Spray foam insulation nightmare: What can happen if it’s not installed correctly (CBC Marketplace)

Spray foam insulation nightmare: What can happen if it’s not installed correctly (CBC Marketplace)


(♪♪)>>Tom: This week on “Marketplace”.>>I’m afraid for the children and, you know, what they’ve been exposed to.>>Tom: Insulation nightmares.>>I think we’ve got what we need for the lab.>>Tom: It’s a popular energy saver.>>When It’s installed properly, it’s really — it’s a bullet proof product.>>It’s gotta come out, the foam’s gotta come out.>>Tom: That could put you out of house and home …>>You’re playing kind of a game of Russian Roulette with this.>>Tom: And transform your life into a renovation horror story. (♪♪)>>Tom: It’s a scorching June day. We’re driving into the Caledon Hills, north of Toronto, and into a nightmare. The house of their dreams, now haunted. The owners living in a camper steps from the front door. This is a refuge for Robert and Sonia Franceschini and their two kids. I guess it won’t be a long tour.>>No probably not. So this is where we’ve been living.>>Tom: Wow, yeah.>>This is the trailer. The kitchenette area.>>Tom: Right. So you’ve got two young children. Are they asking lots of questions about why are we in here?>>We try not to talk too much in front of them so they don’t get worried or frightened.>>Tom: What could be so frightening? Wow, big house. Nice. It’s just 14 years old he says. 3000 square feet. Mortgage free. But right now, he couldn’t sell it if he tried. The reason? There’s something in the air. Ok the bedroom. Oh yeah, I can smell that.>>Oh, yeah.>>Tom: Geez.>>It’s pretty bad.>>Tom: Pretty strong, yeah. foul. Like bad fish smell.>>The hotter it gets the more, the more it smells.>>Tom: Right.>>The more it smells.>>Tom: And if you stay in here long, what happens?>>Well, you’ll see within the first five minutes you’ll probably start getting a headache.>>Tom: Actually I’m getting a headache now, honest to God. I’m feeling something here. Yeah, it’s quite, uh, it’s insidious. It’s not just the bad smell that’s made their home unliveable.>>Well I started feeling like excruciating pain, joint pain, in the knees and I had swelling in my legs and my feet. And, uh, I just looked at Robert and I said, Robert, I think I need to go to the hospital.>>Tom: They feel as if their house is attacking them. The trouble started this spring they say. Just days after their attic was treated with spray foam insulation. Did you call the company and explain you were having problems? What did they do?>>I brought them up to the bedroom where the main problem was and they said they really couldn’t smell anything. And I was flabbergasted.>>Tom: So what did you think when the company said we don’t smell anything?>>Well, I knew exactly where this was gonna go. And this is why were still here two months later.>>Tom: You heard right. On our visit, they’d been out of their home for two months. When she has to go inside, Sonia wears a mask.>>We thought we were doing something to improve our home and instead they basically destroyed my home. They ruined it. We can’t live in it anymore.>Tom: Not the kind of testimonial the spray foam industry wants to hear. Over the past decade, it’s become the hottest trend in Canadian home insulation. The industry is growing by 30% every year. Why the boom? High heating costs, government tax credits.>>They introduced spray foam which I absolutely love.>>Tom: And those home reno shows. (♪♪)>>Tom: The spray foamer those stars rely on?>>Sorry I can’t remember all the shows, there’s so many.>>Tom: Alex Schuts, who started his own business while in high school.>>I’ve been doing it 22 years. I live and breathe insulation. It’s good for the environment because we save on burning of fossil fuels. It doesn’t let drafts through. when It’s installed properly It’s really a bullet proof product, right.>>Tom: Hmm, when it’s installed properly?>>It’s not simple, and you don’t just pick up the gun and start spraying.>>Tom: Nope, it’s more like a science project right in your home. The sprayer is mixing two sets of serious chemicals he’s specially trained to handle. The conditions have to be just right. And the foam has to be sprayed in thin layers, so it can cure allowing the chemicals to stabilize. It’s sophisticated stuff that promises an energy efficient home. And Alex Schuts says it works that way almost every time.>>There’s a lot of foam being sprayed, there’s a lot of happy customers.>>Tom: In fact, the Franceschini’s were happy when they had a family property spray foamed this past spring. But after their attic job at home, Sonia says not only did she feel ill, she says her daughter broke out in rashes.>>I’m afraid for the children and, you know, what they’ve been exposed to and, um, you know, is there going to be any long term effects to what they’ve been exposed to and it’s just really upsetting. (♪♪)>>Tom: Fear, stress, uncertainty for two months. Time to find out if this foam has taken possession of their home. We call in Frank Haverkate. Frank, how are you doing.>>Hi Tom, how are you, nice to see you.>>Tom: He’s a certified indoor air quality specialist. He’s trying to figure out what chemicals might be floating around.>>Let’s take a reading in the bedroom where we smell odours.>>Tom: He pulls out his computerized air detector. And the small tins gather air samples for later.>>All these samples are going to be here for 48 hours.>>Tom: Then we enter the belly of the beast. If an attic can be a belly.>>So we just want to get a cutaway of the inside of the core closest to the bottom.>>Tom: Frank also wants to test a foam sample.>>I’m not wearing any nitral gloves or any gloves because I don’t want the chemicals from the nitral affecting the sample that I’m cutting.>>Tom: Could this be what’s giving off bad fumes?>>I don’t know if you want to take a sniff of that but it has a pretty good odour to it.>>Tom: Mmm, it’s that fishy odour again, right? Same smell from the bedroom. we’re right above the bedroom, right here.>>I think we’ve got what we need for the lab.>>Tom: Excellent.>>Great. Let’s get out of this sauna.>>Tom: I agree with you. There is no graceful way to do this. Foam samples in hand, Frank heads out, and offers a few last minute instructions to the family.>>Stay out of the bedroom. just leave everything the way it is I’ll be back in a couple of days to pick it up.>>Tom: The Franceschini’s may feel alone in this horror show.>>We all felt burning like ammonia.>>Tom: Turns out they’re not.>>We live with a nightmare still.>>Tom: Tales from the deep south. Reveal more foam invasions.>>You’re playing kind of a game of russian roulette with this. (♪♪) (♪♪)>>Tom: we’re investigating a renovation horror story, and our journey into the dark side of spray foam has taken us south to the sunshine state.>>Tonight action 9 exposes a growing threat to local home owners.>>Tom: Where we heard more reports of foam invasions.>>My heart just started racing and racing, and I was hyperventilating and I fell to the ground.>>Tom: I’m in Kissimi, Florida, an Orlando suburb. on the way to meet Joan and Mike Roth. Driven from their house by spray foam three years ago. So your trailer was over here?>>Yes, it was over on thisre? side. That was a nightmare. that’s how we list everything that happened to us, just the overall category, we call it a nightmare.>>We all felt burning like ammonia, it was an awful experience.>>This just gives you a sense of how deep this is.>>Tom: Their home video is now the Rothi’s personal horror flick. It started when they spray foamed the attic. They wanted to cut their energy costs. It was the cost of their health and home that blindsided them.>>We say before the foam and after the foam. I mean, It’s changed our lives.>>Tom: First the installer and manufacturer claimed there were no problems. Then tried some repairs. nothing worked.>>So I actually got on the phone and called remediation companies,companies that take out asbestos, and that type of thing, deal with mould problems; none of them had a protocol for spray foam. Nobody was going to touch it.>>Tom: What the Roths were learning is that North American spray foam industry has no official guidelines for taking out a bad job.>>So we said we’re going to have to pull the sheeting off the roof, pull the whole thing off, and have someone mechanically go in and scrape every piece of wood and every piece of drywall and take it and throw it away.>>Tom: And how did that go?>>What was it, 16 days?>>Sixteen days it took.>>Finally they got 90-some per cent of it out.>>Tom: Safely locked away in the garage, Mike is keeping some relics from their ordeal. Looks like candy.>>It does not smell like candy.>>Tom: Oh, yeah, yeah, sort of a fishy smell. There are other reminders that are far more upsetting. Their son Julian has suffered from asthma and joint pain ever since, reacts to the chlorine in the pool. But the Roths say he was fine until the morning the spraying started, when he was sleeping.>>This is Julian’s bedroom. this is where they sprayed first. I’m still upset when I think about that crucial time when he was in the room when they were spraying right over his bedroom. Makes me sick. Makes me sick to think about.>>Tom: In fact, the whole family was inside that day.>>They didn’t say anything about leaving the house and here they are spraying these chemicals up there and we’re still in the house.>>Tom: Health issues. Smelly foam. Living in a trailer. The Roth’s story is eerily similar to our Canadian case. As spray foam’s popularity has spread, so have more troubling stories.>>You’re playing kind of a game of Russian roulette with this.>>Tom: Bernie Bloom is a kind of foam buster.>>It doesn’t matter if you did it right twenty times in a row, the twenty first home might be different.>>Tom: People such as Bernie are in demand across the U.s. they’re expert advisors for a number of class action lawsuits currently underway. a leading indoor air scientist for 40 years, he’s involved with dozens of bad spray foam issues, six of them here in Florida.>>We have more and more houses being sprayed. I expect there’s going to be more, not fewer, problems.>>Tom: The man who helped design ventilation systems for the international space station believes spray foam is a formula for trouble.>>The foam itself is manufactured in the house, not in a factory. If you spray it too thick and it gets too hot, then the reactions that happen are not what was designed in the factory or in the laboratory. You got a runaway reaction.>>Tom: So that fishy smell? Bernie says it means the chemicals in the foam weren’t mixed right and didn’t stabilize.>>When it works, it does fine. When it doesn’t work, and if you’re in the house, you can become chemically sensitized which is a dreadful condition.>>Tom: Bernie’s not a doctor. but experience tells him that’s what happened to the Roths. Why would they be there or why wouldn’t they be told to leave?>>If you tell somebody, um, we’re going to spray the stuff, It’s great stuff, but we want you not to be in the house for a day or two. which is conventional industry Internal guidance, some people are going to ask, why? Is there something wrong? Is it toxic?>>Tom: The day their attic was sprayed in Caledon, the Franceschinis weren’t worried about the foam because they say, they didn’t know about staying out of the house.>>Most of the time we were out here while they were spraying. If we needed something we’d run in the house and get it. When the salesman was here he may have mentioned it, but I don’t recall. But out of all pamphlets, paperwork I got, or all my quotes, nothing in there that says I should have stayed out of the house, cause that would have stuck in my head.>>Tom: And here’s their job quote. Nothing about staying out of the house. Nothing in the company brochures either. Meantime, It’s been more than three months since they’ve had a family meal in their dining room or kitchen.>>What took you so long?>>Oh, please.>>Tom: Can it really be that bad in the house so long after the job was done? (♪♪)>>Tom: Oh, yeah. It’s still there. There’s still that fishy smell.>>It’s still off gassing.>>Tom: Yeah, you can still smell it.>>We’ll turn that fan on, ventilate the whole house, open up all the windows, shut it down and it’s right back.>>Tom: Remember — we tested the bad air in the master bedroom and the foam above it. Now Frank Haverkate is back with some unsettling results. The air samples reveal a laundry list of chemicals.>>In a nutshell you’ve got some Toluene issues, you’ve got MEK issues.>>Tom: Some of those things can be linked to cancer.>>Ethylbenzene.>>Tom: Frank believes the spray foam job’s to blame but can’t conclusively prove it. Now for the foam results.>>One of the surprising things is we found formaldehyde. Now, it’s –>>Tom: Formaldehyde?. We’re surprised. The manufacturer of the Franceschini’s foam says their insulation doesn’t contain formaldehyde or similar compounds.>>Again, they’re low levels but, uh, it really shouldn’t be there.>>Tom: Frank thinks It’s the installation job gone wrong, creating new, dangerous chemicals. What do you think about what you’re hearing.>>Needless to say It’s scary.>>Tom: You scared?>>Yes, very much so.>>Tom: So what’s your advice to them?>>You’re gonna have to get the product removed.>>Tom: Desperate times, desperate measures.>>Well, you can only stay in a trailer for so long.>>Tom: you’re about to see one extreme makeover. (♪♪) (♪♪) (♪♪)>>Tom: The Franchini’s are tired of trailer living.>>Go into our room, go. (♪♪)>>Tom: Tired of being spooked by the spray foam in their attic.>>I’m still in disbelief. I can’t believe that somebody would do this to a family and not want to take ownership for what they did.>>I need to get back into my house.>>Tom: And they’re tired of searching for answers. The foam manufacturer had the air and the foam tested and said its product wasn’t causing problems. Then, an independent group determined a section of foam was too thick and emitting chemicals. The manufacturer eventually agreed. the family has heard enough.>>It’s gotta come out, the foam’s gotta come out. (♪♪)>>It’s gotta come right out. Yep.>>Tom: Removing bad foam is what Alex Schuts is up to today.>>Mainly on this side. This side too. It’s the middle section that’s the worst.>>Tom: The stuff his man sprayed isn’t making anyone sick and it doesn’t stink but It’s cracking and peeling.>>Never seen it this thick. This is the worst I’ve ever. seen, Tom. It’s terrible.>>Tom: Yes. TV’s most famous foam sprayer doesn’t always get it right and the industry agrees not every job is perfect.>>I hate the fact that it’s happening, but we’re here, we’re here to fix it. And it doesn’t cost the customer any money.>>Tom: How common is it for installers to have to take out foam?>>It’s rare. It’s happening more now than probably in the past because there’s a lot more newer contractors out there.>>Tom: In your view, then, if an installer gets it wrong, are they obliged to fix it do you think?>>Damn right. Yeah, yeah. If you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, fix it.>>Tom: So we’re hitting the road to Huntsville, Ontario, to talk to the company that spray foamed the Franceschini’s attic. A family business called Thermoseal Insulation. Richard Clement is the owner. So what do we have here?>>So this is the chemical, the two chemicals go together. If It’s not sprayed correctly it certainly could be a problem.>>Tom: he’s been in the business for decades. He figures the company’s done about 15,000 spray foam jobs, and says it’s their first case like this.>>I was in the bedroom, like the master bedroom upstairs.>>Yes.>>Tom: That’s where I got that smell. Did your folks go up there when they first visited the house?>>When they went there and couldn’t, they couldn’t detect it — I should qualify that,ct that they did smell, but it’s the smell they are accustomed to with a fresh application of polyurethane foam. They didn’t detect a fishy smell as the homeowner did.>>Tom: Richard says consultants told him only about 1% of the foam was bad.>>Tom: So why didn’t your company take out that foam?>>We offered to take out that foam. The homeowner decided that he wanted to have the entire attic area, 13 or 1400 square feet removed and that, in our opinion, and every other professional’s opinion was — unrealistic and unwarranted.>>Tom: Given that um, the wife got sick, days after it happened, can you understand why they’d probably want to get rid of it, get it out of their house?>>We’re sorry that the folks got sick but we don’t feel that it’s necessarily anything to do with the foam.>>Tom: He also disagrees with the family’s claim they weren’t warned about staying out of the house. There are guidelines that say in a residence the family shouldn’t be in the house for 24 hours.>>He was told that. he was told that by three different people from our company.>>Tom: Is there a reason it’s not on like the quote or the contract or anything like that written down?>>Since that incident we have put it in writing.>>Tom: Here’s Thermoseal’s new contract. By signing, the homeowner acknowledges: I have been informed of the health hazards and. I am not to occupy my residence for a period of one day (24 hours) after spray foam is installed. Spray foam is popular but Clements suggests it’s not always the best insulation choice.>>Tom: You try to talk people out of it.>>Yes, we do. So maybe people are using it too much in their houses?>>in some of the places we’re working it’s become the standard and there are, I think there are better applications out there.>>Tom: So if you’re thinking of Insulating, learn the risks, and benefits, of all kinds of insulation. If you pick spray foam, make sure the installer is certified and experienced. Get a guarantee of foam removal in writing, in case things go wrong. And stay away for at least a day. (♪♪)>>Tom: As for the Franceschinis, the disturbing tale of the house in the Caledon Hills has reached the end of the road. Are they still in the trailer? They got some relief? Problem solved? Trying to find out.>>Well, a you can come in and have a look. As far as you can see, if you look up there, the whole roof was removed.>>Tom: they’ve actually blown the lid off their home>>The only way to remove the foam for safety reasons was to Remove the whole roof.>>Tom: This renovation horror story ends with a domestic decapitation. Did they take it off in one piece?>>Yeah, the ceiling is still underneath. Well, we can see from the front. (♪♪)>>Tom: It’s almost like a skeleton in a way, right? Its finally stopped haunting you.>>Thank God that it’s outta my house and we don’t have to breath any of this anymore.>>Tom: After this long nightmare and its dramatic end Robert Franceschni is waking up to a new realization. He has to think about insulation again.>>And I have to be honest with you, I haven’t gotten to That stage yet on what to do. I guess it would be really stupid to try and re-spray foam. So… (♪♪)