What “IS” a Mold Inspection?

July 14, 2016

I once again raise this question because I’ve been called in to provide yet another second opinion of a mold inspection that consisted of nothing more than the collection of a few air samples for mold spores.  I assure you that a correct mold assessment in accordance with the only industry standard of practice does not involve the random sampling of mold.  The only industry standard of practice is the ASTM D-7338 Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings.

The question of just what is a mold assessment is a frustrating and surprisingly hard question for many industry professionals to answer.  That’s right; many mold professionals just don’t know their own industry well enough to know the prevailing standard of practice.  When I’m asked to provide a second opinion on a mold inspection, I always want to talk with the original mold assessors.  Given the chance, I will always take the opportunity to try to raise the awareness of the original mold assessor and inform them of the ASTM D-7338 and the process of providing a valuable mold assessment and report.  I feel that this is best for our industry and for the consumer.

So just what is it that many mold assessors believe is a mold inspection?  Many believe that a mold assessment is simply testing for mold.  There is plenty of guidance on the value of mold sampling but if the ill-informed mold assessor isn’t aware of the industry standard of practice, the ASTM D-7338, there is little chance that they will be aware of the very public opinion of mold sampling.

Let’s just review the industry position on mold sampling.  Ten years ago, the ACGIH concluded that air testing provided a “snap shot” of conditions at the exact time and place of the sampling, but nothing more.   The Center for Disease Control, CDC’s current position is that air sampling for mold is nothing more than a snap shot and that such a snap shot is not reliable, representative or worth the cost. The CDC states very clearly that “Any claim based solely on air sampling results is inherently suspect.”  The CDC goes on to state that “There is no reason to respond to questionable testing by conducting more of it.  I believe that is a very clear position from a reputable source.

What does the laboratory say about the interpretation of the collected mold samples?

  •        The client is solely responsible for the use and interpretation
  •        Note: Interpretation is left to the company and/or persons who conducted the field work.
  •        The “Lab” shall have no liability to the client or the client’s customer with respect to decisions or recommendations made, actions taken or courses of conduct implemented by either the client or the client’s customer as a result of or based upon the Test Results.

The mold assessor that collected the mold samples is the laboratory’s client not the property owner.  That is something that the mold sampler seems to not understand.

Let’s look a bit further. When the following governmental and industry organizations were asked if mold testing is necessary, this is what they had to say.

  •        American Industrial Hygiene Association, AIHA There are no standards for “acceptable” levels of mold in the indoor environment. If you know you have a mold problem, it is more important to spend time and resources solving the moisture problem and getting rid of the mold than to spend it on sampling.
  •        US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA If you know you have a mold problem, it is more important to spend time and resources solving the moisture problem and getting rid of the mold than to spend it on sampling. If visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary.  Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards.
  •        Occupational Health and Safety Administration, OSHA In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Your first step should be to inspect for any evidence of water damage and visible mold growth.
  •        U.S. Department of Labor There are no standards for acceptable levels of mold in buildings, and the lack of a definitive correlation between exposure levels and health effects makes interpreting the data difficult, if not impossible.
  •        Center for Disease Control, CDC There are no accepted standards for mold sampling in indoor environments or for analyzing and interpreting the data in terms of human health.  Molds are ubiquitous in the environment, and can be found almost anywhere samples are taken.  It is not known, however, what quantity of mold is acceptable in indoor environments with respect to health.  CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a building.  Measurements of mold in air are not reliable or representative.  If mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal.
  •        The Florida Department of Health, The Florida Department of Health does not recommend mold testing or sampling to see if you have a mold problem, or to see what kind of mold might be growing.
  •        NYC Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments, The Department of Health, DOH, should continue to emphasize in its public education materials that sampling for airborne mold is unlikely to provide reliable information for decision-making in damp or moldy buildings.

So, should you sample for mold? No, never for the purpose of mold investigation.  Why? There are too many variables impacting the results and the sample size is too small for air testing for mold to be reliable.  The type of mold will not change the necessary mold remediation.  The genus of mold is just not relevant or necessary unless you are trying to frighten a client into believing that they have “Toxic” mold.  Mold spore trap air samples do not have the ability to establish the presence of any mycotoxins.  Air sampling’s lack of utility in determining the level of mold found in indoor air may be a surprise to some, given the frequent references to these tests and mold litigation.  Unfortunately, those that reference mold testing in mold litigation are never directly involved in mold litigation or they would know what the reality is, mold sampling to the genus level is worthless in court.

Mold assessors should bear in mind that samples provide information about a site as it existed at the time tested.  However, the findings may not represent conditions at a time in the past or future, even the relatively recent past or near future. Changes in the kinds, concentrations, and proportions of biological agents in the air can be rapid and substantial.  Bioaerosols: Assessment and Control, Section 2.4.2.2.

ASTM D7338 Standard Guide for Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings 7.1 The most important requirement of an assessment for fungal growth is an on-site inspection of the subject building. It is very important to remember that the ASTM D-7338 is the only recognized standard for mold assessment.  According to the ASTM D-7338 the parts of a mold assessment include:

  •        the collection of background information,
  •        the formulation of a hypothesis or hypotheses,
  •        on-site inspection including moisture dynamics,
  •        an evaluation of the HVAC system,
  •        hypothesis testing,
  •        site documentation and written report.

The scope of work defines the problem and, just as importantly, which part of the basic assessment and which of the procedures are to be performed.   The scope of work will define the inspection boundaries.  The ASTM D-7338 clearly states that “Within the inspection boundary, all surfaces should be inspected to the extent feasible, including

  •        above suspended ceilings and
  •        inside pipe chases,
  •        attics, and
  •        crawlspaces.

The exterior of the building and adjacent grounds should also be inspected for moisture intrusion sites and air leaks.”

The mold inspector that only samples for mold and provides nothing more than a laboratory report will attempt to exclude virtually all areas of a building from his responsibility.  Below is an excerpt from a peer reviewed mold inspection report “Disclaimer”.  It is a remarkable example of how some mold inspectors attempt to alleviate themselves form the responsibility of the very job that they were hired to perform.

DISCLAIMER

Certain areas are considered inaccessible and impractical to inspect including, but not limited to,

the interiors of walls and inaccessible areas below; areas beneath wood floors over concrete; areas concealed by floor coverings; and areas to which there is no access without defacing or tearing out lumber, masonry, roofing or finished workmanship; structures; portions of the attic concealed or made inaccessible by insulation, belongings, equipment or ducting; portions of the attic or roof cavity concealed due to inadequate crawl space; areas of the attic or crawl space made inaccessible due to construction; interiors of enclosed boxed eaves; portions of the sub area concealed or made inaccessible by ducting or insulation; enclosed bay windows; portions of the interior made inaccessible by furnishings; areas where locks prevented access; areas concealed by appliances; areas concealed by stored materials; and areas concealed by heavy vegetation.

There is no economically practical method to make these areas accessible. However, they may be subject to attack by microbial organisms. No opinion is rendered concerning the conditions in these aforementioned or other inaccessible areas. Furthermore, mold grows. As such, the inspection and report produced by Mold Assessor is not a guarantee that mold does not exist.

As a courtesy Mold Assessor may point out conditions that contribute to mold growth but such comments are not part of the bargained for report, protocol, or supplemental information. The protocol is not intended to be either exhaustive or inclusive of all pertinent requirements, methods or procedures that might be appropriate on a particular mold remediation project.

Anyone using this document should understand the limitations with its use, and rely on his or her own independent judgment, or as appropriate, seek the advice of competent professionals in determining the exercise of reasonable care in any given situation.

This type of disclaimer is an example of how some mold inspectors are intent on limiting their area of responsibility.  What exactly are property owners that hire this mold inspector paying for?  What exactly is the value provided by the mold assessor?  Most importantly, why the need to limit the area of responsibility in direct contradiction to the ASTM D-7338?  The answer is that this mold assessor, like many, had no idea that the ASTM D-7338 even existed. This mold assessor, like many, felt that the simple collection of air samples for mold was a mold inspection in direct contradiction to the government and industry positions sited above.

As with any industry the mold industry has a standard of practice that must be followed to provide a property owner with necessary and relevant information regarding any possible mold issue within their property.  Mold sampling will never have the ability to provide any of that necessary and relevant information

A mold inspection in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 will provide the property owner with a wealth of necessary and relevant information.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.3 Identification of Current Water Damage and Suspect Fungal Growth

  •        All surfaces within the inspection boundary should be systematically evaluated for indicators of moisture damage and fungal growth.

Exposed surfaces (including building materials, furnishings, and contents) should be examined for past and ongoing damage including:

(1)  suspect fungal growth,

(2)  standing water

(3)  water stains,

(4)  dampness to touch, and

(5)  blistering, warping, de-lamination, or other deterioration.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.4 Identification of Potentials for Fungal Growth

The inspection should identify moisture sources and moisture pathways, including:

(1)  sites where condensation may occur,

(2)  equipment or activities which may release water,

(3)  pathways for water movement and

(4)  areas where leakage is likely.

–  Staining patterns are often useful in identifying moisture sources.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.5 Presence of Odors

Detection of musty odors should always be noted.

(1)  Sources of such odors should be located.

(2)  If the source is not apparent, intrusive investigation may be required.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.6 Classification of Inspection Observations

Classify each distinct area or area of interest within the inspection boundary as one of the following categories:

(1)  no apparent fungal growth and no apparent water damage;

(2)  water damage having no visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth,

(3)  visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth having no apparent water damage, &

(4)  water damage having visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.8 HVAC Inspection, if applicable per the scope of work

The interiors of HVAC equipment in contact with ventilation air should be inspected for indicators of excessive moisture or suspect fungal growth.

Such areas may include intake and return plenums, filters, coils, condensate pans, fans, housing insulation, and supply ducts immediately downstream from the coils.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.1 Site Map—A site/floor plan should be prepared showing each inspection classification, as determined in 7.5.6.

The plan should be sufficiently detailed to allow each area of interest to the assessment to be unambiguously located.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.2 Documentation of Suspect Fungal Growth—Wherever suspect or confirmed fungal growth is identified during the inspection, documentation should include:

(1)  extent (for example, approximate square footage of suspect growth),

(2) severity (for example, relative darkness or continuity of stain), growth pattern (for example, light versus heavy growth and spotty versus continuous growth), and

(3)  clues to apparent cause (for example, exterior wall, condensation near a HVAC vent, associated with water staining).

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.3 Documentation of Moisture Damage—In addition to documenting the location of moisture damage, as above, further documentation should include:

(1)  apparent sources of leaks and other moisture sources, and

(2)  apparent timing and duration (for example, whether the moisture has been resolved, active (currently wet) or the moisture source is likely to reoccur

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.4 Visual Documentation—Photographs or videotapes are often helpful in documenting building conditions. Captions should note location, timing, and context.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.5 Additional Detail—Start and stop time, temperature, humidity, occupancy, condition, and housekeeping of the property.

With a clearly written standard of practice for mold assessment, it’s truly hard to believe that there are so many mold assessors that provide a client little more than a few air samples for mold and call it a mold inspection.  Worse yet is when these mold inspectors call the simple collection of air samples for mold air quality samples.  Both are perfect examples of over selling and under delivering.

More importantly, I would stress that a mold assessment is NOT the collection of mold samples or testing for mold.  It may include the collection of mold samples but the collection of mold samples is NOT, on its own, a mold assessment.

If you hire a licensed mold assessor you should receive a written report in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 signed by the licensed mold assessor that performed the assessment.  Not by someone in another location that never visited your home or office.  When you hire a licensed mold assessor you should receive the written report signed by the licensed mold assessor that performed the assessment and never be required to pay an additional fee for a written report.

That’s ridicules, what are you paying for if you aren’t receiving a written mold assessment report from your licensed assessor.

So what should the written mold assessment report include?

As the ASTM D-7338 clearly states.  A detailed evaluation of data obtained from a building history and inspection to formulate an initial hypothesis about the

  •        origin,
  •        identity, location,
  •        and extent of amplification of mold growth

The written report can then be provided to licensed mold remediators that can then provide you with a written estimate for the remediation.

Finally, I close with questions you should ask your mold assessor before you hire them.

o    (Tip: You’re looking for conflicts of interest here. If they also perform remediation, they have a vested interest in finding mold to clean up.)

  •        Do you have references from clients within the past year that I can call to ask how the inspection went?

o   (Tip: Be cautious of anyone new to the business and doesn’t have references.)

  •        Do you perform mold remediation?

Please, as a take away, always ask if your mold assessor is Licensed and aware of the ASTM D-7338

 

Thank You

 

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS

www.FloridaIAQ.com

Indoor Air Quality Association, IAQA President

www.IAQA.org

 

 


Spray Foam Insulation Inspection Part IV, The Wrap Up.

July 27, 2014

Welcome to the final installment of our four part series on Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation.  So far we’ve discussed the what and how’s involved with the application of spray foam insulation.  The articles were written in an effort to raise awareness for both consultants interested in investigating complaints associated with spray foam and for the consumer who may be interested in the application of spray foam in their home or office.

This final article will address the actual inspection of the property that has the complaint.  That’s right “property” not the air or the spray foam but the property as a whole.

To be truly scientific in our approach and provide a solid foundation for our ultimate opinion, we must follow the scientific method which begins with a scientific hypothesis.  A scientific hypothesis is a proposed explanation of a phenomenon which still has to be rigorously tested.  The hypothesis doesn’t matter as much as the process of challenging the hypothesis to either prove or disprove the hypothesis.

For example, if you hypothesize that the spray foam is producing a nuisance odor resulting in the occupant complaint, you must then exclude all other potential contributors as well as show how the spray foam is the contributor.  The mere identification of volatile organic compounds VOC’s only tells us that there are VOC’s present not where and why they are present.  This wala, eureka, yahtzee, moment for some really provides no real substantive answer.

The beautiful part of the scientific approach is that you will ultimately identify the true contributor.  Let’s say that I hypothesize that the ventilation is inadequate and allowing for the accumulation of the complaint odors within the property.  I then have to physically inspect the applied spray foam insulation in accordance with industry standards and the manufacturer’s specifications to either include or exclude the SPF as a contributor.  I then have to inspect all other potential contributors to either include or exclude potential contributors such as the preexisting condition of the attic, exhaust fans, previous insulation, rodents, insects, stored materials etc. Finally, I would need to fully assess the property’s ventilation system and establish the actual ventilation rate to include or exclude the ventilation rate as a contributor.

However you decide to hypothesize following this scientific approach to the investigation of occupant complaints associated with spray foam insulation will weed out all potential contributors and provide support for the actual contributors.

When I investigate Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints I have three primary areas that must be individually addressed in each report.  First is the home or building’s ventilation system and ventilation rate. Second is the condition of the occupied space and the semi-conditioned attic space. Third is the actual inspection of the installed spray foam insulation.  You don’t have to inspect in that order but I personally believe any opinion rendered regarding spray polyurethane foam insulation that doesn’t include these three areas of concern will leave the client with too many unanswered questions and possibly no clear corrective action.

The first of my primary areas of concern when it comes to investigating Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints is the home or buildings ventilation system and ventilation rate.
Part II began with a short explanation of the objective for installing Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation.  We discussed how you aren’t just adding insulation or “R value” to your home to save a few energy bucks.  Most importantly we discussed the how you would be changing your home to save those energy bucks.  We talked about how the SPF will literally seal your home with the intent of preventing air infiltration and exfiltration.   Infiltration is the unintentional or accidental introduction of outside air into a building, typically through cracks in the exterior walls, ceilings, attics, and through use of doors and windows. This outdoor air infiltration is often referred to as air leakage.  In layman’s terms, SPF prevents unconditioned outdoor air from getting into your home and conditioned indoor air from escaping out of your home. 

Your energy savings is the direct result of substantially reduced air infiltration and exfiltration due to the sealing capability of the SPF insulation.  It truly is great for reducing the amount of energy bucks needed to heat and cool your home.  Your home’s HVAC system now only has to contend with the newly sealed indoor environment which now includes the semi-conditioned attic. 

Controlling the air infiltration in turn makes it easier for your home’s HVAC Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning system to heat, cool, and maintain your indoor thermal comfort.  That’s right, were talking about indoor thermal comfort not indoor air quality.

The discussion about the reduction in air infiltration and exfiltration led us to the necessary air exchange rate is also known as air changes per hour (ACHs) or air exchange rate. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have had a residential ventilation standard since 2003, ASHRAE 62.2.  The ASHRAE 62.2 minimum ventilation rate formula was set at 7.5 cfm per person plus 1 cfm per 100 square feet. 

So while your home’s recommended minimum ventilation rate remained unchanged for many #IAQS Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS #IAQ, Outdoor Air Supplyyears, ASHRAE has recognized the tighter construction of today’s homes and 10 years after the initial ASHRAE 6.2, there are new changes to the 2013 version of ASHRAE 62.2.  Under the new formula, newer tightly built homes will need to be ventilated at a much higher rate, namely 7.5 cfm per person plus 3 cfm per 100 square feet. This means that for a tightly built 2,400-square-foot home with 3 bedrooms, the minimum airflow rate of the ventilation equipment has jumped 89%, from 54 cfm to 102 cfm.  Long story short, the 2013 version of ASHRAE 62.2 has eliminated the air infiltration credit on new tightly built homes.  Guess where SPF insulated homes fall?  Right smack dab in the middle of the (as designed) tightly built category.

Remember this, a tightly sealed home will not meet the required ventilation rate and will require outdoor air supply.  Depending on where you live, this may require the use of an ERV (energy recovery ventilator), an HRV (heat recovery ventilator), or a mechanical dehumidifier.  All three will require alterations to your homes HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system.

This is a huge part of the investigation of Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints.  Well over two thirds of the investigations I conduct are the direct result or partial result of inadequate ventilation.  This includes almost all retrofit applications and many new construction homes and buildings.  If you intend to provide investigations for Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints be prepared to also inspect the homes ventilation system.  That includes knowing how to calculate the ventilation rate of the home or building and having the knowledge and ability to identify how the home or building is addressing the minimum ventilation rate set by ASHRAE 62.2.

Remember the consumer questions for SPF contractors in Part II?  Questions to Ask Your SPF Contractor Prior to Install 

SPF Consumer Question Number 1; How will you determine whether or not my home will meet or exceed the minimum ventilation rate once the SPF insulation is installed?

Be prepared to provide answers to this question and not just sample the air within your clients home.  Any home that does not meet the minimum ventilation rate can and most often will have an elevation in volatile organic compounds VOC’s due to inadequate ventilation.  Remember, dilution is often the solution. 

This is where the “Final Evaluation Test Out” was discussed in Part III.  This is a cornerstone of the true investigation of Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints.#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections 37

The Test Out air leakage testing is once again performed using a blower door to evaluate air leakage and natural ventilation after the spray polyurethane foam insulation application
The SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook states that “If application of SPF renders the home to be insufficiently ventilated, work with HVAC contractor to add mechanical ventilation or HRV/ERV.

SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook clearly states that “adjustments of HVAC system may be needed to:

  • Achieve Good IAQ
  • Meet the minimum mechanical ventilation rate via outdoor air supply and a dehumidifier or ERV/HRV
  • Avoid short-cycling of AC system for proper dehumidification
  • Supplemental humidification/dehumidification to control relative humidity”

To definitively establish the needs for any home once SPF has been installed where the traditionally vented attic has been changed to an unvented attic, the use of a blower door must be used to establish the home’s ventilation rate.  At that point, the home’s mechanical system requirements can be properly calculated using a Manual J for load calculation, a Manual S for equipment selection, and a Manual D for proper duct design. Without the known natural ventilation rate, you can only guess at the amount of outdoor air necessary to meet the minimum ventilation rate.  That is, if you have even taken the ACH into consideration and added the necessary outdoor air supply.  With the known natural ventilation rate and the new R values, the home’s HAVC can be correctly calculated and designed.

So when investigating a home or building with Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints treat the home or a building as a system that must work together in harmony to provide the optimal indoor environment.  This must include an understanding of the home or buildings ventilation system and a thorough inspection and evaluation of the home or building’s ventilation rate.

The second of my three primary areas of concern when investigating Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints is the condition of the occupied space and the semi-conditioned attic space.

#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections 32

This was discussed in Part II SPF Consumer Question Number 2; How will you clean my attic and prepare it to be a semi-conditioned attic space? 

This is an area that must be taken into consideration when investigating all SPF complaints.  Anyone investigating SPF complaints must take into consideration the age of the home or building and the condition of the home or building’s attic.  Any home or building that is retrofit with SPF can have some rather odd contributors to occupant discomfort and nuisance odors trapped within the sealed home or building.  These contributors will now become much more concentrated and obvious to occupants when the spray foam insulation is installed.   Most of these contributors come from the old now sealed and semi-conditioned attic.

#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections 31

Some of these contributors to occupant discomfort include the storage of materials in the now sealed attic space, attic insects and/or rodent activity, routine pest control applications, the previous insulation including the condition and material, and the ducting of gas appliances, fireplaces, and kitchen and bath fans.  The possibilities are endless and all must be considered and inspected during the investigation of spray polyurethane foam SPF Insulation complaints.  Remember, what has accumulated in the attic is now trapped within the now sealed semi-conditioned attic that is now a semi-conditioned attic that shares circulated air with the occupied living space of the home.

It’s time to take a closer look at how to physically inspect Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation and how to identify misapplied Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation. 

Let’s begin with a few examples of how NOT to identify misapplied Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation.  Photos A and B are NOT an inspection of spray foam insulation.  They are however a great example of how to spend your clients money sampling the attic air of their home or office.
Or you can actually inspect the applied Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation and identify properly applied spray foam insulation as shown in photo C or misapplied spray foam insulation as shown in photo D. 

#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101

The SPF industry has guidance documents for the inspection of installed SPF. The American Chemistry Council Spray Foam Coalition – Center for the Polyurethanes Industry have published the guidance document titled “Spray Polyurethane Foam: Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF”

The first step of the process would be to identify the product and how it failed.  This would be accomplished by utilizing the product manufactures installation guidelines and specifications.  I can’t stress this enough, an IEP that is attempting to identify how a product may or may not be impacting occupants must begin with the assessment of the product itself.  Air samples identifying an elevation of VOC’s alone do not provide a source.  The IEP must find the source.

With many of my clients I’m asked to review the findings of an indoor environmental professional (IEP) who has collected air samples and declared the elevated compounds to be the direct result of the spray foam insulation.  Believe it or not many of these IEP’s never even set foot on the property and have never actually inspected the spray foam insulation.

Without the identification of the spray foam and the actual inspection of the applied spray foam to identify how the product is or isn’t failing and contributing to the identified VOC’s, the report is little more than biased opinion that was established prior to the collection of air samples.  A very unscientific approach, a hypothesis that remains unproven and unchallenged. 

The first step of the spray foam inspection process is to identify the product and its proper installation according to the manufacturer’s specifications and industry standards.  Then comes the physical inspection of the spray foam insulation to determination of correct or incorrect installation.  This would be accomplished by identifying the product and utilizing the product manufactures installation guidelines and specifications to assess the products condition. 

The ACC Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF states that the inspector should conduct a qualitative visual, tactile and olfactory inspection of the overall project.  When conducting an inspection, include all information that could be useful. For example, include comments and observations of the building occupants and document the specific circumstances of any complaints, such as when, where, and under what conditions.

ACC: Spray Foam Insulation Project Characteristics
Examples of items and issues to look for can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Manufacturer#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101
  • Product
  • Primers
  • Fire Retardants (Thermal and Ignition Barriers)
  • Contractor
  • Installation date(s)
  • Building location
  • Daily job QC sheets
  • Type of SPF (open- or closed-cell, reported density, sealant, etc.)

Installation locations (walls, ceilings, attics, crawlspaces, under slab, rim joists, etc.)
The ACC Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF begins with documenting the SPF Substrate Characteristics. Generally describe to what materials the SPF has been applied. Examples would be: plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), gypsum wallboard, masonry units, brick, among others. Since substrates vary considerably within a given project, note as many as can be identified and which substrates cover large areas versus those that cover small or minor areas. Also, note any substrates where defects, if any, are observed. Use professional judgment to determine what other characteristics may need to be noted.

The ACC Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF requires the documentation of Visual Observations.  Visual observations are those that can be seen with the naked eye. Visual observations can reveal overall characteristics of the project and some defects. Please note this is an example of what to look for during an inspection and some defects can only be identified from a core sample. Examples of detectable defects by visual observations may include the following examples:

  • Cracks – Cracks are characterized by a foam-to-foam cohesive failure. Their appearance may be random or patterned.
  • Surface Appearance – SPF typically appears relatively uniform in color and surface profile. These topics are discussed in more detail in later sections. The SPF surface may be shaved or sanded (wherein the surface will be relatively flat) or the surface may have its top skin in place (resulting in an undulating surface appearance).
  • Shrinkage – Shrinkage manifests itself as cracks or crevasses as a result of either cohesive (e.g., cracks within the mass of SPF) or adhesive (e.g., cracks between the SPF and a stud or substrate) failure. Shrinkage resulting in cracks is considered a defect and is often documented in inspections

Indoor Air Quality Solutions Spray Foam Insulation Inspection

  • Gaps and Voids – Gaps are unintentional openings in the thermal envelope which may permit excessive heat transfer. Examples include areas mistakenly not sprayed or sprayed too thin or areas where shrinkage has left gaps between the SPF and a stud or substrate. Gaps are considered defects and are documented in inspections.
  • Voids are uninsulated air spaces within building assemblies caused by the installation of interior (or exterior) finishing material over an otherwise satisfactory SPF surface. An example of a void is the air space resulting when a building assembly’s R-value may be met without completely filling the cavity with SPF.
  • Mechanical Damage – The SPF surface may become damaged as the result of mechanical damage (e.g., it was inadvertently struck by a tool or fork lift). Such damage would be considered a defect and documented accordingly in an inspection.

It is also very important to document your Color Observations of the spray foam insulation.  Document the overall surface color and note differences where observed in the color of the SPF.   Overall – SPF color is variable for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Some manufacturers add colorants to their formulations for identification or marketing purposes. Unless pigmented or dyed, SPF color can be described as tan, beige, or buff in most but not all situations.
  • SPF’s raw materials (e.g., A- and B-side components) can vary in color and affect foam color.
  • UV radiation (sunlight) exposure tends to darken the color of SPF to an orange or rusty coloration, which is discussed further under On-Site Qualitative Examination.
  • Uniformity – While SPF color varies, unless different SPF products have been applied, the color is likely to be relatively uniform throughout the project. This is not always the case. UV degradation can be an exception to this.
  • Blotchiness – An Inspector may observe blotchiness on the surface of SPF as either an irregular dark or a light patch. This can be due to a number of factors, which could include: off-ratio foam, dark foam lacking B-component, light foam lacking A-component. See the discussion on Off-Ratio Foam below.
  • UV Degradation – Ultra-violet radiation (such as from sunlight) can degrade and darken the exposed surface of SPF. The degradation occurs on the surface, whereas the interior of the SPF mass is not affected. The SPF surface tends to turn an orange or rusty color. After prolonged exposure, the degraded foam surface typically becomes dusty and friable.

Poorly applied spray foam insulation will also have areas of delamination of blistering.  The guidance document requires the inspector to look for and document the identification of delamination or blistering.  Delamination occurs when the bond between the SPF and the substrate or a prior foam pass is broken. A blister occurs when the effect of the delamination is an uplifting or bulging of the foam surface. Frequently, the cause of either one can be a weak adhesive bond between the foam and the substrate or between the foam and the prior foam pass.
Small, isolated delamination’s or blisters may not present a defect sufficient to impact the SPF’s performance. Widespread, large delamination’s and blisters could affect performance and may be symptomatic of application or material defects.

Blisters typically can be seen and verified by touch: they may have a slight give to them whereas a bulge created by solid SPF will be firm.  Delamination’s typically can be identified by lightly tapping the SPF surface with an open palm; a hollow feel or sound is indicative of a delamination.

What about the odors associated with the occupant complaint?  How do we document the odor?  Well we document exactly how the client describes it word for word.  Then we document what we smell as specifically as possible.  Remember during SPF applications, odors are common and normal.  During retrofit applications, existing problems prior to the installation of SPF, such as moldy or mildewed carpets, wet ducts, or existing insulation, may be accentuated by the tighter building envelope that results from the application of SPF. Once the project is completed and the spray area ventilated, odors generally dissipate. Lingering odors may be the result of several factors and can be a combination of numerous sources, making it difficult to identify them. Sources of odors in new construction and retrofit applications can include: SPF; other construction materials, such as paints, cleansers, lumber, finishing treatments; occupant life style; nearby industrial or other emissions; pre-existing (“old house”) odors; construction defects, such as misrouted plumbing vents; or high individual sensitivity.

Odors may be noticed within areas of the building, for example, specific rooms, or when taking or examining a sample. Document the presence of odor, describe its characteristics with specific adjectives such as “fishy,” or “rotten egg,” and where and under what conditions it was noticed.
Documentation of these qualitative observations can include photos (visual items) and notes. When conducting an inspection, include all information that could be useful. For example, include comments and document the specific circumstances of any complaints, such as when, where, and under what conditions.

At this point in the inspection, we haven’t measured the spray foam insulation thickness or removed any of the applied spray foam insulation to inspect the product itself.  We’re just documenting our visual and olfactory observations of the exposed areas of the spray foam insulation.  For the spray foam insulation to be properly installed, the contracted and specified thickness must be documented.  I often find that the areas of the thickest spray foam insulation to be the areas where I want to take a sample.  If the product is the applicators commodity, then they aren’t going to apply more than they need.  That is unless they are covering up an area that may not look so good or was misapplied. 

#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101

Table 1: Examples of Thickness Probe Frequency

SPF Chart

Now that we’ve measured the applied spray foam insulation we can move on to the collection of the samples.  I collect two foot by two foot samples at the roof or truss to truss, rafter to rafter.  On a wall or gable I sample stud to stud or typically sixteen inches by sixteen inches.  These larger samples will allow me to easily view the spray foam characteristics necessary to properly inspect the spray foam.

These next areas of the inspection cannot be identified without the actual sampling of the spray foam insulation.  This is by far the most critical aspect of the spray foam insulation inspection.

  • Streakiness – Document the presence and extent of visually detected streakiness, such as darker then lighter SPF within the same sample area.
  • Scorching – Scorching may occur when the SPF becomes excessively hot during its application and cure phase. When SPF’s exothermic reaction results in the foam getting too hot for too long a period of time, the foam may degrade, resulting in scorching indicated by a brownish discoloration.#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101
  • Foam Profile (Cross-Sectional) – Core samples are normally extracted to provide a full-depth sample of the SPF, from its substrate to its top skin surface. Within this cross section, knit lines may be evident indicating the number of passes or lifts, and the thickness of those passes.
  • Cell Structure Consistency – When visually examining an SPF core sample, the foam profile (substrate to surface) is typically uniform and the cells are small and consistent. The cell structure is tight, small and consistent at the substrate interface and on either side of knit lines.#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101

Potential cell structure defects could include the following:

  • Internal voids: A large cell forming within the SPF mass, which may be due to air entrapment. These may constitute a defect if the internal voids are large or frequent enough to significantly affect the SPF’s performance (Figures 16 and 17).
  • Open, irregular cells: A layer of open, irregular cells may be an indication that moisture was introduced or present on the substrate. If extensive, this can lead to structural failure of the cell layer, blistering and/or delamination (Figure 18).
  • Elongated cells: Isolated, occasional elongated cells that are visually detectable do not normally constitute a defect.  If extensive, then consider documenting
  • Knit-line Adhesion – When SPF is applied, it forms a surface skin which is typically denser than the core of the foam mass. When SPF is applied to an existing SPF surface, the adhesion of the subsequent foam pass forms a knit line with the first pass. Normal knit lines are strong, exhibiting excellent adhesion.#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101b
  • Off-Ratio Foam: Stickiness or Brittleness – Typically, commercial SPF insulation systems are designed to be applied in a one-to-one ratio (by volume) of the A- and B-components. Malfunctions can occur that could upset the SPF ratio, such as line or strainer blockages, running out of one material and pump cavitation.

Off-ratio foam is normally classified by the lacking material, thus off-ratio foam may be said to be “B-side lacking” or “A-side lacking.” Opposite jargon is also used: “B-rich” or “A-rich.” Off-ratio SPF may not provide the same physical properties of on-ratio SPF. In the field, off-ratio foam at times can be identified by its color and feel, but there are exceptions. Table 3 below provides some general characteristics of off-ratio SPF. The SPF manufacturer can also provide additional guidance for the specific SPF being used.

Table 2: General Characteristics of Some Off-Ratio Foams

SPF Chart II

Odor – Odors may be noticed while extracting samples or within the sample. Document the presence of odor and describe its characteristics with descriptive words such as “fishy” or “rotten egg,” along with other sample documentation.

This information is straight from the ACC Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF.  This provides all who intend to investigate occupant complaints regarding spray foam insulation an industry reference document to support their method and ultimately their findings.  If you follow the guidance document and approach your investigation scientifically you will be surprised at what you will find and how well you can support your findings.

In my experience, spray polyurethane foam insulation investigations can be categorized in three distinct categories. The first two seem to be the primary areas of spray foam insulation investigations. The first area is simply miss-applied spray foam, the second is pre-existing of recently introduced contributors, and the third would be is exposure and sensitization.

The First Category – Misapplied SPF
These complaints and nuisance odors are directly associated with incorrectly applied spray polyurethane foam SPF insulation and can be addressed by either correcting the areas of misapplied foam or by removing and re-insulating the areas. Misapplied includes improper ventilation during the application, incomplete application, off ratio application, and also includes SPF in direct contact with recessed can lights in the attic, keyless light fixture bulbs, dryer vents, and/or chimney flues, all of which can heat the SPF and cause a tremendous amount of chemical odors.

Category 1 is relatively cut and dry and requires the onsite inspection of the SPF and the collection of no air samples.  The inspection of the foam and the determination of correct and complete installation is a critical step.

The Second Category – Preexisting or Recently Introduced Contributors
This category cannot be stress enough to the professionals that are investigating SPF complaints. 

This category runs the gamut and can include some rather odd contributors to occupant discomfort and nuisance odors that become much more concentrated when the SPF is installed.   These include the HVAC system, air exchange rate, storage of materials in the now sealed space, insect and or rodent activity, routine pest control applications, the previous insulation condition and material, proper ducting of kitchen and bath fans.  The possibilities are endless and all must be considered.  Remember that what has accumulated in the attic is now semi-conditioned air that is shared with the attic and living space of the home.

It may not be the SPF insulation that is producing the odor or contaminate that is causing occupant discomfort. However, the SPF insulation may well have eliminated the natural ventilation of the attic which prevented the odors and contaminants from entering the home.  The SPF insulation may be trapping the odors and contaminants within the semi-conditioned space.  This area must be thoroughly investigated to rule out the possibility that the home is accumulating VOC’s due to inadequate ventilation. #IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101IEP’s must remember that while the SPF insulation may be the issue unless you can exclude all other issues within the home you haven’t completed your investigation, you’ve just begun.

The Third Category –Sensitization Due to Exposure
This category includes all occupants who have become sensitized or allergic to the chemicals produced during the application of SPF. With sensitization, occupants have either re-entered the property shortly after the foam is applied, well before the manufacturer recommended re-occupancy time of 24 to 48 hours while the SPF insulation is still curing and off-gassing, or in the most severe cases of occupant sensitivity the exposure actually took place during the application of the SPF insulation.

Sensitization of the occupants can be a result of many issues such as occupants that don’t want to spend the money for a hotel stay, early re-entry or occupancy, to the curious application observer.  Occupant sensitization can also be the result of the lack of proper ventilation during the application.  Venting of the off-gassing of the SPF insulation during application is critical and often not conducted at all. In all cases of occupant sensitization that I have been involved with, the SPF insulation application was not properly vented to the exterior which created a substantial accumulation of the off-gassing chemicals within the property. These trapped volatile organic chemicals VOC’s are what sensitizes the occupants who have either re-occupied too early or were present during the SPFI application.

Sensitization occurs when the occupants are overexposed to the trapped volatile organic chemicals VOC’s and become sensitized. From that point on, any exposure to even a minute amount of the chemical causes a reaction. The process of sensitization can make a home unlivable for people who become sensitized.

Homes that have improper ventilation during the application process of the SPF insulation are also included in the miss-applied category and almost always have identified areas of miss-applied SPF insulation (SPFI).

This category is unique in that any attempt at reducing the occupant’s exposure to the SPF insulation that they are now sensitized to may not be of any relief.  I have had no luck in providing sensitized occupants relief from the home they are now sensitive to.  I have been involved in everything from the introduction of outdoor air through a pre-filter and dehumidifier to control the temperature, humidity, particles, path, and pressure to full removal of the SPF insulation.

Unfortunately that bell can’t be un-rung.

I hope this series of articles has helped you better understand spray polyurethane foam insulation and the unique changes that take place when SPS is installed.  If you follow the ACC, American Chemistry Council Spray Foam Coalition: Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF” and approach the investigation scientifically you will be able to provide your clients a very beneficial opinion and report.

Keep an open mind and remember “It’s not always the spray foam insulation.”

About Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

Since 2001, Florida residents have turned to the indoor environmental experts at Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC.  The family owned and operated companies, based in the Orlando area, offer a comprehensive approach to identifying and correcting comfort and indoor air quality problems.  Their expert staff utilizes the latest technologies and industry recognized standards to identify and resolve indoor environmental issues.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

#IAQS


5 Reasons Why You Need a Home Mold Inspection: An Interview with John P. Lapotaire, CIEC of Indoor Air Quality Solutions

July 15, 2014

Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQSTell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Indoor Air Quality Solutions IAQS is a Florida indoor air quality consulting company that provides indoor air quality inspections, mold inspections and testing by Florida licensed mold inspectors and Council Certified Indoor Air Quality Consultants (CIECs). Our inspections take a comprehensive whole-house approach to identifying and correcting indoor air quality and mold problems in homes and offices. We have been providing indoor air quality and mold inspections since 2001 for both commercial and residential properties.

In addition to our indoor air quality and mold inspections our services include: Mold remediation protocols, mold clearance testing, radon testing, water damage inspections, indoor allergen testing, building envelope inspections, and thermal imaging and infrared IR inspections.
What are the best and worst case scenarios when there is mold growth in a home and it goes undetected (and untreated)?

Mold growth in a home is a result of damp indoor conditions that support the mold growth. With thousands of species of mold each individual can react to molds differently. In most cases with small amounts of mold growth the occupants will recognize typical allergic symptoms. However in some cases when the occupants are allergic to the species present the reaction can be much worse. With larger areas of mold growth that have gone undetected many species can be present and some mold species have the ability to produce mycotoxins. The occupant exposure to these mycotoxins is the worst case scenario.

It’s important to note that not all molds produce mycotoxins and those that have the ability to produce mycotoxins don’t always produce them. It’s been my experience that the worst cases of exposure to mold and mycotoxins have been in cases where the mold was disturbed without the necessary containment to prevent the unnecessary occupant exposure. It’s during the mold removal that the indoor environment is at its highest level of dust up and potential occupant exposure to mold.

It’s extremely important that the mold inspector identify the cause and origin of the mold growth and write a mold remediation protocol specific to the loss that outlines the extent of the mold damage as well as the containment necessary to protect both the occupants and the unaffected areas of the home during the mold removal.

What are the most common causes of mold and affected areas in Florida homes?

Mold is the result of moisture within the home that remains unaddressed for a period greater than 48 hours. It’s this moisture that supports the mold growth. There are thousands of mold species and each grows with varying amounts of water. Some molds require much wetter conditions to grow while others can grow with an elevation of humidity.

One of the most common causes of mold growth in Florida is called a humidity bloom. A humidity bloom actually occurs in the cooler months when the air conditioning isn’t being used. During the hot Florida summers the use of air conditioning both cools the home as well as reduces the humidity. The humidity is created by daily activities such as cooking, bathing, and breathing. In the cooler months when there is no need for the air conditioning to cool the home we have also eliminated the homes only means of reducing the humidity from daily activities. The result is often an elevation in indoor humidity well above 60% that can then support mold growth or a humidity bloom.

More common than the winter humidity bloom are the slow and hidden leaks that provide the moisture for the mold growth. These slow leaks at showers, sinks, windows, and roofs can support mold that can go undetected until the occupants begin to notice an increase in allergies while at home that seem to be reduced when they are away from their home.
When should a homeowner or home buyer get a mold inspection?

When occupants begin to feel that they are reacting to their indoor environment with allergy related symptoms that’s when it’s time for a home assessment or mold inspection. This is not and I repeat not a test for mold or air sampling for mold. A mold inspection is the inspection of the home for areas that can support mold growth. An air mold sample for mold cannot tell you where the mold is growing, the cause and origin of the water that is supporting the mold growth, nor can the air sample for mold tell you the extent of the mold damage. In short the air sampling for mold will provide you no useful information. When it’s time for a mold inspection make sure you hire a licensed mold inspector that will inspect your home for areas that could support mold growth and not an inspector that is only going to sample your air for mold.
What are the basic steps that an inspector is involved in from start to finish of a mold inspection to the final clearance of affected areas?

The process of establishing a mold or indoor air quality issue within your home begins with the actual assessment of your home, never with sampling, never. IAQ Solutions begins all our indoor air quality and mold inspections with a thorough visual inspection to identify any and all contributors that may compromise our client’s indoor environment. It’s important for our clients to understand that it’s not always mold.

We focus on identifying the contributors to poor indoor air quality by focusing on the whole home as a single system that can affect our client’s indoor environment. Building envelope failures such as leaks at the roof or windows, air conditioning failure which can include duct leaks, excessive condensation, and/or negative pressure of the living space can all be contributors to indoor air quality problems and the elevation of indoor allergens or mold growth.

When we identify an area of mold growth we create a mold remediation protocol specific to our client’s loss. This is critical with all mold remediation. The mold remediation protocol should include a floor plan identifying the water and mold damaged areas. (Several examples of these site specific mold remediation floor plans can be viewed at http://www.microshield-es.com/moldremediation). The protocol should establish a containment strategy to prevent occupant exposure to the mold during removal as well as prevent cross contamination to the unaffected areas of the home. The mold remediation protocol should then specify the amount and area of water and mold damaged building material that must be removed. This should never, and I can’t stress this enough, Never be left to the mold remediation contractor. The mold assessment is the identification of the cause and origin and the extent of the damage. It’s a direct conflict of interest and against Florida statute to provide both the mold inspection and mold remediation on the same job. Mold inspectors should never profit from what they find. If you hire a mold remediator to inspect for mold they will always find plenty of mold to remediate.

The mold remediation protocol should establish the method of mold removal as stated in the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration BSR-IICRC S520 procedural standard and reference guide for the remediation of mold damaged structures and contents.

The goal should be to remove mold growth by cleaning or removing moldy materials. Dead mold can still pose health risks if you are exposed. Chemicals are not necessary in the typical mold remediation job. We aren’t killing mold we are collecting and removing mold once the water source that supported the mold growth has been corrected. There is no shortage of “quick fix” ozone or chemical using mold remediators out there that will attempt to chemically fog or ozone your home to affordably “kill” your mold. But if they don’t collect the dead mold and remove it from your home the mold is still there and its still and allergen. (For more information on Mold Clearance visit http://www.microshield-es.com/moldclearance )

What advice would you give to someone who thinks they might have a mold problem but has a limited budget?

Remember that a mold inspection is the physical inspection of areas that could support mold growth or the areas of suspected mold growth. No sampling is necessary and most low-cost inspectors inflate the bottom line with several unnecessary mold samples. You shouldn’t risk your health on the lowest price available. Shop and interview the inspector and ensure that they aren’t going to just sample your home and have you sign a lengthy disclaimer and provide you with nothing more than a laboratory report.

What’s the best way for people to contact you and your company?

We are available all day every day via our direct office line (407) 383-9459. We have a website www.FloridIAQ.com and a Facebook page www.facebook.com/IAQSolutions. Visit us online or call us with any questions for your home, for your office, and for your health “Healthier Air Starts Here!” Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS

See more at: http://www.floridastatehomes.com/articles/5-reasons-why-you-need-a-home-mold-inspection-an-interview-with-john-p.-lapotaire-of-indoor-air-quality-solutions#sthash.PkJlW2uj.dpuf

 

To learn more about Mr. Lapotaire or Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC, please visit www.FloridaIAQ.com, email info@FloridaIAQ.com or call (407) 383-9459.

About Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

Since 2001, Florida residents have turned to the indoor environmental experts at Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC.  The family owned and operated companies, based in the Orlando area, offer a comprehensive approach to identifying and correcting comfort and indoor air quality problems.  Their expert staff utilizes the latest technologies and industry recognized standards to identify and resolve indoor environmental issues.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

#IAQS

 


IAQA Members Doing Business with Members

July 8, 2014

IAQANot a Member of the Indoor Air Quality Association yet?

Join Today! Membership is so affordable, why not join today! Right away you’ll start receiving IAQA Digest and other valuable information. You will receive a Certificate of Membership to represent your professional commitment to the IAQ industry to colleagues.

You’ll have access to a full-time professional staff at IAQA Headquarters that often assists members with special projects and problems. You won’t miss out on “IAQA Alerts” — special emails circulated to members regarding disaster activities, or legislative issues that may affect the industry.


“Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation Build it Tight and Ventilate it Right” Part III

June 14, 2014

ImageIt’s time to reduce your carbon footprint and a great way to begin the process is to re-insulate your home.  You’ve been told that it’s a simple process of adding new spray polyurethane foam insulation in the attic.  You’ve been told that you can save up to 20% on your next energy bill.  You’ve also been told that you’re currently losing as much as 40% of your homes energy efficiency due to air infiltration.

Spray foam offers a solution: it performs as both insulation and an air sealant, or air barrier, closing those nooks and crannies that let air escape and add dollars to monthly energy bills. You’ve double checked what your SPF salesman has told you about the energy savings and found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program estimates that by adding insulation and sealing air leaks you can save up to 20% on your monthly energy bills.

You’ve also found that the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 56% of the energy used in a home goes to heating and cooling. Your home’s heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system has a big effect on your utility bills and your energy consumption because it has to work hard to keep up with all that air leakage.

You’ve done your homework and you’ve decided to move forward with your purchase and application of spray polyurethane foam insulation in your home’s attic.  You’re excited about increasing your “R” value and saving those energy bucks but still just a bit concerned about all those potential indoor air quality IAQ issues that you have been reading about while researching the energy savings of SPF.

Spray foam insulation can help reduce the workload on your HVAC system thanks to its high R-value and effectiveness. In fact, with spray foam, HVAC sizing can be reduced as much as 35% without the loss of efficiency and comfort.

With some luck you’ve read my previous articles and have asked some very critical questions prior to your decision.  Remember, there are differences between spray polyurethane foam insulation and blown or batt insulation that go well beyond the R value and energy savings.

All insulation products aren’t created equally and some insulation products provide much more than just R Value.  When you install spray polyurethane foam SPF insulation, you change the way your home performs.  You’re reducing your homes air leakage or air infiltration.  Great stuff right?  Well, yes and no.  Yes for energy efficiency – less is more analogy is a good thing; however, when it comes to your indoor air quality, IAQ, less is definitely not more and absolutely not better.

Your home’s air leakage or air infiltration rate is the source of the home’s air change rate ACH.  When you seal up your home you may also be substantially reducing your home’s ACH.  When you insulate with SPF you’re not just improving your home’s R-value, you’re changing the way your home achieves the ACH necessary to maintain good indoor air quality.

Today, we have very specific guidance documents that help both the consumer and the applicator better understand the difference between a traditionally ventilated attic and a SPF unvented attic.

Guidance on Best Practices for the Installation of Spray Polyurethane Foam established by the Spray Foam Coalition of the American Chemistry Council, ACC, Center for the Polyurethanes Industry states that the contractor and the homeowner should be aware that retrofitting an existing attic by employing an unvented attic assembly technique can result in the existing HVAC system becoming “oversized” in relation to the new demand.

This situation is of special concern in the southern and coastal climate zones where the HVAC also serves to reduce or otherwise manage moisture levels of buildings in order to improve comfort and prevent moisture related problems, such as mold and mildew. If an existing HVAC becomes “oversized” due to the increased thermal efficiency of the unvented attic assembly, the HVAC system may begin to short cycle, or to quickly turn on and off, as it works to manage temperature. This short cycling of the HVAC system may have negative impacts on the comfort and efficiency of the building and possibly on the lifespan of the system.

The guidance document recommends that the application contractor involve an HVAC consultant to adapt the system to the new, more efficient building envelope associated with the spray foam retrofit.

By far, the majority of the complaints I respond to are a direct result of inadequate ventilation and no method or design consideration for the now semi-conditioned attic.

The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance, SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook, list the HVAC and Ventilation as one of their initial Design Considerations.

The SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook recommends an Initial Evaluation “Test In” and a Final Evaluation “Test Out”
Initial Evaluation (Test-In)

The Initial Evaluation (Test-In) is a complete evaluation of the existing home before the installation of the SPF insulation.

Items to address and checked during the Test In can include:
•  Air Leakage Testing, to establish the air infiltration rate
•  Existing Attic Insulation (type location and recommended method of removal)
•  Inspection of Related Systems (e.g. HVAC, kitchen, and bathroom exhaust ventilation)
•  Combustion Appliances (reduced ACH and make-up air may be an issue as well as ventilation)
•  Energy Savings Estimate by independent trained professionals (BPI and RESNET)

The Test In air leakage testing is performed using a blower door to evaluate the home’s air leakage and natural ventilation before SPF application.  This is then used as a baseline for quality checks and energy savings estimates.  This test for existing homes should be performed before and after SPF installation.

This initial air leakage or air infiltration rate is the source of the home’s air change rate ACH with a traditionally ventilated attic.  The air infiltration rate is the volumetric flow rate of outside air into a building, typically in cubic feet per minute (CFM) or liters per second (LPS). The air exchange rate, (I), is the number of interior volume air changes that occur per hour, and has units of 1/h. The air exchange rate is also known as air changes per hour (ACHs).  ACH can be calculated by multiplying the building’s CFM by 60, and then dividing by the building volume. (CFM x 60)/volume.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has had a residential ventilation standard since 2003, ASHRAE 62.2.  The ASHRAE 62.2 minimum ventilation rate formula was set at 7.5 cfm per person plus 1 cfm per 100 square feet.

The standard assumes that the number of occupants in a home equals the number of bedrooms plus one. The ASHRAE 62.2 asserted that the formula used to determine the minimum airflow rate of ventilation equipment was based on the assumption that all homes deserve an “air infiltration credit” of 2 cfm per 100 square feet.  This was the assumption that the homes in and before 2003 had a good amount of air infiltration.  The homes built today with or without the use of SPF insulation are much tighter and have a substantially reduced air infiltration rate.

So while your home’s recommended minimum ventilation rate remained unchanged for many years, ASHRAE has recognized the tighter construction of today’s homes and 10 years after the initial ASHRAE 6.2, there are new changes to the 2013 version of ASHRAE 62.2.  Under the new formula, newer tightly built homes will need to be ventilated at a much higher rate, namely 7.5 cfm per person plus 3 cfm per 100 square feet. This means that for a tightly built 2,400-square-foot home with 3 bedrooms, the minimum airflow rate of the ventilation equipment has jumped 89%, from 54 cfm to 102 cfm.  Long story short, the 2013 version of ASHRAE 62.2 has eliminated the air infiltration credit on new tightly built homes.

Once you apply the Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation in your attic, your home’s air leakage or air infiltration rate will be greatly reduced.  This is why the SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook recommends the Test In and Test Out with the use of a blower door to establish your homes air leakage or air infiltration rate.  The Test Out your air leakage or air infiltration rate will determine the amount of outdoor air your home will require to meet the minimum ventilation rate or the ACH of 7.5 cfm per person plus 3 cfm per 100 square feet.

Final Evaluation (Test-Out)

The Final Evaluation (Test-Out) is also a complete evaluation of the existing home after the installation of the SPF insulation.

Complete Evaluation After Installation can include:
•  Air Leakage Testing
•  Repeat blower door test after installation
•  Inspect for air leaks in foam and repair
•  Confirm energy savings projections

The Test Out air leakage testing is once again performed using a blower door to evaluate air leakage and natural ventilation after the spray polyurethane foam insulation application.  This test is then used as the actual as-built air leak and natural ventilation rate.  The blower door test will provide you with your ACH by measuring your home’s actual amount of air leakage.  With this information, you will now know how much additional outdoor air the home will require to meet the minimum ventilation rate.

Among other issues the Test Out as compared to the Test In is the potential need for HVAC Modifications.  The SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook states that “If application of SPF renders the home to be insufficiently ventilated, work with HVAC contractor to add mechanical ventilation or HRV/ERV.

SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook clearly informs the application contractor that creating an unvented attic (UVA) with SPF can alter a home by:
•  Reduce uncontrolled air leakage
•  Lower HVAC energy costs
•  Improved insulation performance
•  HVAC system inside the building envelope operates under more moderate temperatures

Most HVAC systems are oversized to account for excess air leakage which directly affects the energy efficiency as well as effectiveness dehumidification.  The application of spray polyurethane foam insulation may actually allow for the downsize of the HVAC system for better performance.

Adjustments or downsizing of HVAC system may be needed to:
•  Achieve Good IAQ
•  Meet the minimum mechanical ventilation rate via outdoor air supply and a dehumidifier or ERV/HRV
•  Avoid short-cycling of AC system for proper dehumidification
•  Supplemental humidification/dehumidification to control relative humidity

To definitively establish the needs for any home once SPF has been installed and the traditional vented attic has been changed to an unvented attic, the use of a blower door must be used to establish the home’s natural ventilation rate and the homes mechanical system requirements must be properly calculated using a Manual J for load calculation, a Manual S for equipment selection, and a Manual D for proper duct design.

Without the known natural ventilation rate, you can only guess at the amount of outdoor air necessary to meet the minimum ventilation rate.  That is if you have even taken the ACH into consideration and added the necessary outdoor air supply.  With the known natural ventilation rate and the new R values, the homes HAVC can be correctly calculated and designed.

You would think knowing the impact of changing from a vented attic to a spray polyurethane foam insulated unvented attic that most home owners are performing the Test In and Test Out procedures.  In actuality, less than 10% of the homes I assess have had any form of Test In or Test Out performance evaluation.  It’s rare that the issue of ventilation or the home’s HVAC system is discussed at all.
Remember earlier in this article we discussed the Guidance on Best Practices for the Installation of Spray Polyurethane Foam states that the contractor and the homeowner should be aware that retrofitting an existing attic by employing an unvented attic assembly technique can result in the existing HVAC system becoming “oversized” in relation to the new demand.

The guidance document also recommends that the application contractor involve an HVAC consultant to adapt the system to the new, more efficient building envelope associated with the spray foam retrofit.

The Guidance goes on to further address the home’s ventilation system:

Important note about air Handlers
If a ventilation system that uses the HVAC air handler fan to provide the needed outdoor air (as is the case in many supply ventilation strategies) is used, it is imperative to ensure that the air handler fan operates often enough to provide sufficient fresh air. During periods of mild weather, or at night in the summer, the air handler fan may not be called on to run for several hours, so the house would get no outdoor air during these times. To address this, control units are now available that will ensure the house always gets the needed ventilation. If the air handler does not operate enough for sufficient ventilation, the monitors will call for the fan to operate and provide sufficient fresh air.

Typically, most homes need for the fan to run for between 10 and 20 minutes each hour to meet the home’s ventilation needs. An example of this type of fan control unit is the Aprilaire 8100.

The introduction of outdoor air not only affects the temperature in the house, it also impacts the humidity in the house. Here in Florida, the humidity can be a critical factor that is often overlooked. Our hot humid southern Florida outdoor air supply will require mechanical dehumidification. It’s critical to include ventilation air in the ACCA Manual J, Eighth Edition (J8) HVAC sizing calculations.

Mechanical System Calculations
Residential Mechanical System guidelines include:

•  Manual J:* Load Calculation
•  Manual S: Equip. Selection
•  Manual D:* Duct Design

Manual J
Manual J is the name for a specific protocol (often called “Heat Load Calculation” or “Cooling Load Calculation“) used to determine how much heating/cooling a home needs to stay cool and dry in the summer and warm in the winter. This load calculation process was developed by engineers in the heating and air conditioning industry and has been used for decades to accurately size heating and air-conditioning equipment. After completing this load calculation process, one can choose a properly sized piece of machinery to satisfy the load.

A Manual-J load calculation report provides three main pieces of information regarding heating and cooling load:
Heating Load: This is how much heat your house will require on the almost-coldest day of the year, in the middle of the night (when there’s no help from the sun). This is the number, or load, used to select a piece of heating equipment.

Sensible Cooling Load: This is the amount of sensible heat (the type you measure with a thermometer) that your system should be able to remove on the almost-warmest day of the year, during the daytime (when the sun is heating up the building). This is used, IN COMBINATION WITH the next load-type, to select the cooling equipment.

Latent Cooling Load: This load describes how much moisture your system should be able to remove under “worst-case” conditions. Worst-case for latent loads are typically when it’s hot and wet outside (daytime in the summer).

These three loads are used to select a piece of machinery that fits the loads (heat losses or gains) of your home. When selecting air conditioners or heat pumps, the two cooling loads should be used. And, the selected piece of machinery should be able to supply the proper amount of BOTH latent and sensible cooling, and be less that 15% over-sized, based on the Manual-J load calculation. This will ensure your system is capable of proper dehumidification (assuming the distribution system is performing properly).

Manual S
Proper equipment selection important and achieving occupant satisfaction is the principal goal of any HVAC design. Occupant satisfaction is maximized when the heating and cooling equipment are the correct type and size to meet the capacity requirements from the Manual J load calculation.  For residential equipment selections, ACCA’s Manual S, is the only procedure recognized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). If the Manual J load calculation is done then the next step is to select the equipment that will deliver the necessary heating and cooling.

Undersized equipment will not meet the customer’s comfort requirements at the design specifications.

Oversized equipment will create other problems:
•  Degraded humidity control in the summer.
•  Occupants may suffer the effects of an increased potential for mold growth. These same conditions also may contribute to asthma and other respiratory conditions.
•  The temperature may feel right at the thermostat but the temperature in other rooms will suffer from the oversized equipment going through short operation cycles. Short cycles can cause temperature swings as the equipment over-conditions, stops, then over-conditions, etc…
•  Hot and cold spots between rooms because the thermostat is satisfied but the room is not.
•  Oversized equipment generally requires larger ducts, increased electrical circuit sizing and larger refrigeration tubing. These cause higher installed costs and increased operating expenses.
•  The equipment starts and stops more frequently, this causes excessive wear and can increase maintenance costs more service calls.
In these unfavorable conditions occupants will experience discomfort and dissatisfaction.

Manual D
The next step is the duct design.  For residential air duct designs ACCA’s Manual D is the procedure recognized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and specifically required by residential building codes. Air is the first word in air conditioning. If the network of ducts carrying the air is not properly designed then the health and safety of the occupant are at risk, the equipment could fail more quickly, the energy costs could rise, and occupant comfort might be sacrificed.

In order for home owners to be comfortable, a duct system must be designed to carry the right amount of air, at the right speed, into the right room. If the ducts are the wrong size then the wrong amount of air will enter the room and may cause:
•  The room to be too warm or too cool
•  The air to be too drafty and disturb people while they sleep, eat, read, etc…
•  The air to be too noisy and drown out conversations, TV or radio programs, etc…
•  The air to be too slow – the conditioned air will not circulate or mix well in the room.
•  The fan to work harder, possibly fail sooner, and use more energy to move air
•  The furnace or air conditioner safety devices to stop equipment operation
•  Pressure differentials that may increase energy costs by pushing out conditioned air or drawing in unwanted air

The design and installation of your homes HVAC system with your new spray polyurethane foam insulation SPF insulated home.
The issue of home performance and ventilation must become a more critical aspect of the spray polyurethane foam insulation SPF retro-fit sales pitch.  Understanding the performance changes within a home by altering the attic from traditionally vented to spray polyurethane foam insulation SPF unvented would eliminate a large portion of the SPF occupant odor complaints.

You might be thinking that the new construction homes have it made right?  Well, not so much.  Believe it or not, many new homes are designed with no alterations to the home’s ventilation system in the area of the ventilation rate (outdoor air) and the semi-conditioned attic space.  Many new homes actually have a reduction in size of the HVAC equipment as discussed earlier.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with altering the home’s HVAC system to accommodate the new tighter design and improved R-value; however, there is a huge issue with the builder not taking into consideration the reduced air infiltration, ventilation rate, or air changes per hour ACH. Carbon dioxide, CO2 emissions from the new building material and the dilution of the volatile organic compounds, VOC’s due to the homes ACH.

In a tightly sealed spray polyurethane foam insulation SPF home, the VOC’s accumulate in the attic. The VOC laden warm indoor air rises to the attic as the living space is cooled.  Over time, this accumulation, if not properly diluted, can actually make its way down into the living space from the attic.  The necessary outdoor air supply needs to properly dilute the new construction VOC’s.  It’s the accumulation of these volatile organic compounds, VOC’s that is often directly associated with the SPF.  Fortunately, we have well established studies of new construction homes with traditionally vented attics and no SPF insulation.  These SPF free new construction VOC’s can then be compared to the samples collected from new construction homes with SPF insulation and unvented attics.  If the SPF is bad, the VOC signature will be different than that of a traditional home with no SPF. It seems simple right?  Well, there remain those that sample heavy and look at nothing when it comes to SPF insulation and simply point to the SPF insulation without addressing the home as a whole.

When assessing the condition of any home with SPF insulation and occupant complaint, the home must be inspected as a whole.  The inspection must include the design and performance of the home.  For these new construction inspections there are two specific areas of concern other than the physical inspection of the installed SPF.  First, is the home’s ventilation rate.  We need to know what the home’s ACH is and we need to know if we are at least attaining the minimum ACH recommended by the ASHRAE 62.2.  Second, is the ventilation design of the semi-conditioned attic space.  How is the homes semi-conditioned attic being addressed and ventilated?

These are the primary factors in a home’s ability to properly condition and maintain the indoor environment.

No air circulation in the unvented attic will lead to an elevation of heat, humidity, and VOC’s.  There must be a specific method of circulating air through the semi-conditioned attic space.  If you don’t take ownership of this space in your ventilation design and you assume that the space will be passively semi-conditioned, be prepared to meet me on site at a future date.  We’re not talking about fully conditioning the space by installing supply and return vents in the attic. You need to move air through the semi-conditioned attic.  If you don’t, the attic simply isn’t semi-conditioned.  It’s unconditioned unvented attic space that will soon be a source of odor and occupant complaint.

So you may be asking just how we establish the new construction ventilation rate and method of semi-conditioning the attic.

Final Evaluation (Test-Out)
The Final Evaluation (Test-Out) is also a complete evaluation of the new-construction home after the installation of the SPF insulation.

Complete Evaluation After Installation can include:
•  Air Leakage Testing
•  Blower door test after installation
•  Inspect for air leaks in foam and repair
•  Confirm energy savings projections

The Test Out air leakage testing is performed on the new construction home by using a blower door to evaluate air leakage and ventilation with the unvented attic insulated with spray polyurethane foam.  This test is then used as the actual as-built air leak and natural ventilation rate.  This test and amount of measured actual natural ventilation will tell us exactly how much additional outdoor air is necessary to meet the minimum ventilation rate.  The SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook states that “If application of SPF renders the home to be insufficiently ventilated, work with HVAC contractor to add mechanical ventilation or HRV/ERV.”

You hear the real estate professionals repeating it’s all about the “Location, Location, Location.”  Well the indoor air quality guy says it’s all about the “Ventilation, Ventilation, Ventilation!”

So at the risk of being overly redundant, ventilation cannot be stressed enough in a home with spray polyurethane foam insulation and an unvented attic.

Any home with spray polyurethane foam insulation and an unvented attic must have a method of semi-conditioning the unvented attic to provide the necessary air circulation to prevent the accumulation of heat, humidity, and VOC’s.  That can’t be found in expensive air sampling for VOC’s.

Any home with spray polyurethane foam insulation and an unvented attic must establish the necessary minimum ventilation rate necessary to prevent occupant complaint while providing good indoor air quality.  That can’t be found in expensive air sampling for VOC’s.

However, both can be identified by measuring the homes performance and the use of a blower door test.  And both can be improved and/or corrected once the actual performance testing has been completed.

So reduce your carbon footprint and save those energy bucks.  Spray polyurethane foam insulation is a great home improvement method of saving energy.  Just remember one thing; if your home is ventilated the same way after the installation of spray polyurethane foam insulation you haven’t finished the home improvement process.

Ventilation, ventilation, ventilation……………..

To learn more about Mr. Lapotaire or Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC, please visit www.FloridaIAQ.com, email info@FloridaIAQ.com or call (407) 383-9459.

About Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

Since 2001, Florida residents have turned to the indoor environmental experts at Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC.  The family owned and operated companies, based in the Orlando area, offer a comprehensive approach to identifying and correcting comfort and indoor air quality problems.  Their expert staff utilizes the latest technologies and industry recognized standards to identify and resolve indoor environmental issues.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

#IAQS

 


“Is Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation right for you?”

June 14, 2014

ImageSpray Polyurethane Foam SPF insulation is a great way to tighten up your home and save a few of these precious energy dollars.  We are seeing more SPF use in new construction than ever before and the retrofit market is a boomin.

This article will discuss some of the critical questions all prospective SPF consumers must ask when deciding if Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation is right for them.  As good as SPF insulation is for energy savings, sometimes it’s just not a good choice for an existing home.

The takeaway… I hope readers understand that there are specific issues that should be taken into consideration when making the decision to install Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF insulation in your home.

We should probably begin with a short explanation of the objective for installing SPF insulation.  It seems simple, right, you’re just adding R-value to your home to save a few energy bucks.  Well, yes and no.  Most importantly is the how you would be improving your home to save those energy bucks.  The SPF will literally seal your home with the intent of preventing air infiltration and exfiltration.   Infiltration is the unintentional or accidental introduction of outside air into a building, typically through cracks in the exterior walls, ceilings, attics, and through use of doors and windows. This outdoor air infiltration is often refered to as air leakage.  In laymans terms, unconditioned outdoor air from getting in your home and conditioned indoor air from escaping your home.

In typical newer U.S. homes, about one-third of the HVAC energy consumption is due to infiltration, so reducing air infiltration saves energy bucks.  Controlling the air infiltration in turn makes it easier for your home’s HVAC Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning system to heat, cool, and maintain your indoor thermal comfort.  That’s right, were talking about indoor thermal comfort not indoor air quality.

The energy savings is the direct result of substantially reduced air infiltration and exfiltration due to the sealing capability of the SPF insulation.  It truly is great for reducing the amount of energy bucks needed to heat and cool your home.  Your homes HVAC system now only has to contend with the newly sealed indoor environment which now includes the semi-conditioned attic.

We’ll get to the “semi-conditioned” attic in a bit but for now, let’s first talk about something else that is substantially reliant on the home’s air infiltration and exfiltration rate.  That would be the home’s necessary ventilation rate.

The infiltration rate is the volumetric flow rate of outside air into a building, typically in cubic feet per minute (CFM) or liters per second (LPS). The air exchange rate, (I), is the number of interior volume air changes that occur per hour, and has units of 1/h. The air exchange rate is also known as air changes per hour (ACHs).  ACH can be calculated by multiplying the building’s CFM by 60, and then dividing by the building volume. (CFM x 60)/volume.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has had a residential ventilation standard since 2003, ASHRAE 62.2.  The ASHRAE 62.2 minimum ventilation rate formula was set at 7.5 cfm per person plus 1 cfm per 100 square feet.

The standard assumes that the number of occupants in a home equals the number of bedrooms plus one. The ASHRAE 62.2 asserted that the formula used to determine the minimum airflow rate of ventilation equipment was based on the assumption that all homes deserve an “air infiltration credit” of 2 cfm per 100 square feet.  This was the assumption that the homes in and before 2003 had a good amount of air infiltration.  The homes built today with or without the use of SPF insulation are much tighter and have a substantially reduced air infiltration rate.

So while your home’s recommended minimum ventilation rate remained unchanged for many years, ASHRAE has recognized the tighter construction of today’s homes and 10 years after the initial ASHRAE 6.2, there are new changes to the 2013 version of ASHRAE 62.2.  Under the new formula, newer tightly built homes will need to be ventilated at a much higher rate, namely 7.5 cfm per person plus 3 cfm per 100 square feet. This means that for a tightly built 2,400-square-foot home with 3 bedrooms, the minimum airflow rate of the ventilation equipment has jumped 89%, from 54 cfm to 102 cfm.  Long story short, the 2013 version of ASHRAE 62.2 has eliminated the air infiltration credit on new tightly built homes.  Guess where SPF insulated homes fall?  Right smack dab in the middle of the (as designed) tightly built category.

Questions to Ask Your SPF Contractor Prior to Install
SPF Consumer Question Number 1; How will you determine whether or not my home will meet or exceed the minimum ventilation rate once the SPF insulation is installed?

This is one of the most important questions every prospective SPF consumer must ask.  It involves the necessary air changes per hour (ACHs) to ensure that your home does not accumulate indoor contaminants and you have healthier air to breathe.  With SPF insulation, you will most likely require dedicated outdoor air supply to meet the minimum ventilation rate.  If your newly SPF insulated home does not meet the minimum ventilation rate, your home will accumulate contaminants and there will be occupant complaints.

I’ve inspected homes with reported SPF nusiance odors that are well over 50 years old all the way to homes that are only a year or two old.  The issues with new and old homes by and large remain the same.  The most critical is the ventilation rate of the home.  Unfortunately, the extremely important and necessary ventilation rate of the home is rarely discussed and almost never addressed when the home is changed from traditionally ventilated to sealed and semi-conditioned.  Your home’s HVAC system and ventilation rate must be discussed.

Now let’s talk about the “semi-Conditioned” attic.  Semi-conditioned means that your attic that was once naturally cooled through traditional attic “outdoor” air circulation, soffit, gable, and roof vents, is now cooled or conditioned through “indoor” air circulation.  The code refers to these two attics as vented and unvented attic assemblies.  With your new sealed attic you must seal these soffit, gable, and roof vents.

The unvented or semi-conditioned  state of the attic is critical.  For example, if the old attic insulation is left behind to save a few bucks the attic cannot be properly cooled.  If the home’s attic isn’t properly cleaned, the accumulated attic debris will enter the home and cause issues with the occupants.  To put it to you straight, what’s in the attic will now be circulated within your home.  It’s as simple as that.

SPF Consumer Question Number 2; How will you clean my attic and prepare it to be a semi-conditiond attic space?
Anyone interested in installing SPF in their attic must take into consideration the age of their home and the condition of their attic.  Any home that is retrofit with SPF can have some rather odd contributors to occupant discomfort and nuisance odors that will now become much more concentrated when the SPFI is installed.   Most of these contributors come from the old now sealed and semi-conditioned attic.

Some of these contributors to occupant discomfort include the storage of materials in the now sealed space, attic insects and/or rodent activity, routine household pest control applications, the previous insulation including the condition and material, and the proper ducting of kitchen and bath fans.  The possibilities are endless and all must be considered and reviewed prior to the installation of the SPF.  Remember, what has accumulated in the attic is now trapped within the now sealed semi-conditioned attic.  The semi-conditioned attic now shares circulated air with the living space of the home.

Our Example Home
To help our readers understand the SPF sales process a little better, let’s establish an example home; one that I actually assessed.  Let’s say our example home is a three bedroom, two bathroom, two car garage, 60 year old single story ranch style home.  Our homeowners have lived in the home for the last ten years and have decided to save a few energy bucks on their quest to be greener. Their first step was to install open cell SPF insulation at the roof sheathing.   This was a pricy step in the green direction, but they were able to shave a few bucks off the bottom line by not removing the old insulation or cleaning the attic.  No big deal according to the SPF applicator.

So what, who really cares if the insulation remains in the attic and the attic wasn’t cleaned? It’s really about the energy savings right?

Oh and what about the bathroom exhaust fans in that 60 year old home.  The 60 year old code allowed the bathroom exhaust fans to be ducted to the old ventilated attic and that’s exactly where they are now, ducted to the newly sealed attic.  Many homes built back then also had the kitchen exhaust hood ducted to the attic.  These bathroom exhaust fans must be ducted to the exterior of your home or you may continue to save energy but you’ll slowly be filling your home with humidity and contaminants.

Oh and what about the bathroom exhaust fans in that 60 year old home.  The 60 year old code allowed the bathroom exhaust fans to be ducted to the old ventilated attic and that’s exactly where they are now, ducted to the newly sealed attic.  Many homes built back then also had the kitchen exhaust hood ducted to the attic.  These bathroom exhaust fans must be ducted to the exterior of your home or you may continue to save energy but you’ll slowly be filling your home with humidity and contaminants.

I’m not stretching the example here.  These are real issues with many retrofit SPF applications.

What about the series of rodent issues in that 60 year old home?  Let’s face it; there are a lot of homes out there with rodent and insect issues.  Some pest control companies trap the feisty little critters while others choose to poison them.  In our example home, a liberal use of poisons and traps were used.  There were several remaining bait pods and traps with rat carcasses at different stages of decomposition.  The remaining pesticides can be a serious threat to occupants if not properly cleaned. The rodent urine and fecal matter are a substantial concern when trapped inside a now sealed semi-conditioned attic that shares circulated air with the living space of the home.

Well, to say the least, as with our example home, you can easily have a huge list of contributors to occupant discomfort and nuisance odors if the attic space isn’t properly addressed.

Most of the SPF insulation investigations I am called in to review the above issues were overlooked simply because of the recent application of SPFI.

Indoor Environmental Professionals IEP’s conducting SPF investigations must remain unbiased and open minded and remember that it’s not necessarily the SPF insulation that is producing the odor or contaminate that’s causing occupant discomfort.  It is however the SPF insulation that is now eliminating the natural ventilation of the attic which is now preventing the odors and contaminants from leaving the home.  This causes an accumulation of odors and contaminants if the necessary ventilation rate is not met and the source has not been properly addressed.  In the above examples, that source of the odors and contaminants were the remaining insulation and debris in the now sealed attic.  The SPF was the last change in the home and therefore the scapegoat or go-to cause and origin of the odor, the straw that broke the camel’s bake so to speak.

The newly installed SPF insulation has now trapped the odors and contaminants within the semi-conditioned space.  In the cases above, the home also had no dedicated outdoor air supply necessary to meet the minimum ventilation rate.  If the home met the minimum ventilation rate, the accumulating VOC’s from daily use of products could quite possibly have been adequately diluted ending the nuisance odors and occupant complaints.

So we come to the point where you’ve decided to move forward with your SPF insulation and your contractor has agreed to install dedicated outdoor air supply and thoroughly clean your attic once he has removed all of the old insulation.  Good start.  Now you need to address the issue of exactly how the application contractor will be ventilating your home during the application to prevent the accumulation of the SPF chemicals from entering your home.

SPF Consumer Question Number 3; How will you ventilate my home during the SPF application to prevent the contamination of my home and personal belongings.

There are many factors to consider when planning your SPF installation.  One of the most important is how the application contractor will protect your home while insulating your attic.  Your application contractor should assess the home’s ventilation needs before the job starts and develop a ventilation plan to ensure the SPF chemicals do not enter the home during application.

Understanding ventilation requirements is essential. For example, shut down HVAC systems during a SPF application. System shut-down stops dust, aerosol and vapors from being drawn into the HVAC system. Once the project is completed and the spray area ventilated, SPF odors generally dissipate. Lingering odors may be the result of several contributing factors as previously discussed and can be a combination of numerous sources, making it difficult to identify them. Sources of odors in new construction and retrofit applications can include: SPF; other construction materials, such as paints, cleansers, lumber, finishing treatments; occupant life style; nearby industrial or other emissions; pre-existing (“old house”) odors; construction defects, such as misrouted plumbing vents; or high individual sensitivity.

For interior applications, this can help prevent airborne materials from being distributed from one part of a building to another. Once the HVAC system is shut down, seal the air intakes with plastic sheeting and tape to prevent dust and spray from entering the system. Some SPF manufacturers recommend that the HVAC system stay sealed and inoperable for up to 24 hours after the SPF application.
A home that is not properly protected by correctly ventilating the attic can be irreversably damaged.  The chemical odors can remain for extended periods of time.  Often, occupants can become sensitized to the remaining chemicals.  Proper ventilation during application is necessary.

In many homes, the HVAC system is located in the attic.  If your home’s air handler and ducts are in your attic, you must ensure that they are properly sealed and protected to ensure you don’t end up with an additional and costly repair to your HAVC system.  If your HVAC system isn’t properly shut down, your HVAC sytem can very easily contaminate your home by circulating the SPF chemicals through your air handler directly into your home.

Odors may be noticed within areas of the building; for example, specific rooms, or when taking or examining a core sample. Document the presence of odor, describe its characteristics with specific adjectives such as “fishy,” or “rotten egg,” along with where and under what conditions it was noticed.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Ventilation Guidance for Spray Polyurethane Foam Application”: http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/spf/ventilation-guidance.html.

SPF Consumer Question Number 4;  How will you ensure that my home’s HVAC system is shut down and protected during the SPF application?

It is critical that your SPF application contractor turn off your HVAC system and seal the air handler so overspray does not enter the system.  If your home has gas powered equipment, your SPF application contractor must direct the exhaust fumes to an open environment to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide in the work area.

I’ve seen many air handlers destroyed by overspray and chemicals that were drawn into the air handler and distributed throughout the home.  I’ve even had one contractor tell me that the shut down was not necessary because his SPF was so safe his installers didn’t need to wear protective equipment other than goggles.  By the way, that couldn’t be further from the truth and that application contractor was immediately reported to the manufacturer.

There must be a more than passive attempt at protecting your home and properly ventilating your attic during and after application.  Remember to ask for the application attic ventilation, HVAC shut down and protection plan in writing.  You will want this as a part of your permanent record.  Then prior to the start of application, ask the application contractor to walk you through and show you the ventilation and HVAC protection.  It’s your home and nobody will be as dedicated to the protection of your home and personal property than you.

Then leave your home until the application is complete and do not return until the manufacturers established reoccupancy time has elapsed. No peeking!

SPF Consumer Question Number 5;  When will it be safe for me to return to my home?

Vacate building occupants and non-SPF personnel from the building during the application of SPF and for a period of time following the completion of spraying. Where this is not possible or practical for large commercial buildings, the use of containment and ventilation techniques can be utilized. For residential applications, the homeowner needs to vacate the home and return only after the specified re-occupancy time.

Communicate with other trades working in proximity to the spray application area. Giving notice to other trades is an important aspect on larger commercial projects due to the number and kinds of workers in and around the jobsite.

Provide notice to trades and occupants The focal points for this communication are the general contractor, building owner, home owner, or other responsible personnel for the project. Educate the onsite supervisor or project manager at the start of the project long before the actual spray application starts so  they have a complete understanding of the jobsite safety requirements before the beginning of the spray application process. Critical jobsite safety concerns include proximity of open flame sources and personnel to the spray application area.

If you are present during application or too soon after application, you run the risk of SPF sensitization due to exposure.
With sensitization occupants have either re-entered the property shortly after the foam is applied or well before the manufacturer recommended re-occupancy time of 24 to 48 hours. In the most severe cases of occupant sensitivity, the exposure actually took place during the application of the SPFI.

There are many occupants who have become sensitized or allergic to the odors given off from SPF for simply wanting to see the application, or refusing to leave their home during application, or returning to their home too soon.  Regardless of the reason for the exposure, the SPF application contractor should never continue to apply while anyone is present and must ensure that no body is present or reoccupies before the manufactures reoccupancy time period has elapsed.

Adding to the sensitization of the occupants is the lack of proper ventilation during the application. Venting of the off-gassing of the SPFI during application is critical and often not conducted at all. In all cases of occupant sensitization that I have been involved with, the SPFI application was not properly vented to the exterior which created a substantial accumulation of the off-gassing chemicals within the property. These trapped volatile organic chemicals VOC’s are what sensitizes the occupants who have either re-occupied too early or were present during the SPFI application.

Unfortunately, any attempt at reducing the occupant’s exposure to the newly installed spray polyurethane foam insulation may not provide any relief. I’ve had no luck in helping sensitized occupants. I’ve been involved in everything from the introduction of outdoor air through a pre-filter and dehumidifier to control the temperature, humidity, particles, path, and pressure to full SPF removal.  Unfortunately, some bells can’t be un-rung.

If you’re interested in saving those energy bucks with the application of SPF you must ensure that these steps are taken to ensure the proper application and safety of your family.

So back to our Example House
What exactly went wrong with our 60 year old example home discussed earlier?  Who was responsible for the occupant complaints associated with the newly installed SPF insulation?

Well, the application contractor sold the homeowner SPF for the purpose of greening up the home and saving a few of these elusive energy bucks.  It was an expensive step in the green direction but one that was going to pay off at the end in the form of saving a few energy bucks.  What the contractor didn’t discuss were the issues reviewed in this article.

Here is what our homeowner should have discussed with their application contractor prior to install;
1. The possible need to re-evaluate the homes HVAC system
2. The newly sealed home’s ventilation rate and possible need for dedicated outdoor air supply
3. The condition of the home’s 60 year old attic
4. The removal of the home’s existing insulation
5. The sealing of the existing open soffit and roof vents
6. The possible termination of the bathroom exhaust fans into the attic
7. The possible termination of the kitchen exhaust hood into the attic
8. The sealing of the home’s HVAC system during the application of SPF
9. The ventilation of the home during the application of SPF
10. Occupancy during the application of SPF and Re-occupancy after SPF application

Our example 60 year old home was later blower-door tested and as expected, it didn’t even come close to the minimum ASHRAE air exchange rate.  With the SPF insulation and without dedicated outdoor air supply, the home had no chance of meeting the minimum ventilation rate.  Unfortunately, for the occupants, the semi-conditioned attic had 60 years of accumulated dust, debris, fiberglass, rodent and insect urine, fecal matter, pesticides and who knows what.

In an effort to keep the bottom line sales price of the SPF as low as possible, the SPF contractor sold the SPF insulation without the following additional considerations that would have led to additional expenses and an increased bottom line sales price.  Let’s face it, while most reputable SPF contractors will review all aspects and necessary steps involved with SPF.  There remain some SPF application contractors who are there to sell SPF and don’t want to lose a sale.  Remember to pay attention to the SPF sales rep that has not listed the following in their sales price or stresses that they are unnecessary expenses.

With our example house, the SPF salesman omitted the following;
1. Sealing the existing soffit and roof vents
2. Removing the existing Insulation
3. Properly cleaning the attic
4. Relocating the bath and kitchen exhaust ducts to the exterior of the attic
5. Installing dedicated outdoor air supply to meet the necessary minimum ventilation rate

Remember the ventilation rate and dedicated outdoor air supply is a critical part of SPF insulation.   Unfortunately, I find the ventilation rate all too often overlooked.  As a professional investigating SPF insulation, you have to ask questions beyond the obvious.

You have to ask relevant questions such as;
• “What is the condition of the new semi-conditioned attic space?”
• “What have the occupants been sealed in with?”
• “How is the ASHRAE minimum ventilation rate being met?”
• “How is the semi-conditioned attic space actually being semi-conditioned?”

In addition to these permanent and critical physical changes to our example home, the SPF salesman also omitted several temporary but also very critical steps necessary to protect the occupants, their personal belongings, and the home’s HVAC system.

These very critical and necessary steps included;
1. Sealing the homes HVAC system
2. Properly ventilating the attic during and after application
3. Properly vacating the home during and after application
4. Establishing the necessary reoccupancy times for the occupants

Both the permanent and temporary steps associated with SPF insulation must be addressed for the proper installation of SPF.  Exposure to the old filthy attic can be very unhealthy to occupants.  Exposure to SPF during application or too soon after application can cause irreversible sensitivity to SPF and the related SPF chemicals.

The Bottom Line
When it comes to Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation, the product, when correctly installed, is great and can be a wonderful energy saving feature to your home new or old.  However, all potential SPF consumers must do their due diligence and ask the right questions to ensure the proper temporary installation steps are followed during application.  In addition, you’ll need to know the questions to ask to identify any possible permanent alterations to your home to ensure that the SPF performs properly and does not have a negative impact on you and your family.

So “Is Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation right for you?” 

The answer is in the sum of all of the above questions once asked and answered.  Ultimately, you’ll have to weigh the cost associated with properly installing the SPF insulation.  You’ll need to balance that with the possible cost associated with retrofitting your home to ensure your sealed attic and home performs as designed.  To get your long term energy savings and maintain your home’s indoor air quality, you’ll need to pony up these energy bucks up front and reapply the energy savings return over time.

It’s your money and your choice; hopefully, this article helped you make a more informative choice.

 

To learn more about Mr. Lapotaire or Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC, please visit www.FloridaIAQ.com, email info@FloridaIAQ.com or call (407) 383-9459.

About Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

Since 2001, Florida residents have turned to the indoor environmental experts at Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC.  The family owned and operated companies, based in the Orlando area, offer a comprehensive approach to identifying and correcting comfort and indoor air quality problems.  Their expert staff utilizes the latest technologies and industry recognized standards to identify and resolve indoor environmental issues.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

#IAQS


Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation

June 13, 2014

ImageWelcome to part one of a four part series on Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation.  Spray polyurethane foam SPF insulation, the best thing since sliced bread, the greatest energy saving “Green” insulation available, Right?

I can’t remember a building product with such a clearly defined love or hate following.  When I say love, it’s typically described by the “Green” movement as I did above, safe, energy efficient, “Green”, and even healthy. That’s right!  It’s often touted as a product that will improve your indoor air quality.  These guys are hard core supporters and believers, a solid mix of manufactures, applicators, builders, and homeowners.

But if you’re on the hate side of the issue, you’re just as emotionally involved in the product.  You just see things from a different perspective.  Often the hate side of the love-hate relationship evolves from a regrettable spray polyurethane foam insulation experience, a botched job, miss-application, or unfortunate exposure to the SPF chemicals.  If your opinion of SPF is based on any of these issues, then your opinion is based on a vivid and tangible perspective based on a very personal experience.  That will drive passion.

How to ensure that your home has SPF installed properly and what you need to ensure your applicator knows his “stuff” is the reason for this series. While the products are all very similar, it’s the applicator and his or her training and experience that truly matters.  Following at a very close second, is your home and the impact of the sealed attic has on your existing home.
In the next few editions, we are going to discuss the unadvertised side of SPF.  Let’s face it, the industry has a great marketing department and the product works great when properly applied.  So we’ll be discussing the issues with misapplied SPF as well as the design changes that accompany altering a home’s attic from natural (passive) ventilation to a sealed mechanically semi-conditioned attic.

It’s very important to understand the specific changes that take place when you seal your attic.  There are factors that must be considered such as a 50 year old attic with an accumulation of dust, debris, and possibly pesticides that are now a sealed attic and part of the indoor environment. NOT good. I personally don’t feel that any SPF applicator can clean a 50 year old attic well enough for me to feel comfortable breathing the now shared attic air that is now semi-conditioned occupied space.  And that is exactly what will happen when you seal an attic and semi-condition it.

We’ll take a closer look at how to investigate SPF complaints and how to identify miss-applied SPF.  For example, some would prefer to collect air samples to identify the chemicals present in your home and attic as you see in photos A and B.  That will run you somewhere around $5,000.00. Ouch…

Or you can actually inspect the applied SPF and identify areas of unreacted SPF as shown in photo C or SPF on light fixtures as shown in photo D.  This approach will cost you or your builder nothing and the industry provides the guidance documents for the inspection.  Both approaches will provide you with information but the information gathered from the actual inspection of the applied product will provide more relevant information.

Whether you are a lover or a hater, these articles will provide you with solid information for spray pollyurethane foam insulation.
If you are trying to decide if SPF is going to be a part of your home’s remodel, addition, or home improvement, then the article titled “Is Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation right for you?” will be good information.  This article will help inform you of a few issues with an existing home with a traditionally vented attic that you may be considering reinsulating with SPF.  As good as SPF insulation is, sometimes it’s just not a good choice.

If you want to know how SPF can compromise your indoor air quality even when it is correctly installed then the article titled “Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation Build it Tight and Ventilate it Right” will be the series article for you.  A tightly sealed home will not meet the required ventilation rate and will require outdoor air supply.  Depending on where you live, this may require the use of an ERV (energy recovery ventilator), an HRV (heat recovery ventilator), or a mechanical dehumidifier.  All three will require alterations to your homes HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system.

If you want to know what it takes to properly inspect applied Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation, then the article titled “Inspecting Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation What to Look For” will be perfect for you.  So you have an issue with your installed SPF, what is your next step?  Do you hire a chemist? An IAQ indoor air quality consultant? Well, I believe you should hire someone who is extremely familiar with inspecting the SPF.  Not just someone that has performed several SPF inspections but someone familiar with SPF.  Yes, there is a substantial difference.  Many who provide SPF investigations never look at the SPF.   They simply collect air samples and declare the product as dangerous and in need of removal.  While SPF can be misapplied, the issues with SPF aren’t always the result of misapplied SPF.   This article will help clarify who and how to properly inspect your installed SPF.

Stay tuned for great information regarding the use and misuse of Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation.

 

To learn more about Mr. Lapotaire or Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC, please visit www.FloridaIAQ.com, email info@FloridaIAQ.com or call (407) 383-9459.

About Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

Since 2001, Florida residents have turned to the indoor environmental experts at Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC.  The family owned and operated companies, based in the Orlando area, offer a comprehensive approach to identifying and correcting comfort and indoor air quality problems.  Their expert staff utilizes the latest technologies and industry recognized standards to identify and resolve indoor environmental issues.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

#IAQS


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