formaldehyde-free attic insulation?
Last Post 20 Jun 2014 06:10 PM by Dana1. 8 Replies.
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Matt GUser is Offline
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27 Mar 2010 05:50 PM

I want to add about R-19 of my loose fill attic insulation to my existing construction home. The current insulation is R-30 fiberglass batts, isn't the best job, and the top of the ceiling joists (attic floor joists) are exposed. I've spent the last 3 weeks (on and off) tightening up what is there, caulking the top of light fixture boxes, wire penetratins, around plumbing vents and other penetrations, installing better ventilation baffles, putting backer on attic kneewalls, etc, etc.

At the local home improvement store they have both Owens Corning Atticat loose fill and Johns Manville Attic Protector formaldehyde-free loose fill insulation. On one hand I'd prefer to use the formaldehyde-free stuff as my wife had respiratory issues and it would theoretically make for better air quality - or at least not make existing worse. On the other hand I think I can get a discount on the OC Atticat insulation making it significantly cheaper.

My question is this: since the insulation I'm adding is in the unconditioned (and ventilated) attic space, do I really care if it is formaldehyde-free? Granted the formaldehyde-free might make for a more enjoyable installation experience, but I figure that is gonna suck either way, and I can deal with it. I mean it should be sealed from the living space anyway...  so does the formaldehyde-free really mater?  How long does it take the formaldehyde to disapate?

Thoughts? Thanks in advance.


As a side note I wonder if I can run the Johns Manville Attic Protector loose fill through the Atticat insulation blower?  Anyoen done that?

smartwallUser is Offline
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28 Mar 2010 08:44 AM
It wil work with either product. I would use the JM. Measure the size of the bag of JM in relation to the OC product to make sure it will fit in the machine. I know Insulsafe works.
icare_douUser is Offline
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06 Apr 2010 05:24 PM
As you point out insulation in the attic doesn't matter as it is ventilate with fresh outside air diluting the off gassed formaldehyde. Wall insulation is a real issue. With the outside sealed tightly for energy efficiency the only place for this out gassed formaldehyde to escape is into the home. I have seen several homes with elevated formaldehyde with the largest source being the wall insulation.

With your wife's respiratory problems I'd strongly recommend testing the home on a warm sunny day to measure the formaldehyde concentration. You can do this yourself for $39 using a passive ACS badge. I would do one in the master bedroom and a second in the room that she spends the most time in, especially if it has an exterior wall with sun exposure.

CA recommends not exceeding 7 parts per billion. 30 ppb negative impacts children's lung function. 65 ppb is associated with increased asthma. Most adults have acuate negative effects at 100 ppb. These are for chronic exposures such as a home and are lower than the occupational standards that are set for a healthy adult with 8-hours/day 40-hours/week exposure.

If you have a high reading you can have an experienced air quality person using a real time direct read meter determine the sources. This will allow you to remove and/or remediate. If you have large low level sources such as: laminate flooring, fiberglass wall insulation, MDF doors, base boards, crown molding, cabinets, furniture (such as desks, dressers, end-tables, file cabinets), closet organizers, fuzzy hangers etc, the more effective solution is likely to introduce fresh air. Commercial buildings are required to exchange the air every hour. Homes have more pollution sources and often take 10-hours to exchange the air. This is especially true when you carefully seal the house to safe energy as you have just done. You will likely need to work with a commercial ventilation contractor as residential contractors do not have any experience with fresh air systems.

Matt GUser is Offline
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08 Apr 2010 07:56 AM
Thanks for the info and your thoughts icare:

That is the first time I ever saw any figures on recommended levels of formaldehyde in a home. Very interesting.

At this point I don’t feel there is a problem here at the house though. My wife has chronic breathing problems – asthma, etc – which weren’t helped at all I’m sure by years of smoking – she quit 10 years ago. We moved to this house 10 months ago and haven’t heard any new “reports” from her. Also, doing testing could create a problem – if only in the mind of someone I love – if you know what I mean.

We bought this house when it was ~5 years old, so I think a lot of the off-gassing had already occurred. BTW – we bought rather than built as I didn’t feel I could save much of anything by building – with the RE market as messed up as it is. Very bad for us builder types… Granted I think I could have built a little better house – but only a little – and at a premium. A year ago I discussed the green built house thing with DW, indoor air quality, etc. She was against us building again. She has been through that 2x before. I think it is kinda indicative of the public’s at large attitudes toward green building – “yea – I want that but won’t pay much of anything extra for it..”

We are trying to get a green building program set up at work, but we like so many other builders are just fighting to keep our heads above water. A few months ago the boss man gave me an assignment to figure out how we could do it for free. I basically gave him an extensive report and told him “It isn’t gonna happen for free, but here is how we can do it for the least cost”.

Anyway, the wall insulation here at the house is Johns Manville formaldehyde free. There are some knee walls in the attic where I had easy access to see what was written on the paper vapor barrier.

I’m not going to do any testing at this point – as I said – there is no indication of a problem. I don’t want to create any new problems though, so at this point I’m leaning toward the formaldehyde free blown in insulation as it is only about $25 more even though it will be in the ventilated attic space.  The material and labor for a helper for me will be around $750 for that alone.
buck3647User is Offline
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08 Apr 2010 08:05 AM
I would say to check out closed cell foam.  Not only does foam give excellent insulation, highest in the industry, and because it seals air leaks the R value becomes much higher than any other insulation plus eliminates moisture intrusion.
icare_douUser is Offline
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09 Apr 2010 04:17 PM
"We bought this house when it was ~5 years old, so I think a lot of the off-gassing had already occurred."

Unfortunatley, formaldehyde in construction material will off gas essentially forever.  It comes from the resin and if there is no off gassing left the resin is all gone and the building material would fall apart.  I had my rude awakening last summer when I discovered the particle board carpet underlayment was still off gassing enough formaldehyde 47 years later to raise the room air concentration of formaldehyde to 93 ppb.

You might be very interested in The California Air Resources Board's report published December 15, 2009.  The testing was done on home built in 2002 and 2003 during 2006 through 2008.  Homes would have been 3 to 6 years old.  This report states: "Nearly all homes (98%) had formaldehyde concentrations that exceeded guidelines for cancer and chronic irritation, while 59 percent exceeded guidelines for acute irritation."

The executive summary: http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/apr/past/04-310exec_sum.pdf
The full report: http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/apr/past/04-310.pdf
The principal researcher's power point presentation: http://iee-sf.com/resources/pdf/ResidentialVentilation.pdf


"doing testing could create a problem – if only in the mind of someone I love –"

The passive ACS badge that I recommended in my original post involves simply sliding the cover of a small badge down and waiting 48 hours and sliding it closed.  I would bet you could do the test without your wife even knowing that you did the test.

If you are still opposed to testing and based on the age of the home, I can make two recommendations.

1) Purchase a Honeywell Chemical filter for $200 including shipping.  The commercial line is chemical filter and HEPA.  Their residential line doesn't seem to work in my test environments.  The one and only model that I can recommend based on my testing is F113C6009.  Search on F113C6009 will give you a long list of vendors selling the product from a low of $180 and $20 shipping to a high of about $750.   This is a great general filter.  I would actually suggest two.  One in the room where she sleeps and the second in the room where she spends the most time. 

2) Add fresh air to your home ventilation systems.  Commercial building are required to have a complete air exchange every hour.  Homes are built so tightly without consideration to health that they only exchange air once every 5 to 10 hours.  The fresh air can go through a HEPA filter to remove dust, pollen etc.

Open the windows absolutely as much as possilble.  The typical formaldehye concentration has gone from 14 ppb to 100 ppb and is heading towards 300 ppb.  Formaldehyde can cause asthma.  Formaldehyde also impacts sleep quality making it difficult for people to think straight.

leviportmanUser is Offline
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20 Jun 2014 04:14 AM
using custom made one, I personally made it, aside from its default insulation, I added coconut husk on it.
jonrUser is Offline
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20 Jun 2014 01:54 PM
My wife has chronic breathing problems – asthma, etc


I think that your best ROI would be to find a ventilation system that will bring in fresh air, filter it well and then maintain the house at a slight positive pressure during summer/spring/fall (neutral in the Winter). Also keep humidity < 50%.
Dana1User is Offline
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20 Jun 2014 06:10 PM
Really? We're responding to 4 year old threads now?
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