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Can Attic Insulation Make You Sick?

Tuesday, October 13th by Shannon Brelsford


Dirty Fiberglass Insulation

Attic insulation is an essential part of our homes, but dirty, old, poorly installed insulation can make us sick.

While insulation may not be something you usually spend your time worrying about on a day-to-day basis, it’s a worthwhile question to ask. With the cooler months quickly approaching, which means more time spent indoors, could your attic insulation be making you and your family sick? 

The answer is yes, sadly. You now may be asking, how could this be? If insulation is improperly installed or the wrong materials have been chosen, your insulation could cause health complications that you don’t see coming. Insulation is an essential part of your home’s comfort and health, but sometimes things can go wrong. In this article, we break down the possible dangers of attic insulation and the complications that can come along with them.

How Attic Insulation Plays a Role in Your Health

Each type of attic insulation comes with its own pros and cons, and each depends on proper installation, climate-type, and certain sensitivities to allergens. Here, we list out the most common types of attic insulation and what each one means in terms of your health. 

Fiberglass Batt Insulation

Fiberglass insulation is made of tiny glass fibers, which could cause skin, eye, or lung irritation if moved or touched.

  • Fiberglass Insulation- Composed of glass fibers woven together to create a deceptively fluffy looking material. 

How it can make you sick: Because of its tiny glass fibers, it can be a high risk material to have in the home. Brushing against, moving or touching the insulation can dislodge those glass fibers, allowing them to lodge into skin, eyes, and be breathed in to irritate the throat and lungs.

  • Cellulose Insulation- Made from recycled paper products such as newspapers, to create a light, fluffy material. 

How it can make you sick: Since made from paper, it can produce an awful lot of dust that can easily make its way down through tiny cracks, causing irritation and common allergy systems. Rodents and pests also find cellulose to be great nesting material.

  • Rigid Foam Insulation- Also known as ‘foam board’, this expanded polystyrene made insulation is flat and compact, commonly used to insulate hatch doors. 

How it can make you sick: This material is famed for its flame resistance, but the chemicals that allow the material to resist high heat, are also highly carcinogenic as they break down over time.

Foaming Insulation

Spray foam insulation is made of nondegradable material that won't cause irritation once installed.

  • Spray Foam Insulation-This type of insulation is composed of a polyurethane polymer and sprayed over an attic to fill in small cracks, gaps and holes. 

How it can make you sick: Due to the nature of the material, being sprayed as a liquid and foaming, failure to wear proper respiratory equipment can result in asthma, lung damage and eye and skin irritation. However, once fully set, spray foam is completely safe to be around and won’t naturally degrade over time.  

How Can Attic Insulation Make You Sick?

There are a few ways that insulation in the home can have an adverse health effect. 

Insulation Sickness

Insulation can make you ill in a variety of ways, often presenting some allergies or the flu.

  • Improper Installation--This could be poorly installed or hung insulation, or simply using the wrong material in the wrong space. Certain materials work best when in an attic as opposed to other areas of the home, and the reverse is also true. Fiberglass works best in dry environments, while spray foam can resist moisture and can be placed anywhere in the home. Foam boards are often used to insulate hatch doors, such as to the attic or crawl space, because they can be easily cut to shape.

  • Water Damage & Mold Issues--Moisture and insulation do not mix. When insulation material becomes wet, it loses its insulating properties. On top of that, wet insulation is a veritable breeding ground for mold and mildew. 

  • Chemical Byproducts & Dust--Depending on the type of insulation material present in your home, there may be unpleasant chemical byproducts, dust and debris. This is usually a natural breakdown of chemicals, or can be caused by shifting and movement of the insulation material.

  • Animal Waste & Dander--Some types of insulation make wonderful nesting materials for pests--such as mice, rats, birds and racoons. These critters get cozy amongst the fluffy insulation material and make a home for themselves, shedding and getting animal waste on everything. 

For those with sensitivities, these things can exacerbate the issue, exaggerating allergy symptoms into an actual sickness that can wear you down over time. 

How to Prevent Insulation Sickness

Insulation Contractor

If you're concerned about the health of your home and family, it's always best to reach out to the pros.

The most effective way to prevent irritation, sickness, and other insulation related issues is to be active about inspections and replacements. Having a trusted professional on hand will help make the decision process much smoother. 

Insulation inspections should take place yearly, according to most professionals in the field. A lot can happen in a year, such as harsh weather and animal infestations, which can all greatly impact the effectiveness and health of your home's insulation. 

If you think it may be time to reach out to an attic insulation contractor, Attic Systems has assembled an easy to navigate list of all your local professionals. Reach out today!

 

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