Our homes have become increasingly efficient over the years, built to provide a protective shield from the outside elements. Insulation, vapor barriers, and windows provide protection from the outdoor elements but also lock-in potential risks. One of those risks is indoor air quality. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are big contributors to poor indoor air quality. VOCs are emitted chemical gases produced by solids or liquids that may have short and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. As Green building products gain more visibility, and consumers become more educated about the products used within their homes, the green building industry is under increasing pressure to make widely available the green products consumers are seeking.
The term “sick building syndrome” (SBS) is associated with the health risks related to exposure to VOCs. This term is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building. In contrast, the term "building related illness" (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants (1). Indication of exposure to VOCs can include headache, eye, nose or throat irritation, dry cough, itchy skin, difficulty in concentrating, fatigue and sensitivity to odors. Long term exposure has been linked to repertory diseases, cancer, liver damage, kidney damage, and damage to the central nervous system among others. Providing building products that release fewer VOCs is one solution to combat SBS and BRI. These products include adhesive, paint, lumber, insulation, carpet, etc.
Low VOC products require a rigorous testing schedule. Any paint can make a claim of low VOCs, but what are the defining factors in these claims. Our testing lab uses a variety of tests to assure product quality as well as chemical testing. Chemical testing is provided by monitoring VOCs in air samples. A low VOC product is enclosed in an airtight chamber. Purified air is pumped into this chamber at a rate typically found in interior spaces, i.e. your home. Samples from this air are analyzed and total amounts of VOCs, as well as individual VOCs are identified. The ability to analyze VOC concentrations at parts per billion allow the detection of VOC levels that may pose health risks. Durability, efficiency and quality testing include: Scratch resistance, weathering, fading for paint products; Insulation properties, strength, flexibility for lumber; adhering abilities, viscosity for glues. Products are tested and compared to the same standards as VOC emitting products. The high quality of each product is assured as well as the low concentration levels of VOCs.
The people involved in building your home, as well as those that live within the home should have the assurance products used in the home do not pose a health risk. Each product tested will provide the piece of mind that should accompany the purchase of a new home. Products that emit Low VOCs and are of high quality are what the consumer expect, and what a green product should provide.
(1) US Environmental Protection Agency; Indoor air quality; Indoor Air Facts No. 4 Sick Building Syndrome