Home Inspection Articles

Vermiculite and UFFI: What Homeowners Need to Know

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Feb 11, 2013 9:31:00 AM

VermiculiteVermiculite insulation and urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) possess properties whose histories cause many to consider them hazardous materials. Some homeowners are familiar with the controversy surrounding these types of insulation, however many are not. Below we've outlined what each type of insulation is and why misconceptions about their safety exist.


Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral worldwide. When heated rapidly to high temperatures, this crystalline mineral expands into low density, accordion-like, golden brown strands. In addition to being light, vermiculite chunks are also absorbent and fire retardant. These characteristics make it a great insulating material. With the upsurge in homeownership during the baby boom, vermiculite insulation was a popular material in the 1950s and continued with the energy crisis into the late 1970s. In Canada, it was one of the insulating materials allowed under the Canadian Home Insulation Program from about 1976 to the mid 1980s. Sold under various brand names, such as Zonolite Attic Insulation, the insulation came in big bags. Thousands of homeowners simply opened the bags and poured the vermiculite into their attic floor, as well as down exterior walls.

The majority of the vermiculite used worldwide was from a mine in Libby, Montana. As well as being rich in vermiculite, this mine had the misfortune of having a deposit of tremolite, a type of asbestos. Asbestos minerals tend to separate into microscopic particles that become airborne and are easily inhaled. People exposed to asbestos in the workplace have developed several life-threatening diseases, including lung cancer – workers in and around the Libby mine developed serious health problems. When the vermiculite was extracted from the mine in Libby, some tremolite came in with it, posing a potential threat to homeowners.

Like any hazards, length and intensity of exposure are major factors in the risk of asbestos related respiratory illnesses. To assess the risk of asbestos exposure in a home, a sample of the vermiculite would need to be analyzed in a lab. Since most of the vermiculite in Canada was taken from the Libby mine, the odds are quite good that there is asbestos in the vermiculite in Canadian attics.

If the attic or walls of a home contain vermiculite insulation, avoid disturbing the material. Do not sweep it, vacuum it up, or store belongings in the attic. If work is planned that involves these areas, like installing potlights in a room below the attic, send a sample of the vermiculite to a lab for testing. If it is found to contain asbestos, or if you assume it does, precautions should be taken. The safest approach would be to have the insulation in the affected areas removed by a qualified environmental contractor. 

Urea-Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI)

UFFI is injected as a mixture of urea-formaldehyde resin, an acidic foaming agent, and a propellant, such as air. It was commonly used in existing houses by injecting the foam into areas where it was impractical to provide conventional insulation, like behind walls. When the mixture is injected into the wall, urea and formaldehyde unite and “cure” into an insulating foam plastic. Some formaldehyde gas is released during the on-site mixing and curing. It is this by-product of the curing of the foam that became a controversial issue.

UFFI was used in the 1970s, most extensively from 1975 to 1978, during the period of the Canadian Home Insulation Program (CHIP), when financial incentives were offered by the government to upgrade home insulation levels. The insulation was banned in Canada in December 1980. It is estimated that over 100,000 homes in Canada were insulated with UFFI. The insulation was also used extensively in the United States during the 1970s and has also been used in Europe over the last thirty years. In the U.S., the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of UFFI in 1982, and shortly thereafter a law prohibiting the sale of urea-formaldehyde was enacted. In April 1983, the U.S. Court of Appeal struck down the law because there was no substantial evidence clearly linking UFFI to health complaints. Still, UFFI is not widely used in the U.S. today. UFFI is still used in Europe where it was never banned and is considered one of the better “retrofit” insulations.

A laboratory study which produced nasal cancers in rats that were exposed to high levels of formaldehyde caused government concern. Following some press releases and cautioning by authorities, a number of homeowners began to report problems that included respiratory difficulties, eye irritation, runny noses, nosebleeds, headaches, and fatigue. Although there were no substantiated problems clearly attributable to the foam, UFFI was banned as a precautionary measure.

A number of studies have been done examining the health effects of UFFI. Studies done before the ban, using random samples of UFFI and non-UFFI homes, showed no impact of UFFI on health. However, studies done after the ban showed increased reporting of symptoms, even for such things as constipation and deafness, which have no biological basis.

After the longest and most expensive civil case ever held in Canada was concluded in the Quebec Supreme Court, not only was no basis for a settlement found, but the plaintiffs were obliged to pay most of the costs. The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that UFFI has not been shown to be a health concern. However, as a result of its history, UFFI related fears and concerns remain.

While UFFI has been proven to possess minimal health risks, and vermiculite insulation presents no threat when left undisturbed, both types of insulation continue to be viewed as hazardous by the general public. Although we encourage homeowners to educate themselves beyond these misconceptions and historical inaccuracies, we also recognize that many living with these types of insulation might feel more comfortable having a specialist take a closer look at their home.

If you are worried about the air quality of your home having an assessment performed by an environmental specialist can provide you with some added security. Carson Dunlop has partnered with a number of reputable and qualified companies to provide specialty services to our clients. These services complement our Home Inspections, targeting potential areas of concern which fall outside the scope of a regular Home Inspection. Our customer service team can now help to schedule Indoor Air Quality Assessment or Asbestos Testing, as well as other Specialty Services. This new program allows us to provide our clients and real estate partners with fast, easy and cost-effective access to qualified specialty service provides all within a single phone call. To learn more about this program and the complete list of services we can help to schedule, please click here or call 800.268.7070.

Topics: Home Reference Book, Homeowners, Home Inspection, Carson Dunlop, Specialty Services

Keep Unwanted Pests Out of Your Home

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Jan 7, 2013 11:28:00 AM

At Carson Dunlop, we reached out to one of our Homeowners Association Partners, Orkin Canada, to help provide homeowners with more information and guidance on keeping their homes rodent-free this season. As Dan Dawson, National Marketing Manager at Orkin Canada explains, "Rodents like rats and mice look for warmth and shelter during the winter because they are warm-blooded animals, making them notorious home invaders during the colder months."

>> Carson Dunlop: How might rodents enter a home?

Dan Dawson: "The smallest openings, cracks and crevices in your home can serves as rodent entry points. Rats can fit through holes the size of a quarter, and mice only need a hole the size of a pencil. Common places they might find these access points include cracks and crevices in your foundation and around doors and windows."

>>CD: What preventative steps can homeowners take?

DD: "There are several steps you can take to help prevent rodents from accessing your home:

  1. Check the interior and exterior of your home for entry points, and seal any unnecessary openings with weather-resistant sealant enforced with steel or copper wool so rodents cannot gnaw through.
  2. Make sure doors or windows are flush against their frames and the floor, and use weather stripping to fill in any gaps.
  3. Trim landscaping away from your home, as shrubbery can provide harbourage for rodents.
  4. Store food in tightly sealed containers, preferably made of tin or plastic, and clean up food and water spills immediately.
  5. Vacuum, sweep and mop regularly to eliminate food and water sources that might attract rodents.
  6. Keep trash cans tightly sealed and dispose of trash regularly."

>>CD: How can you tell if there are rodents in your home?

DD:"If you suspect you might have rodents in your home, look for the following signs:

  1. Droppings - Mouse droppings are about the size of a grain of rice and rat droppings are about the size of a raisin.
  2. Gnaw marks - Rats and mice gnaw even when they're full, so look out for places in your home that appear to be chewed or gnawed, particularly around cracks and crevices.
  3. Rub markings - Rodents feel protected when they crawl along baseboards or around pipe openings."

Unwanted Guest?

>>CD: What can you do if you have rodents in your home?

DD: "If you find yourself with a mouse or rat issue, do not come into contact with the rodents and the diseases they may be carrying. Instead, contact a pest management provider immediately - they will help you to resolve the issue and set up a proactive program to keep these pests at bay year-round."

As a professional Home Inspection consulting company, our aim is to help homeowners stay safe, warm and dry. The Carson Dunlop Homeowners Association partners with companies like Orkin Canada, to help provide homeowners with the knowledge and the tools to protect their properties. As Homeowners Association members, Carson Dunlop clients receive 20% off when booking a pest control inspection with Orkin Canada. To learn more about this partner, click here. For more tips, advice and information, visit our resource center.  

December Poll

Last month, 38 homeowners told us what sized entry point mice need to get into a home. Here are their responses:





























Topics: Home Inspection, Monthly Newsletters, Homeowners Association, Specialty Services, Homeowner Tips, Pest Control

New Specialty Services Program Launched

Posted by Olivia Hunt on Dec 6, 2012 2:41:00 PM

Save TimeWith over 35 years in the Home Inspection industry, at Carson Dunlop we recognize that when it comes to real estate transactions time is a valuable commodity. With extended service hours, online booking and weekend availability, we aim to help save our clients and real estate partners time throughout the Home Inspection process. The launch of our Specialty Services program means we’re able to save clients and real estate partners even more time. The ability to provide access to a wide spectrum of services with a single phone call is something we are pleased to be able to offer. Now our clients are able to seamlessly book a Specialty Service with ease and save themselves the headache of trying to find a quality specialty service provider.

Carson Dunlop has partnered with a number of reputable and qualified companies to provide Specialty Services to our clients as a means of facilitating requests or concerns that fall outside the scope of a Home Inspection. The Specialty Services program is launching with the following services:

  • Asbestos Assessments
  • Indoor Air Quality Assessments
  • Mold Inspections
  • Pool Inspections
  • Sewer Camera Inspections
  • Septic Tank Evaluations
  • Water Quality Evaluations
  • Termite Inspections
  • Thermal Imaging
  • Wood Energy Technology Transfer (WETT) Inspections

The program will make adding these services during or after a Home Inspection simple, fast and easy. Carson Dunlop client care consultants will manage the booking, co-ordination and payments of these Specialty Services to help set a new service standard in the Home Inspection industry.

If you’re interested in our Specialty Services program, please visit our Specialty Services page. You can also call 800.268.7070 to speak to a client care consultant.

Topics: Home Inspection, Carson Dunlop, Specialty Services