Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is a product widely used to insulate buildings and seal cracks and gaps, improving energy efficiency and home comfort. These advantages make it the product of choice for so many building professionals. It reacts quickly, fills the wall cavities and seals gaps, and delivers great value. It is applied on-site and requires contractors to follow safety procedures before application.
Spray foam insulation consistently outperforms all other types of insulation. Unfortunately, while effective at both insulating and sealing, polyurethane spray foam does have ingredients that can cause adverse health effects if not handled properly.
The Dangers of Spray Foam Insulation
Spray foam insulation is an aerosol that is designed to expand. It contains chemicals called isocyanates that can cause skin irritation and lung sensitization if not handled properly or if appropriate PPE isn’t worn.
Sensitization means that those handling the product can develop an allergy to a certain chemical after being exposed to it. Workers can develop asthma, even if they have never had symptoms before. The following symptoms can appear during or immediately after exposure to isocyanates:
- Wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing
- Irritation of the eyes and lungs
- Stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Tightness in the chest
Steps to Take Before Installing Spray Foam Insulation
Whether you are the applicator, a helper, or an occupant of the building being sprayed, there are several steps you should take to keep everyone safe.
1. Workspace Preparation
Anyone who is not wearing proper protection must vacate the building before the spraying begins. Cover or tape any outlets or other exposed surfaces such as molding or trim, as the foam is very difficult to remove from unwanted areas.
The work area should be well ventilated at all times. If the job site is not ventilated, we recommend adding mechanical ventilation.
It’s never a good idea to spray on wet surfaces because it will not adhere properly to wet surfaces. Use a moisture meter to determine if the surface is dry enough.
When you know the workplace is properly prepared and everyone else has vacated the site, you can start to apply the insulation.
2. Plan Ahead
There should be a plan and schedule in place before the application process begins. It’s important to know when the building’s occupants can safely re-enter the premises. The standard time recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 24 hours after application is complete for unprotected workers to re-enter the area.
3. Protective Equipment
Never apply spray foam insulation without the right safety gear. Polyurethane foams must be used in conjunction with certified respiratory protection. It is recommended to use a NIOSH-approved negative pressure half-mask respirator or a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR).
When using respirators to protect against exposure, always use an organic vapor cartridge and change it regularly. Because isocyanates are odorless and colorless, they don’t present warning properties to alert workers of exposure. A pair of high-quality safety goggles are required to protect the eyes from exposure to air-borne particles.
Your body needs the right protective gear too. Workers are most commonly exposed to the isocyanates in spray foam by getting them on their skin during the installation process. There should be no exposed skin during the installation process. You should always wear disposable coveralls with an attached hood to ensure none of the product touches the skin.
Disposable, surgical-style gloves work well to protect installers. To keep everything in place, tape your gloves to your sleeves. This will ensure no foam comes into contact with your wrists and arms.
4. Test the Foam
You should always test the foam before you apply it. Make sure your tanks are at the correct temperature. Point the gun into an empty box and give it a test spray to make sure all the chemicals are coming out evenly and the foam is expanding properly.
Every time you stop spraying for more than 30 seconds, you’ll have to change the tip. When you aren’t spraying, the foam will gather in the tip and clog it. You should know how and where you’re going to spray before you get started.
Leave It to the Professionals
For large spray foam insulation projects, it’s best to call in professional contractors. There are just too many factors that could pose greater potential health hazards to amateurs.
RT Construction has the proper knowledge, experience, and equipment to insulate your home or commercial building with spray foam insulation. Safety is our priority. You can rest easy knowing your building is in good hands. Contact us today for a free consultation.