Wet Insulation: Safety and Health Concerns

Condensation Causes Wet Insulation.

Should you worry about wet insulation?

Your roof has a minor leak, but it isn’t causing any apparent damage or safety concerns – or is it? What you can’t see is that your insulation is wet, and that is an expensive thing to replace. It's also a dangerous thing to ignore because many insulations contain hazardous chemicals like formaldehyde.

Your insulation sits just below your roof. Therefore, it’s the first thing to be impacted by a roof leak. Wet insulation increases the weight and burden that is put onto your roof. Secondly, this leads to warping and other structural problems. According to the American Society for Testing and Materials, water and humidity can increase insulation weight by 275%1.

Wet insulation is heavy & so are the health concerns.

Wet insulation sagging from ceiling

Additionally, when you have fiberglass, mineral, or wool insulation, you must watch out for formaldehyde. When formaldehyde gets wet or is in a place with high temperature or humidity, it “off-gasses.” Off-gassing is the deterioration of a chemical. This happens with many different chemicals, even your common crafting glue. The difference with formaldehyde is that the resulting off-gas is extremely dangerous. Though the levels of the gas decline VERY slowly over time, they never reach zero.

Consequently,  persistent levels of formaldehyde lay stagnant at best in cool environments but actively eat away your metal roof in aggressive high-heat environments. Most manufacturing facilities have production floors where increased heat is a factor.  At temperatures above 120°C or 248°F,  formaldehyde is corrosive to steel and metal roof panels. This is primarily due to the formation of formic acid from elevated temperatures.

Corroding Metal roof edge due to formaldehyde off gassing.
Metal roof edge corrosion at a Tool Manufacturing company.

Formaldehyde off-gass is a safety hazard.

Condensation causes fiberglass insulation to off-gass

Formaldehyde off-gasses only during a few situations—when it’s being installed and when it’s wet or humid. So, your insulation might be okay when it’s dry, but the second that “minor” roof leak comes back, the effects follow.

Formaldehyde off-gas is extremely corrosive. It corrodes your roof and nearby structures from the inside out. Meanwhile, the off-gas slowly degrades your roof fasteners and rusts your studs and wall ties. All this, not to mention the health risks!

Below are the health effects at the different exposure levels. Your fiberglass insulation emission rate is 32.

No Effects                                                                                                                         0 – 0.05 PPM
Odor Threshold                                                                                                              0.5 – 1.0 PPM
Neurophysiological effects                                                                                        0.05 – 1.05 PPM
Eye irritation                                                                                                                    0.05 – 2.0 PPM
Upper Respiratory Irritation                                                                                      0.1 – 25 PPM
Lower airway and pulmonary effects                                                                    5.0 – 30 PPM
Pulmonary edema, pneumonia                                                                               50 – 100 PPM
Death                                                                                                                               100 PPM

Formaldehyde and plastics off-gas for the longest periods of time. Additionally, the two materials will always do so when exposed to leaks, high temperatures, or humidity again and again.

From the structural integrity of your building to the safety of the people within it—your insulation is NOT something you want to be compromised!

1 – Govan, F A, et al., editors. “Thermal Insulation, Materials, and Systems for Energy Conservation in the ’80s.” Google Books, 1983, p. 637

2. “The 4 Risks of Wet Roof Insulation You Can’t Ignore.” MainSource Roof Management, MainSource Roof Management, 2019

3. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/source/hsdb/164#section=Toxicity-Summary