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CORJB

SPF Closed cell lingering smell & off-color

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We had a basement room which has 2 outside walls sprayed with type 2, closed cell spray foam this summer. The room was stripped bare and re-studded before the spray. The walls were gyprocked, primed & painted but the ceiling is yet to be finished.

We experienced the typical fish smell which dissipated as expected a few days later. We use the room as a craft shop and have had no smell issues until last week. All os a sudden that fishy smell is back and its definitely coming from that room. Yesterday we opened the basement door and installed a box fan in the patio door to try and vent-out the odor. The odor persists.

I have read about this problem and it is often labelled as an application error or batch failure. What I have not been able to find is whether this problem will resolve itself eventually and in about how long. I understand crudely that the technician mixes product A + B = C but that in bad applications, the A&B remain "uncompleted" therefore the foam doesn't go through the normal cure and hence the smell.

I also noticed that a small portion of the foam is a bluish color compared to the regular yellow foam. In the attached pictures the regular foam is on the left, blueish on the right, bottom pic is regular yellow foam)

I have contacted the company that did the spray and the guy seemed completely surprised and as if this had never happened before. He's supposed to come by the house but hasn't showed. I'm worried (can you tell?!) about what I'm breathing. Why is it smelling now, months later? We have a heat pump but nothing should be heating that foam to explain the smell. The humidity is below 40%.

I would appreciate your input.

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You most likely have some combination of the bad stuff you described, resulting in incomplete reaction. Somewhere buried in foam that looks OK are some gooey sections that didn't go off.

I've been the "expert" called in to figure out two similar things; the storylines are identical to what you're experiencing, and subsequent invasive investigation revealed uncured sections.

Foam guys will stall forever because the fix is extremely unpleasant. Essentially, strip it all out and start over. Sorry to be the one providing the bad news.

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Thanks Kurt. Not what I was hoping for but now we'll get started on making it right.

It's been unseasonably warm here in my part of Canada. The smell coincided with the first few days of colder weather last week. Perhaps the hot air pipes had something to do with an uptick in the smell.

Also, its barely noticeable in the morning and seems to increase as the day progresses.

I would prefer to have the installer come when it indisputably smells.

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That's how it worked with the 2 properties I looked at. No smell, then that "fishy" smell that would come and go with changing atmospheric conditions. It was hard to nail down. It never went away after more than a year, so we just started tearing stuff out to find out what was wrong, and we ran into some gooey sections that stank.

The blue thing is really weird. Never seen that one. It can't be right.

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It would have been in the mid 20's © and moderately humid as I recall.

Do you think the blueish portions are the uncured portions?

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That jibes with my experience. Spring and Autumn temps, moderate to higher humidity.....and the smell starts Couldn't smell it in deep winter, but come Springtime, it'd come back.

I have no idea about the blue stuff. You should get in there and cut a chunk of the blue stuff out to see if it's cured all the way through. I'm curious. I've never seen bluish foam.

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I think if you could take core samples, you will hit some of the goopy stuff that way.

And that will tell you the extent of the defect as well.

Maybe. But that's not how it worked on the 2 joints I investigated. During the tear out, when it got down to laborers scraping every square inch, we found kinda gummy areas, widely dispersed. It wasn't like it was all goop with pockets of the stuff; it was more like thin stretched areas of failure that would be hard to hit with random core sampling.

But, I don't know. We're on the front end of figuring out why some foam applications go bad. I still think it's the greatest invention, but my enthusiasm has been tempered by a couple bad jobs I've seen and some of the stuff I've been reading about failures.

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Is it possible that the unevenly cured foam in a basement room is giving me chemically-type new car smells on the 1st floor?

I've been dealing as well with a faint but unchanging new-car type smell upstairs. It seems logical given the odor from the foam but the smell is not like rotting fish, its more of a freon-new car-freezerburn type smell.

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Certainly possible or even likely. The fish description is not entirely accurate. Sometimes it's like VOC's.

Nearly all SPF usee the same foaming agents as soap. They smell like new cars, new sneakers, new toys, or the detergent aisle at the grocery. Farm fresh plastics. Not fish.

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I know this. That's what's weird....the smell was distinctly fishy. It's one of the reasons we didn't immediately suspect the foam.

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Closing the HVAC vent in the room brought the smell down to nearly undetectable levels. We just re-opened that vent this morning & a few hours later the smell is more noticeable.

We removed the section of vent that is feeding into that room to check for any irregularities (there were none) and cleaned it for good measure.

My installer came by while it was (of course!) nearly smell-free. He could not smell anything. I asked him about the color differences he said the darker foam is Johns Manville and the rest of the room is Enerlab. He did not explain why that was.

He speculated that maybe some water had infiltrated behind the foam (the room is in a basement) and "pushed the smell out" He wet some surface samples of each to see if they smelled more. They did not smell more while wet but the darker, Johns Mansville foam had a smell to me that he could not detect.

Its my understanding that closed-cell foam is waterproof so it seems like an unlikely reason to me.

He said that he's done thousands of jobs and has never had this happen. That his equipment is electronically calibrated and so it makes it impossible to apply the foam off-ratio.

He was to talk to his supplier and get back to me. He suggested as a last recourse that we could have an indoor air quality lab run tests to determine if there's another cause.

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Sounds exactly like my experience. Installer dumbfounded, "never had it happen before", all the same explanations about electronically calibrated equipment making it impossible to screw up, etc..... And, it isn't water "pushing the smell out". The stuff is water resistant, as you note.

It eventually got around to tearing stuff out, and we found elongated weird gooey spots with a few globs. No reasonable explanation was ever determined. We don't know why it went bad, but it went bad.

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This is why I love this forum. First let me say I'm sorry about the situation and the effort it takes to fix it, but as an inspector I am so glad learn of this so I can be aware of it.

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What was the foam sprayed against? Concrete wall?

The two houses I looked at....both had the problem in a 3rd fl. office/rooftop deck access "penthouse". Conventional wood structure.

There's a lot of 3 story flat roof house in Chicago where the top floor is largely a stairwell enclosure that opens out onto a roof deck. Sometimes they're in the middle with decks on both sides. Sometimes they're larger, and contain an office or wetbar area.

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The insulation was sprayed on poured concrete basement walls with new wood framing. The walls appeared dry and fissure-free. I don't know if a moisture test was performed before spraying. The smell peaked at a 6-7 scale last week and is now maintaining at a 3-4.

We also had a sump pump pit "tunnel" which used to be an access to the basement from the outside sprayed during the same time. That section is 100% yellow foam and while there's good ventilation in there because we installed intake/uptake fans, we detect no smells.

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It maintains at a 3-4 during the day but goes down to barely detectable early morning. ?

That side of the house hardly gets beaten by the sun + its a basement room. Its also again milder than usual here with day temps in the low teens ©.

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