Insulation

Published on June 14th, 2016 | by Henri

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Is urea-formaldehyde insulation safe?

Q.  Back in the 1970s, I had formaldehyde pumped into my exterior walls of my wood frame house. Soon after, this insulation method was banned. A short time after that, I spotted a small item tucked in on the bottom of a page that informed us that the ban had been lifted. Now, as I am selling my house, a potential buyer bluntly walked away when she was informed of the insulation. She was concerned of the potential danger to her daughter who has lung problems. Do you know the status of this insulation today?

A.  Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was developed in the 1950s in Europe to insulate hard-to-reach wall cavities. It became popular in North America following the energy crisis of the early 1970s. The reported health problems of people sensitive to its gases were due to improper mixing by installers who used a slight excess of formaldehyde to ensure the complete curing with the urea.

This excess formaldehyde usually outgassed within a few days after the injection of the mix. Enough health complaints were received by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that it was banned in 1982. But the ban was lifted by the U.S. Court of Appeals in April 1983.

Regardless, the potential buyer of your house, who walked away, should have been made aware that once UFFI has outgassed, there should no longer be any deleterious health effects. Anyone concerned about UFFI can very easily ensure that all outgassing occurs to the outside by caulking all joints between dissimilar materials on the inside of the outside walls of the house.

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