How to Seal a Whole House with Foil

My last post was about The Many Varied and Delightful Uses for Foil. One of the listicle points was about sealing the floor and fittings with aluminium foil to make the place liveable. For example: The sea-side rental property I live in has foil over the floors in every useable room. The two bedrooms that I can’t use, due to fragrance chemical residue in one of them and a brand new wall-unit of chipboard cupboards in the other, have both room’s doors sealed shut with painter’s masking tape and massive sheets of foil to stop any fumes outgassing into my sleeping area.

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It’s not exactly Home Vouge, now is it?

My sleeping area is in the open-plan-lounge-kitchen-dining area, which besides the bathroom, is the only room I can be in without getting very sick. Also in this area: there’s my home gym (treadmill, weight bench, yoga mat and pilates ropes), my cane dining table, kitchen, my bed and my dog’s bed, my wardrobes and my home office. It’s pretty crowded in here. Most days I try to feel grateful that I have a safe-ish home to live in. Many days, lately, when I’m not sick, I’m blissfully happy in my little cottage by the sea. I know of many people who have to sleep outside in tents, caravans and on balconies, or in homes that are totally unsuited to people who’re sensitive to chemicals. Plus there is another room where I store all my boxes of stuff; that room has foil on the floors also.

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So yeah, I’m lucky I have this rental property to stay in while we build an actual safe home; however, there are other days where I’m not sure how to cope with getting so damn sick. Sick from foods, sure, I can cope with that because I have an element of control over what I eat, but getting chronically ill from neighbours and their woodsmoke, the outdoor moulds and, inside, a lack of ventilation because I can’t open the house and air it as often as I need to, is hard to cope with. The floors still outgass terpenes from the pine boards; but worse than the pine fumes are the lemon-scented cleaning chemical fumes that emit when the house heats up or is closed for too long a time. I need to be able to air my home everyday. During spring and summer, I can have the house open most days, only going into lockdown on weekends when our seaside town is overrun by terrorists tourists, BBQs, lawnmowers, backyard burns (illegal but people still do it) and nearby smoke from bushfires and burn offs.

If my neighbours hang their washing out, or wash their concrete with disinfectant (yeah, in the ‘interest’ of young children, that’s what they do.) or they mow lawns without sending me a warning text (one neighbour finds it just too inconvenient to help me), and my windows are open, I get horribly ill. So I only open my windows when I can stay vigilant about the state of the outside air.

On many days, my house is kept dark with the blinds pulled down to keep it from outgassing. To be comfortable, breathing wise, I need the air-conditioner to be running if the sun is out. But for now, as it’s so damn cold, I choose to sit here cloistered in darkness. Yeah, that impacts on my mental and emotional well-being; not to mention my mood. Consequently, I don’t feel very positive when I have to live like that.

Things will change for me when I’m in a safe house; I know that. But for now, the soundtrack to my life is the hum of an InovaAir filter and a AusClimate dehumidifier working to control my indoor air environment; and the best chance I can give my health has been to try and put a halt to the chemicals that outgass in this house. Enter my trusty rolls of foil!

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Thankfully, there are some things that are within my control:

There are six layers of foil on the floor of my living space. At first we only had three layers but as time has wound on and I’ve been living here since 2013, nearly three years now while attempting to start our build, we’ve had to add extra layers because of the top layer getting ripped by my dog, Bella, my furniture, our foot traffic and the wheels on my air purifier as I move it around to clean the air. Pain in the arse, yes, but this foil trick works. (We wear socks a lot in here.)

I’ve used foil for many things, as most of my readers already know, but sealing a whole house has been a challenge. I hear some of you ask: well. why live in a property that’s not suitable; one that impacts on your health?  The answer to that is: I spent eighteen months looking for a rental property near the Surf Coast of Victoria where we are going to build, and most properties where totally unsuitable and I didn’t even venture past the front door because of the cleaners/moulds/fragrances/paints that were in them. This property is pretty good—when other people are not destroying the outdoor air—when I can keep the house open for a few hours a day. It looks a bit weird, having all this foil on the floors; and my teenage daughter was mortified when she lived here for a while. However, if you can breathe without being in pain, the space-ship, futuristic silver look takes on an attractive sheen! Trust me on that…

So this is how, and what we did to seal a whole house with foil:

First, we told the real estate agent we were doing it; and we had to agree to pay for any damage that this might cause (it won’t. Just wait until you see our technique!);

I had to source the foil. In another article on How to Seal a Room with Foil we used Kingspan Insulbreak, which is a vapour barrier and a thermal break used to insulate and wrap buildings in. It’s about $300 a roll and pretty expensive for this type of job. All the other foils that I found either had paint on one side (builder’s foil) or had a fire retardant blanket attached to it. I managed to contact a company that makes the fire-retardent coated foil and bought some rolls of foil before they were glued to the blanket. So what I have here is just foil.

There are two types: Foil coated brown paper, which the guy at the fire-retardant place gave me for free; and the roll of heavy-duty foil, which cost me $400. Cash. We used the brown paper foil to protect the floorboards underneath. In my experience, aluminium foil can rub of a silver stain onto areas; especially if friction is applied. Also it can flake off. I wasn’t sure if this would happen so I used layered the brown paper side down over the floorboards to protect them (and my bond money!).

 

And for some jobs we actually used kitchen foil:

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This gas heater was a mahoosive problem, and it was one of the first areas we sealed. Not only were the previous tenants smokers but they also burned a heap of nasty smelling incense (it smells like cat pee, I swear). For some reason most of the scents were emanating from here so I covered and sealed it straight up. I don’t muck around. It’s not like I’d want to try and clean stuff like that off; and I’ve lived with this condition long enough to know: you can’t scrub off fragrance because it’s designed to stick around. This job completely used a few small rolls of kitchen aluminium foil, which I then sealed with heavy duty aluminium foil tape.

For the first layer of floor’s foil we used heavy-duty foil tape to seal the edges. But for around the edges of the room we chose painter’s masking tape so that we didn’t damage the skirting boards. Any area of the house where foil is stuck down with tape adhering to surfaces, such as wood or paint, we’ve made sure that it’s only painter’s tape that’s stuck down to it. This way it will not leave any gummy, sticky residue there. (Someone pointed out that if there is gunky glue left over when it’s time to move out, I could clean it off using some olive oil and a hair dryer. Clever, I know!)

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Another layer of foil just added

Each time it gets ripped [I’m looking at my Boxer Dog!] we have to put a piece of tape over the rip. It looks ugly after a while; and it’s not exactly clean because I can’t wash the floor like I could if it were tile or boards, so we have to replace it. Also, during hot weather, the fragrance and solvents used in the residues from previously used cleaners come through the foil, so again, this needs replacing. Do we do that though? No, we just vacuum then put another couple of layers over the top. Kind of like floor lasagne.

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Before the Latest Layer of Foil. A little gross, I know!

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The Edges are Joined with Tape

Vacuuming can be a challenge. Not that I can vacuum myself because dust gets stirred up giving me a headache, and it’s painful to breathe for a couple of hours or until the next day. So when it’s time to vacuum, I can be found holed up in the bathroom while my boyfriend, Dan, vacuums the house while all the windows are open and the fans are running. Thankfully, spring has arrived and I can now stay outside while he does this. The other issue with vacuuming is that it weakens the foil’s structure and causes it to rip in places. But what can we do? If the house is left dusty, this can supply food for mould to grow. So I choose a little bit of pain while we run the vacuum over a lot of pain if this house gets mouldy!

Also to avoid mould growth and damaging this property if water is spilled, we chose to leave under the kitchen sink area unsealed. It’s only about 1 x 3 metres wide, and, yes, it does release fumes when the house heats up but still, it’s better than mould growing under the layers of foil if they were to get wet.

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Since the above photo was taken we’ve put tiles down over the area to stop some of the outgassing but they are not sealed around the edges or with grout or anything, but they still do the job. I didn’t want to make a bigger problem by getting water or mould growth under the foil so chose not to seal around here. It’s a small area as you can see. (I can’t use the kitchen oven because it runs on gas and probably has been cleaned with oven cleaner. I plan to do a future post on how I tackle cooking just in case someone else needs help with that.)

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The kitchen bench top is made from pine and it’s been sealed or cleaned with some type of polish or wood cleaner. The fumes on a hot day smell like Estapol and cause a headache like a tight band around my head. Guess how I solved that problem? Yes, aluminium foil. This time I used heavy duty foil to cover it. I have to be careful with food and always have a plate or glass chopping board underneath at all times because the aluminium rubs off onto my hands; I wouldn’t want that to happen to my food. The edges are sealed with painter’s masking tape so as to not cause any damage to the cabinetry.

So this how I sealed a whole house with foil!

Uber positives:
  • This foil is slippery when wearing socks and it makes a great dance floor.
  • The foil over the floorboards serves a dual advantage: it stops woodsmoke coming through any cracks!
  • Teenagers are too embarrassed to live here :)
  • It makes my house liveable.

Have you ever sealed off an area with foil?

More

How to seal chipboard in the Kitchen

How to seal a room with foil

10 uses for foil

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

How to Seal a Room With Foil

If you, or someone you know, could do with a safe room, then try this: buy a roll of foil from a plumbing shop, your local hardware, or order it from a company that specialises in this type of product. Use it to seal the floors, the walls, even the furniture. Building wrap, designed to stop vapours, is what you are looking for. Brands in AUS include: Vapastop, and Kingspan; In Europe: Pure Aluminium Barrier Foil; and in the US: Dennyfoil 245. (I’m sure there are some more trusted brands that myself, and my readers, would love to know about, so be a Gem and leave your suggestions in the comments below, and I can then update this post to include them.)

 

Important: The types that don’t have an insulating blanket attached to the outside are imperative for this project, because the blankets are treated with fire retardants (aka: the asbestos of our time!)—we want just foil for this project.

When looking for heavy duty foil, another unsuitable product people may find is a type of builders’ foil; it has blue paint on one side, and foil on the other: the blue paint is solvent based. So, know this: most people who’re sensitive to chemicals won’t tolerate this well. For me, trying this product was a disaster: when I moved into my first specially chosen rental property in Portsea. There was a brand new kitchen and it was a huge problem for me. I couldn’t stand over the kitchen counter without experiencing breathing problems and headaches, which was terrible as I had a seven-year-old to cook for. So, at my Immunologists suggestion, I had a friend seal the underside, exposed parts with builder’s wrap. It was the only heavy duty foil to be found at Bunnings. This affected my eyes and nose, burning them when breathing the fumes in (even though the painted part was face-down against the chipboard). That’s when I found Vapastop, it’s just foil with nylon webbing on the inside, giving it that heavy duty-ness that is needed in high traffic areas. (Builders’ foil can be used to seal chemically vaporous areas where tiles are to be laid; this is a good option if you want to seal in the chemical residues left over from carpet that has been pulled up, or something else acting as an irritant to the occupant.)

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(I’ve used this for many things, even wrapped a mattress or two in it (DON’T DO IT before reading this post.). This foil is so handy for us chemically sensitive Aussies, that there is even a woman who used it to wrap the plaster cast on her broken arm so as to put a stop the chemicals emitting from the plaster that were making her ill.

You know that silver accessories have been in fashion for a while now, don’t you?

Vapastop is perfect for small jobs, or anything that is soft and needs a bit of flex or has corners that need covering: furniture, chipboard, anything that outgasses fumes. (Just remember, anything that’s got a fabric component needs to breathe, or it may go mouldy: a la mattresses! So it’s a temporary measure.)

Most recently though, in this house of mouldy horrors, I’ve used Kingspan to seal the floors in two bedrooms. One was the room where the concrete slab was drawing in water from the gardens outside; therefore creating dampness, and inviting it’s best buddy in with it: mould. (In this house, every time it rains I can smell an earthy smell, my breathing is affected and it’s just plain rotten around here, and all my plans—writing, working, living, cooking—turn into uneventful mush made from pain, irritation, sadness and frustration.)  The other was in a room where new floorboards—not real wood, but fake wood, the chipboard kind—have been laid. The door had been kept closed over the last summer we had, with the window open also—so as to outgass them—but they were still a problem. (In case you don’t know chipboard contains glues made from formaldehyde, and these take years to outgass. (For those who are new to reading this blog and/or reading about chemical sensitivities, outgassing is the process where a  substance, material or product—say a new kitchen, or couch (even fresh paint or mould)—releases vapours into the surrounding air. These are called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and when too many of them build up inside an inclosed space, they can cause the occupant(s) health problems such as headaches, asthma and/or chemical sensitivities (or MCS as it is also known as). For a person sensitive to those chemicals they can cause or worsen serious health problems. And that’s what happened to me.) So I did what I’m good at: smothered the pain causing area with foil!

The Kingspan foil is made by a company who specialise in building wraps for ecological buildings. And, even though it has its own blanket made from polyethylene, this is sealed in between two pieces of heavy duty aluminium foil. It comes in a roll, and needs to be cut by someone who is not sensitive to chemicals, or if you are chemically sensitive, wear a mask just in case. It comes in two thicknesses: 6.5 and 8 mm. Both of these rolls are 1350 mm x 22.25 m. Kingspan are transparent about what goes into their products—all their Material and Safety Data Sheets are available online, here. And I’ve spoken to them, and they even recommended the best product to use: Insulbreak! Aircell has tiny holes in so that houses can breathe, so it’s not a good choice for this job. One of the reps even dropped some samples around to me. How kind was that?

(Just so you know, when you’re ringing around, trying to find a company that sells a particular product that is suitable to seal in chemicals created by certain other companies who manufacture certain other products that release these chemicals, some people can try to treat you like a Right-Royal-Weirdo, but DO NOT listen to them, just keep searching; then you will find an environmentally sustainable company (like Kingspan) who also care about *sustaining humans* and their health, as well as our magnificent Earth! And this company will know exactly what you are talking about, and they will understand exactly why you want to do this. And they will help you… )

 

You’ll also need a roll of foil tape. Here’s some available in AUS, some in Germany, and some in the US.  Another dynamically useful product that I’ll share with you! You’ll either need a pair of gloves, or to be extra careful: the tape has sharp edges that cut similar to a paper-cut but much deeper.

 

(Note: if you are a renter, and/or you don’t want to create any damage, then you also need a roll of painter’s masking tape to stick under any areas where you will stick the foil tape: it leaves behind an unsightly glue residue. The masking tape does not, so this will protect any areas where you want them to be left clean when it’s time to remove this temporary ‘renovation’.)

Follow these steps (or create your own from this template):

Measure the area and make sure you have enough materials.

Clean the area, and let it dry. The concrete floor that was sealed here, never got to dry, because the nature of this concrete is that it’s not sealed correctly around the edges of the slab: shoddy workmanship. Through research, I’ve found that a slab needs to be sealed correctly or it creates honeycomb like pockets, which draw in moisture. And this process will happen:

Natural soluble mineral salts are commonly found in soil. When rising damp occurs, nitrates, chlorides and efflorescent salts migrate through the masonry in solution and accumulate on the wall surface as a white powder.

These salts are hygroscopic and attract moisture from the atmosphere, particularly during periods of high humidity, and give the effect of persistent dampness and associated damp smells.

(Source)

The same thing has happened here:

Oh, so it’s not really fairy dust… It’s salt of the Earth

But come winter, autumn and summer rains, there is this:

And then came the rain. Again. And again…

(An eco-builder said the best solution would be for the landlord to have the gardens dug out, away from around the house, and then have tar poured into place against the edge of the slab. That’s a great idea; however, only if I’m not renting, and living here. (It was at my request that the carpet in this room was pulled up. Can anyone imagine what would happen to the carpet if left on top of this? Answer: more mould. Even a person without sensitivities to chemicals can be made ill by living around this.) There are other solutions to the problem. A temporary one was to paint the floor with concrete sealer, and then lay flooring over the top. Still not ideal, as it doesn’t solve the dampness, and the paint may peel. And can’t it be done unless the floor is dry. And, if solvent based paints are to be used, I can’t be living here, or have any of my belongings in the house because solvents are the number one chemical that I need to avoid. When I recovered, a few years back, this was the only chemical left that effected me.)

Next step: the damp patch was sealed with foil adhesive tape. (I know, from a building-biology type of perspective, it’s so wrong! Theoretically, this should cause the dampness to rise up the wall, if it hasn’t already. Nothing would surprise me with this house.) And, I had the owner’s permission to do this; it’s only a temporary measure!

A Building Biologist’s Nightmare

Note: don’t forget that the adhesive on this tape really sticks and it leaves that yucky-gummy residue behind that’s always a pain under the nails to scrape off, so you don’t want to put it someplace where it needs to be removed later and still look clean and nice. (Especially if you are renting.) Put painters masking tape over the surface first, then put the foil tape over that. (Painter’s tape is designed not to leave yucky gunk behind, or pull off paint and other surface coatings when it is removed. That’s why painters use it around windows and mirrors.)

Next: (This step is optional) Lay a down a layer of foil underlay with the foil side facing down (we used one from here, called Lamilay). The foam on the top is a type of plastic foam: polyurethane, which is also treated with an antibacterial and anti-fungal. I didn’t worry about this at all; as you can see, it’s about to be sealed in. And I had a mask on, of course! This product is designed to stop moulds from affecting the floorboards, which are supposed to go over the top of it. This was done so that the landlord of the property can lay floorboards straight over the top when I move out (chipboard floorboards! *Nice*.).

Next step: cut the Insulbreak to fit. A Stanley knife will be handy at this point. Then, tape it in place using the foil tape, while being careful not to cut your fingers on the edges if it.

Remember, covering anything with foil is usually a temporary solution. Foil wears away; it flakes off and it tears. Just ask my dog about that.

The good things is: you can slap another piece of foil tape over the top of any tears. (I know, it’s a weird life!)

Warning: don't let dogs do 360's on the floor, or you will need to do this!

Warning: don’t let dogs do 360’s on the floor, or you will need to do this!

Another thing I like: it’s actually really soft to walk on, and it reminds me of what it’s like to have carpet: it’s warm; my feet are comfortable touching it in winter; and it’s not achingly stone cold, like tiles can be (just for breathing difficulties, I’d still prefer tiles any day!).

Update 12 Feb 2013 (9 months later)

Know this: it all turned to shit little pieces of foil, flaking about my house. Everywhere. This is awful for a person who bases the order of their world on the tidiness of their house! But, for future reference, I’d love to know how other people have dealt with having foil on the floor while still using it to walk on it. Please share your ideas with us… on the use of foil, or anything really.

Useful options I can think of:
  • A wool, jute or cotton rug(s) over the top (I did buy a large wool rug, which–nine months later–is still outside airing);
  • Tyvek? This could be slippery though

And that’s as far as my imagination could stretch. If I were to stay living in this house, I’d probably just layer another layer of Kingspan Insulbreak over the top. Kind of like an insane version of floor lasagne, which instead of it being a lasagne that gets eaten, it’s actually a specially-self-designed-floor that stops my health from being swallowed up whole by the Toxic Mould Goblin, himself! So yeh, it’s a lasagne for a goblin! Made with foil.

My Big News

And, here’s my big news: I’ve moved out. Not officially, I’m still doing a mould decontamination protocol of all my stuff, but I have found, signed the lease, and taken the keys, for a property near the sea! Hooray for me. See, there is something good about mould after mould after mould exposure. Who woulda thunk? I will blog more about this miraculous journey that I’m on, but know this: I’m on my way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities. Now I can officially say goodbye to 2012; and finally, I can leave the hell of it all behind.

Peering back through my retrospectorscope at the foil renovation situation, I can now see that it was an awesome, if not such a weird thing to do. It stopped the damp coming up through the concrete when it rained (but it didn’t stop it coming from the roof, or the laundry, or from out in the closed in driveway/slash fernery), so the room where I kept my clothes had no visible mould growing in it during the last nine months of my stay. Before that, it was on the windows and the walls.

Also, through the retrospectorscope: it was a great thing for my landlord, now he is free to do what he wants, which is lay down floating floor boards to match the rest of the house. (I’ve blogged before about how these are made from compressed wood, sealed with glue that contains formaldehyde and monkey knows what else!) If I had my way, it would have been tiles! A sure thing for anyone sensitive to chemicals cause those tiles will surely put out!

So long as your landlord/real estate agent agrees, this is a win/win awesome, yet temporary resolution for any area that’s outgassing chemicals that are effecting someone’s health. More on this solution from renowned environmental sensitivity expert Pamela Reed Gibson:

“The person should inquire about the pesticide history of a potential home by questioning the landlords, builders, or neighbors. Formaldehyde impregnated building materials such as particle board emit considerable formaldehyde particularly in their first year and continue to outgas for ten or more years. Better construction materials include exterior grade plywood, as it contains a lesser amount and a less toxic type of formaldehyde (phenol formaldehyde rather than urea formaldehyde). Interior grade plywood may outgas formaldehyde as much as the particleboard. Cupboards and other visible particleboard products can be sealed with less toxic products designed to prevent outgassing of fumes. However, people who have tried this suggest that it might be safer to simply replace particleboard or other composite board cupboards with old-fashioned metal or glass shelves and cupboards or to cover the particleboard with aluminum or steel foil, whatever is tolerated best.”

You can read more about Understanding and Accommodating People with MCS, here

More information on mould
Australia

Mould Fact Sheet

The US

Mould Myths

Allegictolifemybattle: a mold surviver’s blog

New York City Department of Health and Hygiene 

Europe

WHO/Europe: Biological Indoor Air Pollutant – Dampness and Mould

More Information of Formaldehyde

Doctor Jekyll and Mr Formaldehyde 

~

Posts coming up next:

My Hammock Review ~ and sleeping in the great outdoors…

Video Vlog: Nasal Filters

How to Find a Suitable Rental Property

Healing the Gut II

And: Acceptance of My Wonderful, Gratefully Received Blog Awards :) 

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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