Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI)

Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was used in residential Homes until the early 1980’s. It was determined that this type of expandable foam insulation emitted high levels of formaldehyde gas. This gas was then determined to cause dangerous health effects.

UFFI insulation was developed in the 1950’s as an alternative insulation product to insulate pre-existing homes. The expandable insulation was prepared on the job site and then pumped into the wall cavities of the home.

The foam insulation would then harden and become an effective means of insulation. Formaldehyde was often added to the mixture to help the hardening and curing process. The negative health effects were caused by the release of formaldehyde gas.

There have been two studies performed on the heath consequences of UFFI insulation. One of these study’s  determined that the UFFI insulation did produce enough harmful gas to raise the cancer risk of the homeowners. The other major study disputed the findings of the first study.

Known negative heath effects of high levels of formaldehyde are watering eyes, nausea, dizziness, flu like symptoms, difficulty breathing, fatigue and increased risk of developing lung problems.

The formaldehyde gas will dissipate over time as the insulation product gets older. The levels of gas produced from the insulation decreases over time as the product ages. Some believe that if the insulation is at least five years old there may be no risk of producing harmful gas. When the material is sealed inside a wall cavity it will not  dissipate as fast as if the material was applied in the open.

New Jersey Home Inspectors will look for visual evidence of this type of insulation. UFFI insulation can be identified by several ways. The color of the material is a dull yellow and can sometimes be seen oozing from cracks and above and below wall cavities. Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation is easily damaged and crumbles when touched. Most UFFI insulation was installed in older homes. It is unlikely that you will find UFFI in a home built after 1975. Newer types of foam insulation are harder and not as brittle. Patched holes can be sometimes seen either on the exterior or interior walls of the house. The holes were used to pump in the insulation and were later patched.

If your home has UFFI insulation you should have indoor air quality testing performed. The testing should be specifically for formaldehyde. A qualified professional should be hired to do this type of air testing. After professional testing you can make informed decisions about what corrections are required to make the air safe. If you are buying a house with UFFI insulation use caution and do your do homework to determine if  the insulation has stopped producing formaldehyde gas.

When performing your New Jersey Home inspection, I will be looking for evidence of this type of expandable insulation. It is rare but I do come across it from time too time.

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