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Breathing fiberglass insulation, what should I do?

Breathing fiberglass insulation, what should I do?

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  #1  
Old 10-26-13, 07:35 AM
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Exclamation Breathing fiberglass insulation, what should I do?

I believe that I am breathing in fiberglass insulation in my (new-to-me) home. My wife & I are in a single story ranch with an (unconditioned) attic & (unconditioned but finished) basement. The attic contains loose/blown fiberglass insulation. The ductwork does not go through the attic, but through the floor joists as seen from the basement. We already have issues of a cold room that I talk about in another thread.

Since we have been here, we have gotten colds a lot, my wife seems to have a persistent cough with a sometimes sore throat. I have had an asthma-like reaction at one point. We blamed it on the high level of dust that we thought came from the previous owners who had pets, and we had been persistently cleaning, dusting, vaccuming, mopping.

We have gotten a little lax with the cleaning lately & with the cold weather, the windows have been kept closed, and today I was just inspecting some of the dust & it looks pretty obvious to me that it's fiberglass insulation. It's white/brownish, looks like small hairs. I saw it on top of some lotion bottles in the bathroom. Closer to the sink, it looks like they turn blackish once they get wet. This sound like fiberglass to you guys? The bathroom window is closed, there is a supply register, but no return register...this kind of tells me this must be coming through the vents.

As a new homeowner, not sure what to do. I'm already on a quest to find air leaks in the house. Any pointers on how attic insulation could be getting into the ductwork if the ducts don't go through the attic?
 
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  #2  
Old 10-26-13, 08:42 AM
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Have you looked in the attic to see what color the insulation is.
It would be near impossible for fiberglass insulation to make it's way into the inside of a home.
How old is this house?
Only thing I can even remotely think it could be is asbestos in really old duct work.
 
  #3  
Old 10-26-13, 12:09 PM
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There are literally hundreds of things it could be but I really doubt it is fiberglass insulation.
 
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Old 10-26-13, 01:21 PM
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Far more likely it's mold spores in the air then fiberglass in the air.
 
  #5  
Old 10-26-13, 01:43 PM
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I can almost guarantee that it is not fiberglass. I would blame dust, mold & nearly invisible insects like dust mites. Fiberglass insulation is inert (it's glass) and it's fibers are macroscopic (big) so they don't persist in the air like dust, pollen, mold spores or other allergens. Even when blowing fiberglass into an attic it falls like wet snow and the air is not clouded with fibers. Glass is a pretty dense material so what fibers do make it into the air fall and stay put.
 
  #6  
Old 10-26-13, 08:20 PM
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joecaption1 -

The attic contains loose fill or blown fiberglass & it's a mid-century single-story house. Ducts only go through the floor joists.

These are definitely fibers & they settle. I did a test where I turned the furnace fan on, closed the door to the bathroom (has no return air register), and set a small plate out filled with water. After about an hour there were maybe 5 or 6 strands of this stuff in the plate. The strands are definitely visible & between maybe 3-6 mm long. I've seen a few clumped together as well. They are brownish and turn black when wet. So I may not be breathing them like an infinitely-suspended particle in the air, but they are there. Fiberglass was the only logical explanation I could think of.

And since these are strands that I would think my furnace filter would pick up, I'm guessing that this is something that's being introduced from supply registers. I tried taking a pic but I don't have a high resolution camera so it looks invisible in the jpeg.

How can I be sure if this is fiberglass or even asbestos?
 
  #7  
Old 10-26-13, 08:29 PM
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You have furnace filters, right? All the air in your house is circulated through the furnace filter. Send one of them out to be tested. If you have fiberglass in the air, your furnace filter should be full of it.

When's the last time the filter was changed?

Have you thought about having the ducts professionally cleaned?
 
  #8  
Old 10-27-13, 12:59 AM
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The cheapest furnace filters are made with fiberglass and they catch very little.

I have no doubt about you catching what appears to be fibers in your test, I just doubt that they are coming from the insulation in your attic. Do you have any carpeting or rugs in the house? Does the clothes dryer vent outside AND is the vent duct totally intact?
 
  #9  
Old 10-27-13, 09:11 AM
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XSleeper, Furd -

My furnace filter was changed about 2 weeks ago, with the Home Depot Honeywell Allergen Plus Pleated - Honeywell 20 in. x 20 in. x 1 in. Allergen Plus Pleated FPR 7 Air Filter-90701I012020 at The Home Depot

I'll pull the filter out & have a look at it.

Ducts were cleaned as soon as we got the house a couple months ago (mainly because it had severe dog/cat smell). But the place continually gets super dusty & these fibers just look like a new thing to add to the list.

No carpeting or rugs in the house, dryer does vent to the outside & is fully intact. And we have not even used the dryer (which is in the basement) in at least a week. There have been no changes in (upholstered) furniture (the place is very bare & almost no furniture), bed is covered with a mattress protector, and there are no curtains / drapes (just blinds). I just don't see anything that has been recently introduced that could be fibrous which is why I'm pointing my finger at insulation.

One thing I was wondering - is it common to clean out the kitchen exhaust? How likely could it be that insulation could be introduced from that point?

I'm just starting to have serious concerns over the air quality in this place....if I were to put my DIY tactics away for this issue, who would I call?

We've investigated possible mold but we don't see any throughout the house. Bathroom doesn't have an exhaust nor does the bathroom window open, so we thought we might have an issue there with moisture, but it appears that moisture is going somewhere. There are just so many air quality & heating comfort issues in this place that as a new home owner is overwhelming if we're continually cleaning with no improvement.
 
  #10  
Old 10-28-13, 01:09 AM
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Yes, a kitchen exhaust system should probably be cleaned occasionally, especially if the grease filters have not been maintained.

Leaky return air ductwork, if it runs through the attic could conceivably draw in some loose-fill insulation as it runs at a negative pressure. More likely would be any ceiling penetrations where pipes, ducts, wiring or the like go from the living spaces to the attic. The attic access hatch is also a possible source.

As I stated previously, I doubt that the fibers you are finding are fiberglass insulation. It is amazing how much dust and dirt enters a house through normal living. Unless you have one of the vacuum cleaners with a HEPA filter (and maybe even them if you don't change the filter) anything but a central vacuum that exhausts outside WILL contribute to dust particles in the air.
 
  #11  
Old 10-28-13, 07:40 AM
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My ductwork runs through the floors. However, I forgot about one duct for the kitchen that is kind of in like a knee-wall. I recently picked up a pyrometer & based on measurements, it appears that particular duct runs from the floor, up between two studs in the wall & then into this knee-wall register.

But ok...guess I will just have to trust you that it isn't fiberglass. The house is just extremely dusty with white dust, black dust, and these fibers. It's just a lot more dusty than my old apartment (which I was living alone in & hardly cleaned) & with the combination of us always getting sick, makes me wonder if the air quality is bad.

Is there a definitive guide to identifying asbestos? This is a 50s house. I was vaccuuming at one point (between floor & subfloor) & there was a lot of white construction-like dust that got kicked up. Could also be drywall dust though but it smelled different.
 
  #12  
Old 10-28-13, 07:49 AM
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I don't know that there is any way to visually identify asbestos when in dust form. You can send a sample off and have it tested. Have you tried to clean the HVAC ducts?
 
  #13  
Old 10-28-13, 08:05 AM
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Ok, maybe I will get it tested. Is it common to find asbestos dust between floor & subfloor (in a 50s house)?

Yes, ducts were cleaned as soon as we got the house to primarily get rid of the pet smell. It did make a big difference, but the house still gets pretty dirty with only 2 of us & hardly any furniture.
 
  #14  
Old 10-28-13, 09:12 AM
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Asbestos does not just come free and circulate around a house. It was used in many materials but it is almost always encased within the material so the particles are only released when the material is disturbed like when doing demolition for a remodel. A simple coat of paint is enough to trap the fibers and prevent them from becoming airborne. Asbestos is also an inert mineral so it is not considered an allergen. In general though the asbestos issue should not be much concern to the average home owner. Most of the hysteria is just that hysteria and lawyers seeking to drum up business.

You can seal all the cracks with caulk to prevent dust from sneaking in. Caulk along the edges of crown and base molding. Caulk around windows and their trim. Install foam gaskets under outlet and switch plates. If you have a fireplace, even if it's not being used, you might consider sealing it off

This is also fall. There is a lot of natural dust & pollen in the air as plants shut down for winter and everything gets stirred up by fall breezes. Nice fall days with the windows open can let a lot inside in a short time.

Another cause of dust is you, your furniture, clothing and your activity in the house. Clothing sheds fibers every time you move as do sheets and fabric covered furniture. Dead cells are falling off your body by the millions every day. Cooking introduces particles into the air even though you might not see smoke.

Then I come back to the mold & mildew. Once established they are very difficult and expensive to eradicate completely. Keeping the house clean and the moisture level low will do a lot to limit their growth and impact on air quality. The usual culprits are leaks under the kitchen sink, almost everything in the bathroom and the crawlspace or basement due to their usually high moisture levels. There are vapor barriers, and companies that install them, that can be simply attached to the ceiling of the basement. It's a heavy duty, reinforced plastic. It's generally stapled or nailed up and seams taped to seal off the basement air, moisture & insects from the living spaces above. Per square foot it is inexpensive and is a good way to get humidity levels above under control if you can't stop the water/moisture from entering the basement or crawlspace.
 
  #15  
Old 10-28-13, 09:50 AM
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http://www.gear****z.com/board/bass-...rs-review.html

Use low-expanding canned foam/caulking around the ceiling fixtures (fan/light) in the bath and test again to know for sure...Fiberglass Insulation: Fiberglass Insulation: Use With Care - HealthyHouseInstitute.com

Gary
 
  #16  
Old 10-28-13, 10:36 AM
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The duct cleaning process could be the source of the materials settling out.

Cleaning gets out lot of dust and deposits in the ducts, but it also stirs up the residual materials that san be picked up and circulated.

In addition to the supply ducts, did you also have the returns "cleaned"/disturbed?

Dick
 
  #17  
Old 10-29-13, 08:58 AM
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Concretemasonry -

Ducts were cleaned almost 2 months ago though. The level of dust has been declining but it is still significant (at least compared to my old apartment). From what I can tell, they did clean the returns (at least from where I can see the grill/boot). At the furnace they did make quarter-sized holes I'm assuming to put in some vacuum device on all supply & return ducts. However, I can't tell if they really cleaned the full length of the duct since the basement is finished and only visible ductwork is via the small utility room.

Gary -
Thanks for those links (and I was able to figure out the filtered link). Only visible ceiling penetration in the bathroom is a ceiling light (a regular non-recessed light).

Pilot Dane -
The area where the white dust was was in a hole in the flooring where the subfloor was visible. I used expanding foam to seal it up (yes, it looks horrible though). I am not too worried or causing a big stir, but it's just one of those things that as a homeowner I want to be aware of. It's worth a lot less to me if I get sick from doing stuff versus if my wife or our future children got sick. My wife has never been this sick before (persistent colds & sore throat) & I feel to blame because of the air quality in the house.

I fully understand how normal dust, pollen, dead skin cells, etc. can add up. It's just the amount of it which is of concern.

As for mold, we don't see any. And as measured by a hygrometer, the relative humidity floats between 50% and 60%. May be in the 60s after a shower, but after running the whole house fan for a few minutes kicks it back down to the normal ranges. The humidity level in the basement is on par with what is on the main floor plus/minus a few percent. There has never been more than a difference of 5% between main floor/basement, though it is winter right now.

I've attached some shots of the attic, is this fiberglass? Almost feels like wool...kind of disappears in my hand if I rub it together.
 
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  #18  
Old 10-29-13, 09:04 PM
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The pink stuff is definitely fiberglass and the yellow (or white) is probably fiberglass as well. The black denotes that air has been traveling through the fiberglass as the air will have dirt that is caught by the fiberglass.

ANY penetration to the attic area is potentially a place where the fiberglass (as well as air) can enter or leave the living spaces. Interior walls are rarely insulated but they can contain pipes and/or wires that go through large holes into the attic. ALL holes in the attic floor should ideally be filled with expanding foam insulation no matter how small or how tightly they seem to fit the wire, pipe or duct. Of course this means crawling around in the attic and exposing yourself to the dust and the insulation. If you do this then be absolutely certain to were a proper dust mask at the minimum and a full-blown chemical respirator is not overkill. Be VERY careful to only put your weight on the ceiling joists and not on the ceiling drywall or you will come crashing down.

If you don't want to do that, and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, then you need to open every single electrical receptacle, switch plate, cable TV connection, duct register and the like and seal the edges of the drywall to the connection box with caulk. If possible it is good to seal any openings in the box itself with a small amount of caulk but more often than not such is near impossible. They do make foam gaskets to use between the plate and the wall and these should be used when replacing the wall plates. For caulk I like to use Elmer's Siliconized Acrylic squeeze caulk as it does a good job of sealing, is easy to use, dries in a few hours and is paintable if you get a bit sloppy. It will also clean off your hands fairly easily with soap, hot water and a scrub brush.
 
  #19  
Old 11-03-13, 04:56 AM
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Yep, I think in order to do this right (and only once), I have to take out the old insulation, seal up any holes, and then put new insulation in. Since the insulation is pretty dirty all around, that kind of tells me I have air leaks everywhere.
 
  #20  
Old 11-03-13, 11:17 AM
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I think you are headed down the wrong track. The fibers in your dust are most likely lint from your clothing. Insulation is not going to intrude into your living space like that from the attic. The smartest thing to do is have your home tested by an environmental company. Just because you can't see mold doesn't mean it isn't there. It could be out of sight inside the structure. Or in the basement if you have one. Every house is going to be a different environment.
 
  #21  
Old 11-03-13, 11:55 AM
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I do pest control work. A couple years ago I got called to a rental house for what the tenant claimed was tiny, white, bugs. Under magnification I could see that it was little whitish fibers and reported such. Tenant not happy and took a sample to another bug guy that I know who told her the same thing but was not as diplomatic as I.

I kept working with her and landlord (good people) and realized that the white fibers were in fact closest to the supply duct registers. I urged landlord to get a furnace guy in, they did and the problem was inside the furnace. Forced air, not sure of the heat source. Something inside was breaking down and needed replaced. Wish I knew more exactly what it was but this was the end of the problem.

Maybe post this issue with our hvac guys.
 
  #22  
Old 11-08-13, 05:20 AM
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drooplug, you said to have the place tested by an environmental company. What type of test would I be looking for?

PAbugman, will keep that in mind...I am looking to get this furnace replaced soon (early 1980s model).
 
  #23  
Old 11-08-13, 06:07 PM
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drooplug, you said to have the place tested by an environmental company. What type of test would I be looking for
You would be requesting an air quality test in which they would be taking samples back to their lab and be looking for pollutants --- mould , asbestos , etc.

The symptoms you describe sure sounds like mould spores. Just because you can't *see* any visable mould doesn't mean there isn't any behind walls from water infiltration. The common places will be behind exterior walls and bathrooms

BTW --- I've never seen glass fibers from insulation turn black in the way you've tested.
 
  #24  
Old 11-08-13, 07:07 PM
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So how would you uncover mold if it exists but can't see it? I know those test kits you leave sitting out to see if colonies grow to high concentrations....but how would you physically locate it?
 
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