Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation is a type of insulation which comprises of Urea and formaldehyde, and cures into a solid foam.  Originally developed in Europe in the 1950s, it was useful for insulating areas that lacked accessibility, such as within wall cavities.    Around the mid-1970s, it became popular in Canada due to the growing concerns with energy efficiency, and many homeowners were having UFFI injected into their existing wall cavities to increase their home’s energy efficiency.  However, within a few years, complaints arose due to improper installations of UFFI, which were leading to an excess of formaldehyde gas, particularly in well-sealed homes.  People suffering from this experienced a variety of minor health symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and eye, skin or nose irritation.  This led the government to ban UFFI in 1980, therefore the majority of UFFI installation was done in the 1970s.

Formaldehyde gas is normally found in many sorts of products such as textiles, plastics, plywood, carpets, etc.  In small amounts, less than 0.1 parts per million according to Health Canada, it is relatively harmless.  However, in greater concentrations, health symptoms such as the ones listed above can occur.  This is what contributed to the UFFI ban in 1980.  In the years following the ban, mortgage lenders were requiring UFFI declarations before you could take out a mortgage on your home, and some insurers would not insure homes that contained UFFI.  However, following a number of tests, it was determined that the amount of formaldehyde gas emanating from UFFI was negligible.  In fact, new carpeting in your home, or a new car, emits far more formaldehyde gas.  Furthermore, since UFFI was no longer used after 1980, any excess formaldehyde that would have been given off during the curing process has dissipated a long time ago.  Therefore, in all practicality, UFFI-insulated homes pose no health risk today, as they would contain no more formaldehyde gas than a non-UFFI home.  This led to an amendment to the National Housing Act in 1993, which indicated that UFFI declarations were no longer required for mortgage insurance.

Now, that being said, you are probably wondering why UFFI is still an issue today.  I’ve had many clients over the years ask me if there’s UFFI in the house, as they were afraid of it and did not want to purchase the home if it did.  In my opinion, I would say it’s mostly from the negative hype and media attention that UFFI received thirty years ago.  However, I should mention that there is still a small risk with a UFFI-insulated home.  Besides being a little harder to resale, a UFFI home can start to give off formaldehyde gas if the UFFI comes into contact with moisture.  If UFFI becomes wet, it could begin to break down and therefore would then require removal by a professional insulation contractor who specializes in UFFI abatement.

So, to wrap up, the hype about UFFI is mostly just that… hype!  Any excess formaldehyde gas in the UFFI insulation, if any, would have vented off decades ago.  However, there was a large media buzz surrounding UFFI back in the day, and we’re still seeing the results today.  UFFI will only break down and vent off additional formaldehyde if it comes into contact with moisture and becomes damp.  However, it you have such a leak, you’ll likely have to open things up to repair the water damage anyway, and therefore you’ll have to spend some money regardless.  It would just cost you a little more with a UFFI-insulated home, since you’d have the additional step of bringing in a specially-trained UFFI-abatement contractor to remove the affected UFFI.

Happy home-owning!

Eric Parent