Media Reports Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation spontaneously combusted a $5M Connecticut Home

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Industry needs to watch and learn from this experience!

Given that this is an ongoing investigation, I am reluctant to comment other that to say that It is extremely fortunate that no loss of life was incurred.

This type of event has the potential to have a very negative impact on Home Performance and Weatherization production.

I suspect that this matter is and will be investigated to the fullest extent, given the State of CT's awareness of the SPF Industry.

The ability to increase awareness of this event is a tremendous service to professionals and homeowners alike.

I applaud Mr. Beyer for bringing this to the forum.

I have never heard of a foam, product spontaneously combusting.

 

I did have an opportunity, about 20 years ago, to participate in flame spread testing of different foam materials found in acute hospitals.  There were many fire magazine articles of deaths from smoke inhalation in rest homes that attributed the deaths to toxic fumes released from foam mattresses on the hospital beds.  1,200 beds in just one of the hospitals represented that day.

 

Knowing I worked with a coating that was fire rated for flame spread and had worked with local fire departments testing it, the chief engineer askled for any input as to how to test it.   My suggestion was very simple;  Lets take a small piece of a mattress , set it on fire and see what happens.  I volunteered my old briquet bar-b-que for the test. 

 

The first test was done on the very large back lawn of one of the hospitals.  There were around 15 people present.  A 1-foot by 1-ffot section of one of the blue foam mattresses was placed in the bar-b-que with the 'Fingers' pointing up, just like the patients all liked. They were very comfy and helped keep the old folks warm in a cold hospital, a good insulator.

 

Everyone moved 5 or 6 feet away to the upwind side.  A lighter ignited the tip of one of the fingers in the middle of the piece.  Immediately there was a surprising amout of dark black smoke coming up.  After 15 or so seconds, that finger burnt down to the flat part of the mattress section between the fingers.  In a matte3r of maybe 5 seconds, the entire section was ablaze and a HUGE amount of black smoke started billowing up.  You would have thought that sevberal tires had been set on fire.

 

Then the wind shifted and that smoke blew in our direction.  It smelled just like burning tires too.  My eyes and nose were burning and you COULD NOT BREATHE.  Most of us, including me, dropped toi the grass on all fours and crawled to a safe distance.   

Since it smelled like rubber burning, assumed a petroleum product.

 

They immedfiately yanked those mattresses out of the hospitals and began searching for a safer alternative.

 

I do not know the composition of the spray foam used as insulation now, although I have always wondered about its flame spread rating.  Our coating does not stick to petroleum based products.  A few years ago our Texas distributor called and reported having problems bonding to spray foam.  It had petroleum based materials in it on further investigation.  This was maybe 4 or 5 years ago 

Does anyone here know what what the spray foam's flame spread rating is?  A flame spread will also include a 'Smokje released' rating.

 

Hal

www.ct-coating.com

 

 

Hal you can get the smoke & fire spread rating from the manufacturer of each product - the only times I have heard of "spontaneous combustion" is when an installer sprays closed cell on to thick & the exothermic reaction reaches critical mass (so to speak). With that per this SPFA article this may even apply to open cell foam: http://www.sprayfoam.com/newsarchives/archivedetails.cfm?id=148

I know it is still under investigation but I can't think of any other reason that would happen as no one else should be in the area, everything should be shut down, and the areas well ventilated.

Hi Sean,

Yes, the manufacturers provide that data.  However, there are other things involved in the real life applications that can change the actual performance of the material vs how it performed in the lab test.

1.  If the material is applied too thick or too thin, as you mentioned, the results can be very differnt.

2.  The method used to apply the material can also produce different results.

3.  The flame spread of the substrate can have a huge bearing on it's performance in flame spread testing. 

Years ago, they used asbestos cement board for the 'Tunnel test' used to certify the flame spread and smoke developed rating.  Now it is a different board for the test.  Both are rated at zero flame spread.  If the application is to a different substrate, (say wood in actual application vs glass board in lab application)  the findings in the lab go right out the door.   Wood, obviously, does not have a Zero flame spread. 

Unfortunately, this is the best we have to show a flame pread developed;  a test that can be affected by many things.

4.  If the material contains 2 or more components that must be mixed together prior to application, there again we have the human factor that can cause more problems.

 

Bottom line here is that the material is never applied to the same substrate as the lab test that gave it it's flame spread and smoke certification.   But, that test is all we have to go by and trust.

 

Hal

Many people are aware I have been researching spray polyurethane foam insulation for 3 years and almost full time due to a bad installation within my own home. I have written many blog posts about my findings to only be attacked by industry members who thought it was all fluff and accused me of wanting this industry shut down. Simply stated, this is not true. The real threat these men were worried about was my push within the Connecticut State Government to force mandatory training to protect private citizens and installers from harming themselves with these chemicals by law. SPFA has fought me on this over the last 2 legislative sessions. See... Connecticut House Bill 5908 and 05100. I could only hope next year there will be less resistance now that the product is proving to be deadly when a fire does occur, regardless of the cause.

Of all the cases I have read about this fire is one of the worse residential fires I have ever seen which has pointed directly to spfi while it was being installed. I'm fairly confident the outcome of this investigation will point to another source only because of the federal governments agenda to air seal 80 percent of the American housing stock by 2030. Even a fire of this magnitude will not slow down this train. This industry will fight tooth and nail to save the "JOBS" and once again safety will take a back seat. 

The most positive outcome of this fire is no one was hurt or killed.

If you look closely at the fire picture link below you can see the facade burning behind the covering. I can only assume EIFS was installed on the facade of this home which adds fuel to the fire. (polyisocyanurate or styrene which ever was used)

http://www.rescue9photography.com/Fires-2014/Middlebury-structure-f...

Federated Insurance labeled spray foam as "Solid Gasoline" years ago. Apparently money trumped it then and it will trump it again. I'm very happy this fire did not take any lives. If it did it may have changed the way people looked at this fire and the conclusion of the investigation under way.

https://www.federated.ca/files/pdfs/57-en-Polyurethanesolidgasoline...

Spray polyurethane foam insulation fires in almost all cases are related to installer failure with the exception of those nightclub fires in Brazil, China and the Station Night Club fire in Rhode Island which took the lives of over 100 men and women. Foam fires which occur emit extremely toxic gas (hydrogen cyanide) which kills before the fire ever reaches the victim.     

Only one fire resembled this fire during Christmas of 2011 (Madonna Badger fire) which the cause was never published. This home burned so hot and fast that fire fighters could not extinguish the flames. Ms. Badger and her former husband lost their 3 children and her mother and father before the flames reached them. Ms. Badger described the smoke as "Thick Black Smoke" which even a film was attached to her teeth. 

It's time our government acts now before more innocent people are harmed! This includes our young work force who act as though they are indestructible as they enter these work sites regularly without PPE. 

UPDATE...... AS SUSPECTED... HERE IS THE TIME LINE....

Middlebury Fire Chief Paul Perrotti described the fire at the Janesky's house as a "hot attic fire" that spread rapidly after it was reported about 4:00 p.m. on July 3 as temperatures climbed past 90 degrees.

Fire crews were on the scene within minutes, he said, but were unable to contain the fire. They cut a hole in the slate-covered roof to vent the fire, but the procedure apparently didn't slow the blaze down. Fire companies from surrounding communities were called in to help.

Perrotti said he had been told at the scene that foam insulation had been sprayed in the house that day, but he said it was not possible to say that was the cause, and he referred questions about the investigation to Proulx. The state fire marshal's office deferred all comments to Middlebury investigators, although the office said it was possible they had been called to assist.

"Although Perrotti said the fire appeared to originate in the attic, or close to it. He also said he had been contacted by the manufacturer of the foam insulation after the fire, but he didn't recall the name of the company.


http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-news/...

Then on July 09, 2014 before the investigation is complete.... "The Urethane Blog" quotes a "Hartford Courant" article stating "spontaneous combustion out as the cause".

http://urethaneblog.typepad.com/my_weblog/2014/07/spontaneous-combu...

On July 28,2014 Fire Engineering Reported....

"According to a source close to initial crews this incident came in as an automatic fire alarm and wasn’t a reported fire due to construction crews possibly attempting to extinguish the fire."

http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?xg_source=a...


And who is indicted on November 06,2014..... Perrotti who was telling the media about this story!

"PERROTTI has been the Fire Chief of the Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. (“MVFD”) since 1997."

http://www.fbi.gov/newhaven/press-releases/2014/middlebury-fire-chi...

November 08,2014

"Did a cigarette, a floodlight or spray insulation foam cause the blaze that destroyed businessman Larry Janesky's mansion at 725 Breakneck Hill Road on July 3?

http://www.rep-am.com/news/local/841589.txt

November 10,2014

Official Cause of $10 Million Middlebury Mansion Fire Remains a Mystery

"An official cause of the massive blaze has not been determined, but officials believe spontaneous combustion is the likely reason."

"The cause of the fire that destroyed Larry Janesky’s $10 million mansion at 725 Breakneck Hill Road on July 3 may forever remain a mystery, reports Bill Bittar of the Waterbury Republican-American."

"In the Middlebury Fire Marshal’s report released last week, the it states there is a “high probability” that spray foam left in three unsupervised garbage bags in the attic may have sparked the blaze, Bittar reports.

On the day of the fire, two technicians were applying spray foam insulation, and within a half hour smoke was detected, the Rep-Am reports."

http://patch.com/connecticut/woodbury-middlebury/official-cause-10-...

ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!

ONLY IN CONNECTICUT, BECAUSE YOU CAN NOT MAKE THIS STUFF UP!

Interesting to read that there may never be a cause determined for this blaze.  For those of you that install foam - do you spray into a garbage bag as the equipment is firing up to check your mix?  If so, could it have been the thickness of the foam in the bag that heated it up?  If they were applying foam to the underside of the roof sheathing, could too thick a layer have heated it up?  I have read of this several times but did not realize that one of the techs was killed.

Ed

No one died Ed. No one was injured.

Richard 

I have to re-learn how to read - that was in an earlier fire in 2011.  Thanks

Ed

Which fire are you speaking of? Are you speaking of the Massachusetts man who was purportedly reported to be smoking in the attic of a home which he just finished spraying? If it's the same story, I found that story interesting myself, because he's not alive to refute the claim. I think these installer's are a tad bit smarter than they are given credit for.

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