April 19, 2018

A Healthier Alternative to Spray Foam Insulation

Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation is energy efficient and airtight. However, concerns over toxic emissions from SPF insulation, along with its combustibility, are growing. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A) found that some people experience negative reactions to even a small exposure to SPF, including wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, irritation of the eyes and lungs, fever, stuffy nose, sore throat, headaches, and joint pain.

Spray polyurethane foam is also prone to catching fire both during and after installation. Spray polyurethane foam is energy-efficient; still, issues due to the release of toxins from SPF, and its susceptibility to igniting, suggest the need for a healthier and safer alternative to SPF.

Chemical exposures from SPF may occur during and after the installation process.  Spray polyurethane foam is made by combining and reacting two liquid chemicals to create a foam. The mixing of materials reacts quickly and expands to create a continuous barrier on walls, around corners, and on all contoured surfaces. However, the chemical reaction and curing of SPF can produce toxins: isocyanates, aldehydes, amine catalysts, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

It is essential to the safety of the workers to limit exposure to the chemicals and wear appropriate personal protective equipment. Future occupants of the building should also stay away during the installation, job completion, and cleanup. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.), there are several ways the workers, and the building's occupants are exposed to harmful chemicals from SPF, for example:

  • Spray application of SPF generates toxic vapors, like isocyanate, which can migrate through the building. Isocyanate is classified as a potential human carcinogen and can cause lung problems, as well as nose, eyes, skin, and throat irritations.
  • Trimming SPF as it hardens generates dust that may contain isocyanates and other chemicals.
  • When exposed to heat (flaming and non-flaming), SPF can break down and produce a range of toxic chemicals: isocyanates, amines, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, or nitrogen oxides.

Spray foam insulation is not just unhealthy, it is also a fire hazard and can ignite a flash fire when exposed to flames from trash fires, cutting torches, etc. Consequently, Section R316.4 of the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC) requires protecting the spray foam insulation against catching fire with a thermal or ignition barrier. A thermal barrier is 1/2-inch gypsum wallboard or a material that is equal in fire resistance to 1/2-inch gypsum wallboard.

An ignition barrier is less protective than a thermal barrier. Sections R316.5.3 and R316.5.4 of the 2015 IRC allows six permissible materials for an ignition barrier: 1.5-inch-thick mineral fiber insulation; 0.25-inch-thick wood structural panels; 0.375-inch particle board; 0.25-inch-thick hardboard; 0.375-inch-thick gypsum board; or corrosion-resistant steel having a base metal thickness of 0.016 inches.

Fires also can also occur during the application of spray foam insulation. Applying the SPF too thick or improper mixing of the chemicals at the application nozzle can cause fires. Fire hazards during and after the application of SPF suggest the need for a safer alternative to SPF.

A Safer Alternative to Spray Foam Insulation

Spray polyurethane foam can create an energy-efficient structure; however, because of SPF’s potential to emit toxic chemicals and its ease of flammability, an alternative insulation system is worth consideration. Bautex Insulated Block Wall System is a healthier and safer alternative to spray foam insulation. Bautex Blocks create a healthy, fire-resistant, energy-efficient, and durable buildings and homes.

  • Bautex Blocks have low volatile organic compound (VOC) emittance. Emissions of VOCs impact the health of a building’s occupants. VOC’s can cause cancer, nose, eye and throat irritations, headaches, nausea and damage to the kidney, liver and central nervous system.
  • Bautex Blocks are fire-resistant. They have an ASTM E119 fire rating of four hours (twice the two-hour requirement) and an ASTM E84 reported values for flame speed of zero and smoke development of twenty. Because the blocks meet the E84 and NFPA 286 they essentially meet the NFPA 101 code.
  • Application of the Bautex AMB 20 air and moisture barrier to the Bautex block wall prevents air and moisture infiltration to the interior of a home. Moisture can lead to mold and rot which impacts the integrity, safety, and health of a building.
  • The Bautex Block Wall Assembly is also energy-efficient with an R-14 continuous insulation and disaster resistant.

In recent decades, SPF has become increasingly popular over fiberglass insulation, which is not airtight and may be susceptible to moisture accumulation. But, toxic emissions from SPF, along with its combustibility, bring its safety to question. For more information on healthier and safer alternatives to spray foam insulation, visit Bautex Wall System.


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