Spray Foam Insulation: What’s the Stink?

Pole Barn Guru Blog

What’s the Stink?

One popular, although expensive, method of insulating pole buildings is with spray foam insulation. Besides cost, spray foam can also bring with it problems in the form of lingering odors.  These odors are coming from a catalyst in the foam, or from foam which is off-ratio, not mixed well or sprayed too thickly.

Odors which might occur with the foam application are typically caused by either the contractor applying the foam in greater than a 2-inch pass, or applying a second pass over the first without allowing the first pass to dissipate the heat and properly cure.

The odor occurs when the foam is slightly under processed. It happens when the recommended application temperatures aren’t followed. The recommended temperature varies with the substrate and weather conditions. As an example if the recommended application temperature is 140 degrees, and spray is done at 125 degrees, a full reaction does not occur. (These are the temperatures of the product leaving the gun). In this case, the amine catalyst (which has a strong odor) does not react properly and it won’t be fully consumed. It is real stinky.

A spray foam insulation work site should be isolated with polyethylene barriers and depressurized with an exhaust fan while the foam is being sprayed.

Some believe smelly foam problems can be solved by heat and ventilating the smelly areas. Most experts advise the only way to solve these problems is to remove the bad foam from the pole building.

Even foam removal may not solve a problem with a persistent odor, however as it is thought the smell can migrate to the framing lumber.

Thinking of hiring a spray foam contractor to insulate your pole building? Find out as much as possible about their training, their certification, and their experience level. In addition to verifying the training credentials of your spray foam contractor, you should insist your contractor isolate the work area and set up a fan to depressurize the areas where foam is being sprayed.

The industry has an almost impossible problem inherent in their dependence on spray contractors who have to comply fully with all installation instructions each and every time. For instance, they may have to spray to a certain thickness, wait, and continue spraying. Contractors may or may not follow such instructions to the letter. The industry’s own guidelines call for exhaust ventilation, but this practice is widely ignored. The point is, if the spray contractors truly had to work within all manufacturer instructions and industry guidelines, it would up-price the job.

Any experienced pole building package supplier knows building materials are occasionally defective. When a damaged or defective component is on the job site, the supplier wants to be able to call up a manufacturer’s rep and have the problem resolved quickly. If this happens, the supplier becomes a loyal customer. In fact, most suppliers’ choice of door brand is based not on the door quality but on the service provided by their rep. By this standard, many spray foam insulation manufacturers are failing dismally, as the service is often less than exemplary.

The advice to spray-foam manufacturers is simple: it’s not acceptable to brush off customers with smelly foam. If these cases aren’t quickly resolved, the dead-fish smell is likely to taint the entire industry.

 

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