Attic Insulation Dangers

attic, insulation,remodel, ductwork

Most people are unaware of the attic insulation dangers in their home. Many are careful about the amount of insulation installed, but often the type, the age, and other quality factors are ignored. Being educated about potential health, and safety, issues is an important way to protect your home and family.


Asbestos is the category name given to any one of several naturally occurring minerals. Mined for their thermal insulation properties, it was a commonly used substance in home insulation.

Constructed of microscopic fibers, it can become airborne when disturbed and inhaled into the lungs. Once in the lungs they can cause numerous types of serious health problems including:

  • Asbestosis is a serious, non-cancerous disease of the lungs that is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. The lung tissue is irritated and scarring occurs, making it hard for oxygen to get into the blood. There is no effective treatment for asbestosis.
  • Lung Cancer causes the most deaths related to asbestos exposure.
  • Mesothelioma a rare form of cancer that is found in the membrane of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart and, in almost all cases, is linked to exposure to asbestos.

Most homes that are in danger of asbestos insulation are older homes built between 1930 and 1970. If the insulation is in good condition it poses little threat, however when the material starts breaking down because the fibers can be released and inhaled. Keep close watch on the condition of your insulation and limit exposure to it. Stay informed about asbestos materials.


Another dangerous insulation that was produced well into the 1980s, Zonolite, was manufactured by the Grace Company. Zonolite was produced using sharp vermiculite crystals and looks like small, 1/4 to 1/2 inch puffy nuggets. The respiratory dangers are similar to asbestos.


Mold and fungus will damage and discolor the walls, floors and ceilings in homes. If left unchecked, it can damage the structural integrity of the building by eating away at the wood and drywall. It can also cause breathing problems.

Although insulation is not normally a good environment for mold growth, it can be in some circumstances. If dust is trapped in the insulation, if the house is in a humid climate, and if it gets warm and moist in the attic, mold growth can occur there. This is especially true in old houses, or homes that have had roof leaks that went un-repaired. Recessed lighting in the ceilings just below the attic, over a period, can heat the area enough to encourage mold growth if the insulation is damp.

Foamular Insulation

Foamular insulation is unsafe in attic locations. It is a polystyrene foam board created for use when covered with ½" drywall in direct contact with the foam board. The major attic insulation dangers from this type of material would come from combustion. In case of a fire, it gives off an extremely toxic smoke that is more dangerous than regular smoke. Although some homeowners have used it in this way, it was never approved for use in the attic.

Don't Think Pink

Most homes in the United States today have thick rolls of pink fiberglass insulation in the attics. For years, fiberglass insulation was considered the best, and safest, choice for keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. However, environmental agencies began taking a closer look at fiberglass insulation in the 1990s and did not like what they found.

They now compare fiberglass to asbestos. The problem with fiberglass insulation stems from the formaldehyde binder used in the manufacturing process.

Avoiding Attic Insulation Dangers

There are ways to avoid the dangerous insulation problems. If you are making changes, you will certainly want to do an energy efficient home renovation and that means looking into alternative forms of insulation.

Environmentally Friendly Insulation Options
Name Material Installation Class
Cotton Post-consumer waste denim Easy R3.7
Homasote fiber board 100% recycled paper Easy R1.2
Cellulose 75% Recycled Moderate Unavailable
Mineral Wool 80% Recycled Easy Unavailable

Remodeling Contractors

If you will be using remodeling contractors to replace, or remove, your insulation, be sure to ask questions and get references. Ask if they are familiar with eco-friendly alternatives to dangerous insulations, and if they are licensed to work with asbestos removal and materials. Since they will be working with a potentially hazardous substance, it is especially important that your contractors be experienced in this type of remodeling, and that they are able to advise you on alternative insulation. Insulation is an important component of a well built home. Don't scrimp on this important item.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Attic Insulation Dangers