Removing Spray Foam Insulation: A How-To Guide

Spray foam insulation is a great product for insulating your home or business, but what if you want to remove it? This is probably an unusual circumstance, as spray foam is meant to last the lifetime of the building, and hopefully, you put a little bit of forethought into your project so you don’t have to go ripping it out again.

But, there may be a few reasons you may want or need to un-install your spray foam insulation installation. Here we will discuss some of the reasons why, and how to do it without too much fuss.

Why Remove Old Spray Foam Insulation?

There are only a few reasons why you may want to get rid of your spray foam insulation application. One is because you’re remodeling!

Remodeling, and especially when building additions, is often when new spray foam is installed. In these cases, you may be looking to re-do your existing insulation to make it more efficient, or simply want to start fresh with a new application.

Most people aren’t refurbishing entire homes like this on an annual basis, so if your home has been around for a while, it’s possible that the insulation may not be installed to meet current code requirements. As building codes become stricter and more efficient, many old applications can fall behind on energy ratings, or just don’t meet today’s standards. Whether you’re concerned about your ability to properly insulate your home or need to meet up-to-date code requirements, removing the old spray foam insulation and installing a new application can increase your energy efficiency.

For those who used an improper amount of foam (too thin) during their initial installation, there may also be a need to remove the existing materials. A few years or decades down the road you may wish that you had applied more material to achieve your desired R-value.

You may just be knocking out a few walls during your remodel or making an expansion to your home, and in this case, you’ll be wanting to remove the existing foam dispose of it completely.

The other reason may just be that you messed up, and you got some of that pesky foam in a place where it shouldn’t be. This is actually a pretty common problem and can happen to the best of us, even professional foam installers. Not all of us are perfect, and sometimes you’ll get a little bit of spray foam where it shouldn’t be. Maybe you were aiming for that nice 2×6 wooden beam running across the ceiling but neglected to compensate for the angle at which you sprayed and got a little more than anticipated onto your drywall. Hey, it happens.

Whatever the reason may be, it’s possible that you may want to remove some or all of your spray foam insulation. Next, we’ll discuss how to go about it safely and efficiently.

How to Remove Old Spray Foam

Step 1: Wear Your Safety Gear!

Safety first!  Always wear proper safety goggles, not just any old pair of glasses will do. Spray foam contains irritants that can be harmful to the eyes and skin. Make sure to wear the proper safety gear, just in case. Goggles, not glasses.

A proper mask or respirator is also an absolute must when it comes to any projects that involve the demolition of spray foam products. Spray foam insulation contains a lot of chemicals that you really don’t want to be breathing in. Not only is it harmful to breathe in these chemicals, but they also can contain some pretty nasty smelling vapors as well.

You may also want to consider wearing some old clothing that you don’t mind getting ruined or getting covered in debris. Some kind of an old sweater will do fine just to keep the excess dust from irritating your skin.

Step 2: Leave the Insulation to Dry Before Attempting Removal

If you notice a mistake the first time around, don’t worry! Simply let it dry out for a little while so that you can easily remove and reapply as necessary. Just let the material sit undisturbed and don’t try to scrape it off while it’s still too fresh.

Freshly sprayed foam can be a sticky, goopy mess, and it’s not going to want to come off easily. It’s much easier if you just let the material try enough so that you can chip it away methodically.

Step 3: Loosen Up The Excess

If the area you are seeking to remove is hard and dry, then you can proceed with the removal. Use a putty knife or a saw to carefully carve and cut away the excess spray foam material. Be very careful not to damage any of the surrounding materials as you are removing the foam in this process.

Step 4: Scrape or Strip the Insulation Off of Your Wall

Once you’ve removed the bulk of the offending area, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. You can use a scaper, a hard bristled brush, or even course sandpaper to get into the really stubborn bits.  Keep working at it until you’ve managed to scrape off all the excess spray foam from the desired area.

If the material is dry and crumbling then you can probably just use a putty knife or a hard bristled brush to help remove it without too much trouble.

Step 5: Try Lacquer Thinner

Here is a little trick you can use if the foam is not yet fully cured: apply a little bit of lacquer thinner to get the last layers off.

Lacquer thinner is a special type of chemical that can remove uncured polyurethane-based products. Professionals often use it to put the final touches on their installations during the clean-up phase.

If you don’t have lacquer thinner, use nail polish remover. The acetone in nail polish remover is also useful in getting rid of any uncured spray foam.

Step 6: Clean It Up!

Finally, clean up all the debris! If you only removed a small amount of foam, a broom will do just fine for this, but you are pulling out an entire wall or have a big mess on your hands, you might want to get out the shop vac.

After reading this article, you should now know how to remove spray foam insulation effectively.  It’s important for you to remember that safety is of the utmost importance when it comes to removing any product that contains chemicals and irritants like those in spray foam insulation. You should wear your safety gear for protection during the removal process. When trying to scrape off stubborn bits, be very careful of damaging surrounding materials. Make sure you clean up thoroughly before moving on so as not to create any safety concerns.

If you are not sure about how you should go about removing your old spray foam insulation safely, call Evergreen Insulation. We can help you figure out what to do with your old spray foam, and if you need any new spray foam insulation, we can provide that for you too.  We have been providing this service in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area for over 50 years, and are here to help!