Spray foam insulation can make some homes unlivable

A CBC Marketplace investigation has found that for some homeowners, a “green” way to make their houses more energy efficient has left them out in the cold.

   The growing popularity of spray polyurethane foam insulation may be creating an emerging problem in Canada. While the majority of spray foam installations occur without incident, problems can be costly and difficult to repair, and have led to a string of lawsuits in the U.S. as homeowners attempt to recover costs.

   When installed incorrectly, spray foam insulation can result in a strong, unpleasant fishy smell from off-gassing that has driven some people from their homes, some complaining of difficulty breathing and other health problems. When contractors fail to address installation problems, homeowners can have little recourse.

   “We thought we were doing something to improve our home and instead basically destroyed my home,” one homeowner tells Marketplace co-host Tom Harrington. “They ruined it. We can’t live in it anymore.”

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From Anonymous

3 Responses to Spray foam insulation can make some homes unlivable

  1. Anonymous says:

    To me, this is so emblematic of what is broken about a lot of 'green technology'. We come up with complicated and/or heavily end-stage technological solutions to really basic, fundamental, timeless problems.

    So you want to keep a shelter – a space people spend time in – a comfortable temperature. What can you do?

    If you can approach the temperature moderation game from both ends, it's so much easier to solve the problem

    * You can change what people consider a comfortable temperature (cold: wear heavier clothes, import eskimos…. warm: hang out in lighter dress, bring in people from the tropics)
    * You can work to modify how the internal temperature reflects the external one (insulation, thermal mass, heat tranfer via convection/conduction/radiation, siting of the property, etc.)

    Being a little more easy-going with temperature swings seems perfectly natural to me. I don't have to sit around in shorts in the middle of winter, or get to wear wool socks and a sweater in summer.

    * you can moderate the temperature swings inside the shelter
    Technology to moderate temperature is as old as shelter itself. People who lived in caves had the advantage of thermal mass going for them. Siting your dwelling based on the seasonal changes of the sun is very old. Heavy thermal mass (earthen walls) can have an amazing effect in places where the temperature swings widely from day to night…Planting trees to block the wind, or the western sun, or to transpire and cool the air, or simply to shade the dwelling works, too.

    Walls have been stuffed with straw, or with sheep's wool, or whatever for centuries. Stuff like this works even if your dwelling is already built and sited in a non-ideal way.

    I can't even hint at the tip of the iceberg here. Lloyd – you know buckets more about this than I do.

    It kills me that there's this enormous toolbox of things you can do to change the thermal behavior of your building. Many of them are very old and very simple. Trying the easy things – the low-hanging fruit – first, seems so much better, safer, simpler, and cheaper.

    But I know the problem goes deeper than this. It's engagement – does the person with the shelter want to take responsibility for solving the problem in a possibly non-standard way. It's regulations and materials and methods – as part of the great consumer machine, we don't often have the know-how or skills to easily attack such problems, and our training boils down to 'ask the experts' or 'buy the existing solution off the shelf' General integration into the larger machine stands in opposition to development of local solutions.

    If I could magically construct organizations, I would wave my lousy wand and create 10 thousand community-level co-ops across the US devoted to solving local problems with local resources according to local needs, and cross my fingers that the resulting push towards locally-useful knowledge would snowball back into a situation where nobody believes the lie that we are all living in Spaceship Suburbia, Anywhere, USA.

    You don't need rocket science to keep your house warm, and you probably don't want to breathe rocket science, anyways.


  2. Lloyd Kahn says:

    All true. We wear layers here in the office, use very little heat (a 660 watt electric Zell Aire heater for an hour or two on cold mornings). In the house, firewood salvaged from the roadside. Wearing skimpy clothes and keeping a home at 70 degrees in the winter is just criminal.

  3. Prime-Energy Group says:

    It is really important that you hire a home insulation contractor that has a good reputation. Many people will just opt for the cheapest option. This article shows that you should not mess around when it comes to spray foam insulation. If done incorrectly it can lead to you shelling out much more than it would have cost to pay for an experienced professional

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