Home Inspections in Niagara, Hamilton, Halton, GTA – mold, Asbestos and radon inspections across Ontario


We’ve just received our fifth phone call is as many weeks about inspecting for UFFI, and frankly, we are probably as fed up with it as the Realtors who are asking, and the clients who looking at buying properties that had UFFI installed.

For those who do not know what we are talking about UFFI is the acronym for Urea-Formaldehyde Foam Insulation.   Google it on the internet and you’ll see all manner of horrible nasty things that can happen to you if you come into contact with it.  But are these scary stories based upon scientific fact?

Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI) was widely used in the 1970’s for insulating and retrofitting industrial, commercial and older residential buildings. UFFI is a low density foam that has the appearance and consistency of shaving cream, and becomes stiff and self supporting when it dries or cures (hardens).

The insulation is typically made on-site where the urea formaldehyde-based resin is mixed with a catalyst and water and foamed in place in walls or used for block fill. The foam can be forced through small openings and delivered to the entire area of any cavity before it cures.

The use of a urea formaldehyde-based resin in the manufacture of UFFI can lead to the release of formaldehyde gas during the curing process and afterwards.  Formaldehyde emissions decrease over time.

The Good
  • Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic compound.
  • Formaldehyde has a number of uses to promote hygiene.
  • Formaldehyde can be useful as a disinfectant as it kills most bacteria and fungi (including their spores).
  • Formaldehyde solutions can be applied topically in medicine to dry the skin, such as in the treatment of warts.
  • Formaldehyde can be used as a treatment to kill parasites that attack aquarium fish, without killing the fish.
  • Formaldehyde is used to make the wet strength resin that holds together facial tissue, table napkins, and roll towels, and yes the reason why the toilet paper doesn’t disintegrate in your hands when use is likely due to the use of Formaldehyde.
  • For most people, irritation from formaldehyde is temporary and reversible.
  • Formaldehyde is used in embalming fluid.
The Bad
  • Formaldehyde is reactive to oxygen.  It quickly turns into formic acid, which in itself has a highly pungent, penetrating odor at room temperature.
  • Formaldehyde is highly toxic to all animals, regardless of method of intake.
  • Ingestion of 30ml of a solution containing 37% formaldehyde has been reported to cause death in an adult human.
  • Water solution of formaldehyde is very corrosive and its ingestion can cause severe injury to the upper gastrointestinal tract.
  • Because formaldehyde resins are used in many construction materials it is one of the more common indoor air pollutants.
  • Formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen associated with nasal sinus cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer.
  • At concentrations above 0.1 ppm in air formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and mucous membranes, resulting in watery eyes.
  • Formaldehyde inhaled at this concentration may cause headaches, a burning sensation in the throat, and difficulty breathing, and can trigger or aggravate asthma symptoms.
  • Formaldehyde can off-gas from wood products, such as plywood or particle board and it produced by paints, varnishes, floor finishes, and cigarette smoking as well.
  • People who suffer allergic reactions to formaldehyde tend to display lesions on the skin in the areas that have had direct contact with the substance, such as the neck or thighs (often due to formaldehyde released from permanent press finished clothing) or dermatitis on the face (typically from cosmetics)
  • Formaldehyde is a by-product of incomplete combustion of vehicle fuel and are also formed through secondary processes when other vehicle pollutants undergo chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
The Ugly
  • UFFI Insulation in a home can seriously stigmatise the home but in our opinion, such stigmatisation in unfair.
    • Buyers have been known to ask for thousands of dollars reduction in the price of a home because of UFFI and then live in the home without having it removed and without suffering any ill effects.
  • Removal of UFFI from a home can cost upwards of $50,000, and then the insulation effects of the foam are lost.
    • This would subsequently require further expense to bring the home up to the same level of energy efficiency.
    • Getting rid of UFFI requires the removal of the wall covering, either from the inside of the outside in order to manually hack the foam out.
    • This is essentially a complete gut of the property back to the studs.
  • Laboratory testing for formaldehyde in the air from UFFI is expensive, time-consuming, and in our opinion a stupid waste of time and effort.
    • A 24-hour air sample is the shortest possible method to test for Formaldehyde.
    • A 1-day lab analysis can cost up to $500
    • A call-out fee would be charged because the test would require two visits and then a rush shipment to the lab for the sampling devices.
    • All in all one is looking at around $900 and a minimum of 3 elapsed days to get results.

So the good news is, we will if pushed, perform Formaldehyde air tests for clients.  We have no problem earning a living, but we will advise you, in advance, that Formaldehyde air testing will not tell you that the Formaldehyde is coming from UFFI insulation.

We now have electronic measuring devices that test for Formaldehyde, VOC’s and particulate matter, not even these machines will allow us to tell you if, or how much UFFI you have installed.  We can, from air testing, tell you how much Formaldehyde in parts per million there is in your home, but remember: other building materials can also be significant sources of formaldehyde off-gassing.

These include pressed wood building products and furniture made with them, including hardwood flooring, plywood sheeting, wall panelling, particle board, fibre-board ceiling tiles and MDF furniture; carpet backing; poorly vented fuel-burning appliances; and tobacco smoke.

If you would like us to come and test your home or work location for Formaldehyde because you want to know the Formaldehyde levels, we are more than willing to do so.

But if you doing it because you’ve been asked by an insurer and mortgage lender for this information, can we suggest you print this page and give it to them with a single word question…….WHY?

In 1995, a test case against UFFI manufacturers reached the Quebec Court of Appeal after a marathon eight-year trial. In a massive 216,000-word judgment, the court ruled there was no basis for fear of health risks and no justification for removing UFFI.

Now if you are concerned about other things to do with UFFI, read another post of ours from a few years back, here.  Alternatively, give us a call.