Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by manufacturers’ of building materials and household products. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes. It can be found in considerably high concentrations either inside or outside. Formaldehyde vapours are odourless unless in high concentrations. Formaldehyde in homes is undesirable. Here are some common sources and issues it can cause.
What is UFFI? — Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI) was installed primarily in wall cavities during the 1970’s as an energy conservation measure. Its appearance is like ordinary shaving cream. Dry, it can be a white or tan colour, and fluffy like Styrofoam. To ascertain if UFFI is present in a home, samples of insulation must be taken for lab analysis. The presence of UFFI in a home does not determine if Formaldehyde vapours are present as these fumes can come from other areas in the home as well. Homes installed with UFFI many years ago are unlikely to have high levels of Formaldehyde vapours unless, for example, the insulation is damp and interior walls are cracked or the foam is exposed. Even though Formaldehyde vapours from UFFI may not be present in a home, or pose no health concerns, it is still possible that the home’s valuation may be negatively affected by the stigma of UFFI.
How can Formaldehyde Vapours affect you? — The primary health effects come from eye, nose, and, throat irritation. Other symptoms include skin rash, fatigue, wheezing, severe allergic reactions, nausea, headaches, insomnia, depression, diarrhoea, and chest pains. It may also trigger asthma attacks and cause cancer. In older homes that do not have UFFI levels can be at least 3 times lower than newer homes with significant amounts of new pressed wood products.
Common Sources of Formaldehyde — Pressed wood products (hardwood plywood paneling, particle board, fibre board and furniture made with these pressed wood products), nail polish, antiperspirants, permanent press clothing, mattresses, carpeting, tobacco smoke, pesticides, automobile exhaust, emissions from unvented fuel burning appliances (gas stoves & kerosene space heaters), and UFFI.
What can you do if a home has Formaldehyde Vapours or UFFI? – The likelihood of the presence of formaldehyde off gassing in a home with UFFI is quite rare. Certain remedial action may assist in reducing Formaldehyde vapours and has consisted of, for example, with UFFI in the walls, seal cracks, apply two coats of vapour barrier paint (seals off about half the vapours and lasts two years), and apply vinyl or Mylar wallpaper to the walls. Certain caulking and foam-backed tapes can be used to seal the junctions of floors and walls where air can leak and send fumes into the home. Aluminium foil is thought to be the most effective barrier, as formaldehyde fumes cannot penetrate this foil. Removal of UFFI is also possible however can be costly.
Reducing exposure to Formaldehyde vapours may be achieved by the use of air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperatures and reduce humidity. Mechanical ventilation through the use of a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) can assist as well. Increase ventilation and fresh air into the home especially after bringing new sources of Formaldehyde into the home. Use non-urea based resin products, for example, found in some exterior grade pressed wood products.
What should you do if you suspect a home has Formaldehyde vapours? — A test for Formaldehyde vapours should likely be done first to ascertain its presence. In this way any health concerns can be addressed. If these vapours are present you may wish to determine the various potential sources of it. If you suspect UFFI in the home then samples can be taken for verification. Eliminating UFFI will not necessarily do away with formaldehyde vapours in a home. The reason for this is that Formaldehyde vapours from UFFI often decline over time and other sources may be causing emissions.