctly and safely.

Professionals can apply the foam evenly and thoroughly, covering all gaps and cavities to create an effective air seal. This is critical to maximizing the insulation’s performance and energy efficiency.

Potential for Improper Installation

Improper installation of spray foam insulation can lead to a range of issues:

  • Air Leaks: If the foam is not applied evenly or fails to adhere properly to surfaces, gaps can form, allowing air to leak. This compromises the insulation’s effectiveness and can result in higher energy bills.
  • Moisture Problems: Incorrect application can create pockets where moisture can accumulate, leading to condensation and water damage. This is particularly problematic in areas like attics and crawl spaces.
  • Mold Growth: Moisture trapped by improperly installed insulation can create an ideal environment for mold growth. Mold can spread quickly, posing health risks and requiring costly remediation.

Costs Associated with Professional Installation and Potential Remediation

Professional spray foam insulation installation is generally more expensive than other types of insulation. The cost includes labor, materials, and the specialized equipment required for application.

If installation issues arise, remediation can be costly. Addressing problems like air leaks, moisture damage, and mold growth often involves removing the faulty insulation, repairing damaged areas, and reapplying the insulation correctly.

While professional installation is necessary to mitigate these risks, it adds to the overall cost of spray foam insulation. Homeowners should carefully weigh these considerations and explore alternative insulation options that offer easier installation and lower risks.

Long-term Performance and Durability

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Proper installation of spray foam insulation can last 80 to 100 years. Closed-cell insulation is particularly durable because it doesn’t deteriorate or lose its flexibility.

While spray foam insulation can be long-lasting, several factors can affect its performance and durability:

Proper Installation

The longevity of spray foam insulation depends on proper installation. Mistakes during application, such as spraying the wrong thickness or density, applying it to old or moldy surfaces, or leaving gaps and air pockets, can significantly reduce its lifespan.

Environmental Factors

Exposure to moisture, extreme temperatures, and UV light can impact the performance of spray foam insulation over time. Closed-cell foam is more resistant to these factors, but open-cell foam may degrade more quickly in harsh conditions.

Degradation and Loss of Insulating Properties

  • Chemical Breakdown: Over time, the chemical structure of spray foam insulation can break down, leading to a loss of insulating properties. Exposure to high temperatures and UV light can accelerate this degradation.
  • Shrinkage: Spray foam insulation, especially open-cell foam insulation, can shrink over time. This shrinkage can create gaps between the insulation and the framing, reducing its effectiveness and allowing air leaks.
  • Pulling Away from Framing: As spray foam insulation ages, it may pull away from the framing due to changes in temperature and humidity. This can compromise the airtight seal and reduce the home’s energy efficiency.

Spray Foam vs. Other Insulation Types

Feature/Characteristic Spray Foam Insulation Fiberglass Insulation Cellulose Insulation Mineral Wool Insulation Foam Board Insulation
Material Polyurethane Fine glass fibers Recycled paper products Rock or slag wool Polystyrene, polyisocyanurate, or polyurethane
Installation Method Spray-applied (expands to fit) Batts, rolls, or loose-fill Loose-fill or wet-spray Batts, rolls, or loose-fill Rigid boards
R-Value per Inch 3.5-6.5 (open-cell) 6-7 (closed-cell) 2.2-4.3 3.2-3.8 3.1-4.0 3.6-8.0
Air Sealing Ability Excellent (closed-cell acts as air barrier) Moderate Moderate Moderate Good
Moisture Resistance Excellent (closed-cell) Poor Poor Good Good
Fire Resistance Good (fire retardants can be added) Poor Good (treated with fire retardants) Excellent Varies (fire retardants can be added)
Soundproofing Good Moderate Good Excellent Moderate
Durability Excellent (closed-cell) Moderate Moderate Excellent Excellent
Environmental Impact Higher (chemicals used) Moderate (glass fibers) Lower (recycled content) Moderate Varies (depends on type and manufacturer)
Cost High Low Moderate Moderate Moderate to High
Installation Difficulty Requires professional installation DIY-friendly Requires professional installation DIY-friendly Requires professional installation
Health Concerns Chemical exposure during installation Skin and respiratory irritation Dust can be an irritant Dust can be an irritant Potential chemical exposure during installation
Lifespan 20-30 years (closed-cell) 10-20 years 20-30 years 30-50 years 20-30 years
Best Uses Attics, walls, crawl spaces, basements Attics, walls, floors, ceilings Attics, walls, floors Attics, walls, floors, ceilings Attics, walls, foundations
Energy Efficiency Excellent Moderate to good Good Good Good to excellent

Fiberglass Insulation

R-value: R-2.9 to R-3.8 per inch (batts), R-2.2 to R-2.9 per inch (loose-fill)

Benefits: Affordable, easy to install, fire-resistant

Drawbacks: Can irritate skin and lungs, less effective if compressed or wet

Cellulose Insulation

R-value: R-3.1 to R-3.8 per inch

Benefits: Made from recycled materials, good at reducing air leaks, pest-resistant when treated

Drawbacks: Can settle over time, potential for mold growth if wet

Mineral Wool Insulation

R-value: R-3.3 to R-4.2 per inch

Benefits: Fire-resistant, soundproofing qualities, does not absorb water

Drawbacks: Higher cost, can be difficult to handle due to its density

Foam Board Insulation

R-value: R-4 to R-6.5 per inch (varies by type: polystyrene, polyisocyanurate, polyurethane)

Benefits: High insulating value per inch, moisture-resistant, provides structural strength.

Drawbacks: More expensive, requires precise installation to avoid gaps

Legal and Regulatory Issues

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Using spray foam insulation involves adhering to various building codes and regulations to ensure safety and effectiveness. Homeowners and contractors must know these legal and regulatory requirements to avoid potential legal issues and ensure proper installation.

Building Codes and Regulations Regarding Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam insulation must meet specific building codes and standards, which vary by region. These codes ensure that the insulation is installed safely and performs effectively.

  1. Fire Safety: Building codes often include requirements for fire safety, such as ensuring that spray foam insulation is covered with a thermal barrier (e.g., drywall) to protect against fire hazards. Some codes specify the use of fire-rated spray foam products in certain applications.
  2. Ventilation Requirements: Proper ventilation is crucial when installing spray foam insulation to prevent the buildup of harmful fumes during application. Building codes may specify ventilation requirements to protect the health of installers and occupants.
  3. Material Standards: Spray foam insulation must meet specific material standards set by organizations such as ASTM International and the International Code Council (ICC). These standards ensure the product’s quality, safety, and performance.

Compliance Requirements

  1. Professional Installation: Many building codes require certified professionals install that spray foam insulation. This ensures the product is applied correctly and safely, minimizing the risk of health issues and structural problems.
  2. Permits and Inspections: Installing spray foam insulation may require obtaining permits and undergoing inspections to ensure compliance with local building codes. These inspections verify that the insulation has been installed according to the required standards and guidelines.
  3. Manufacturer Guidelines: Compliance also involves following the manufacturer’s guidelines for mixing, applying, and curing the spray foam. Deviating from these guidelines can result in improper installation and potential legal issues.

Potential for Legal Issues if Not Installed Properly

Improper installation of spray foam insulation can lead to several legal issues:

  1. Health and Safety Violations: Failing to adhere to safety standards and regulations can result in health and safety violations. These violations can lead to fines, legal action, and liability for any harm caused to occupants or workers.
  2. Building Code Violations: Non-compliance with building codes can result in citations and require costly remediation to bring the insulation up to code. This can delay construction projects and increase overall costs.
  3. Warranty and Insurance Issues: Improper installation may void manufacturer warranties and impact insurance coverage. Insurance companies may refuse to cover damage or health issues resulting from incorrectly installed spray foam insulation.
  4. Litigation Risk: Homeowners may face litigation if improperly installed spray foam insulation causes damage to their property or health issues. Legal disputes can be costly and time-consuming, further complicating the issues related to incorrect installation.

Adhering to building codes and regulations is essential when installing spray foam insulation to ensure safety, effectiveness, and legal compliance. Homeowners should work with certified professionals and obtain the necessary permits and inspections to avoid potential legal issues and ensure that their insulation meets all required standards. Proper compliance protects the health and safety of occupants and safeguards against legal and financial repercussions.

Contact Attic Projects Today to Find the Right Insulation for Your Home

The best way to avoid problems with insulation in your attic is to hire an experienced team of contractors who know where not to use it. Attic Projects Attic & Crawl Space Experts is your team of trained and qualified attic and crawl space technicians.

Attic Projects offers attic cleaning, mold remediation, insulation removal and installation, sanitation, storage, remodeling, and more. Our technicians also provide electrical, rodent removal, air duct, and crawl space services.

We pride ourselves on being a one-stop shop for your attic needs. We aim to ensure every homeowner has a healthy, safe, and comfortable home.

Call Attic Projects Attic & Crawl Space Experts today to schedule your free attic inspection and avoid any potential problems with spray foam insulation!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)—Spray Foam Insulation

If you still can’t decide on spray foam insulation, read the answers to these frequently asked questions about spray foam Insulation.

Does spray foam cause moisture problems?

Spray foam doesn’t cause moisture problems, but if you have excess humidity, using spray foam isn’t the answer. Before spraying any insulation, you need to address and seal the moisture problems to prevent mold growth.

Is Spray Foam Insulation Unsafe?

There still remains a lot of debate on whether spray foam insulation is safe. When you let spray foam insulation dry the right way, and for the correct amount of time, then it should not pose any threats to your home or health.

However, you should note some areas where you should not use spray foam insulation. These areas to avoid include basement leaks, near electrical work, and around lighting. In addition, it’s important to avoid putting in open-cell insulation to prevent spray foam roof insulation problems like mold growth.

How Long Does Spray Foam Insulation Last?

When you have proper installation for spray foam insulation, it lasts anywhere from 80 to 100 years. In particular closed-cell insulation proves incredibly durable because it doesn’t deteriorate or boast any kind of flexibility.

You should note that the lifespan of your spray foam insulation may decrease if your contractor installs the spray foam insulation improperly. These mistakes that affect the lifespan include spraying the wrong thickness or density, applying it to old insulation or moldy surfaces, and leaving gaps or air pockets.

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