Installing Insulation Safely

hard hat, safety equipment, safety glasses, ear plugs

Whether performed by certified professionals or do-it-yourselfers, installing insulation can involve possible serious exposure to toxic chemicals. Working directly with insulation material can expose installers to chemical reactions, airborne fibers and dust, atomization and vapors from foam materials and off-gassing from heat-generating processes.

Below is a look at the dangers of different types of insulation and what steps installers can take to protect themselves. Federal and state occupational safety and health laws also detail safeguards needed by construction workers. While some installation—such as natural fibers or fiberglass—can be easily handled by do-it-yourselfers, as more chemicals are involved in the insulation—primarily in the spray foam class—the risks increase. 

Bottom Line: installation of most types of liquid foam insulation requires special equipment and certification and should be done by experienced installers. 

INSTALLING INSULATION SAFELY

Spray Polyurethane Foam

Hazards: asthma; sensitization; lung damage; other respiratory and breathing problems; eye and skin irritation.

Recommended Protection: air purifying respirator with full face mask; eye protection; chemical resistant clothing; chemical resistant gloves; over-boots; ventilation.

 

Expanded Polystyrene, Extruded Polystyrene Foam

Hazards: respiratory irritation; neurological effects.

Recommended Protection: dust mask; eye protection; gloves. Note: upgrade respirator protection if product is being burned.

 

Polyisocyanurate Foam

Hazards: respiratory, eye and skin irritation.

Recommended Protection: dust mask; eye protection; gloves.

 

Fiberglass, Mineral Wool

Hazards: asthma trigger (if formaldehyde is present); eye and skin irritation; respiratory irritation and inflammation.

Recommended Protection: dust mask; eye protection; loose-fitting, long-sleeved and long-legged clothing; head cover; gloves; ventilation.

 

Cellulose, Natural Wool, Cotton

Hazards: respiratory, eye and skin irritation; reproductive toxicity

Recommended Protection: dust mask; eye protection; loose-fitting, long-sleeved and long-legged clothing; head cover; gloves; ventilation.