4 Types Of Insulation To Avoid In 2023

Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation 

Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is widely promoted as a green building material because it can save homeowners on energy costs by insulating better per inch than fiberglass or cellulose. However, the material is also a source of health and environmental hazards for workers who apply it and those living in buildings that are insulated with it. Among the hazards that are commonly associated with SPF are isocyanates and other toxic chemicals that are released during installation or when polyurethane products are heated, burned, cut, abraded, or inhaled during application.  

The chemical isocyanate, which can be found in many types of spray foam, can be a serious allergen that can cause asthma-like symptoms or rashes. This is particularly true for children but is a risk to anyone who breathes the spray foam fumes during installation or inhale it when it dries out and hardens. 

Rigid Foam Insulation With Flame Retardants 

Foam plastic insulation is often treated with flame retardants to prevent it from catching fire or slowing its spread. These chemicals have been used since the 1970s, but a new study finds they may not be safe for people or the environment. 

Specifically, the study found that a toxic flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) can be released from EPS and XPS foam insulation after it has been used. It also shows that another flame retardant, tetrafluoropropyl pyridine (TCPP) can break down into toxic chemicals in the presence of sunlight and heat. The authors of the study suggest that more careful selection of flame retardants for rigid polyurethane foam should be considered. They say it should consider microstructure, mechanical, thermal and wettability properties of the foam. The flame retardant should also have a low offgassing odor and be suitable for the intended use. 

Insulation With Asbestos

The problem with insulation made of asbestos is that it has been linked to a wide range of diseases, including cancers like mesothelioma and lung disease such as asbestosis. It is extremely difficult for the body to break down and expel asbestos fibers, so these fibers stay inside your lungs and accumulate. 

If you have a house that was built before 1980, it is highly likely that your home contains some form of insulation with asbestos in it. These products usually look like a blanket-type covering that is woven around your pipes, ducts, or HVAC components. This insulation can be a danger when it is disturbed, removed, or damaged by construction workers and other occupants. As a result, it is important to know where this insulation is located so that it can be safely removed or encapsulated. 

Insulation With Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a chemical used to preserve wood and embalm dead bodies, and it is now a Red List material in many green building certification programs. Low levels of formaldehyde are irritating to the skin, eyes, and nose, but exposure at high levels can lead to respiratory problems and nasal cancers. If you’re concerned about toxicity, look for fiberglass insulation with formaldehyde-free binder.  

The company Roxul, for example, recently announced that it would phase out urea formaldehyde foam (UFFI) in its AFB brand of fiberglass products. In addition, the company is also developing a new, more formaldehyde-free binder called AFB EVO. The binder is based on rapidly renewable bio-based materials that use less energy and produce lower emissions than traditional urea-formaldehyde foams. It is an important addition to the growing number of options that don’t have added formaldehyde.