VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and Flooring

Monday December 22, 2008
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You may have seen or heard the words “low VOCs” or “no VOCs” describing floor coverings, underlayments, adhesives, and so on. VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, and are carbon-based chemical compounds that vaporize under high pressure. While VOCs cannot be seen or smelled, they can be extremely hazardous to one's health. In fact, studies have shown that flooring with high levels of VOCs can cause headaches, coughing, pneumonia, fatigue, asthma attacks and other health problems. Furthermore, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proven that air quality in your home can have anywhere from 2 to 5 times more VOCs than the fresh air outdoors. For this reason, it's important that you take every precaution to reduce the amount of VOCs in your home.

VOCs are commonly found in flooring and floor materials, dry cleaning solvents, paint thinners and gasoline. One of the most hazardous VOC is formaldehyde, a chemical compound that's often utilized in wall covers, sealants, floor finishes, adhesives and laminated furniture. Not only do VOCs pollute indoor air quality, when emitted into the atmosphere they can damage groundwater and soil.

You can manage the amount of formaldehyde in your floors and flooring materials (e.g. adhesives; finishes) by checking the product's E1 standards. E1 standards are European regulation on formaldehyde content and other VOCs. Products that are marked E1 meet or exceed the acceptable standard for these emissions.

When shopping for flooring products, make sure that they are free from VOCs, or else contain a significantly low amount. There are a number of flooring manufacturers that make flooring products that release low to no VOCs. Let’s take a look at the VOC content level of some of the most common types of flooring used in homes today.

  • Cork – Although cork is made using toxic binders such as urea melamine and phenol formaldehyde, these compounds do not off gas once the cork is processed. On the whole, cork flooring is an excellent green flooring choice. Of course, some cork floor tiles require the use of flooring adhesive, which could contain a high level of VOCs. If installing glue-down cork flooring, choose adhesives that have a low VOC rating (or meets E1 standards) posted on the label. Also, when finishing cork floors, make sure that you use a low-VOC and/or water-based polyurethane.
  • Bamboo – Bamboo flooring is another eco-friendly choice that could contain VOCs depending on the type of adhesive you choose. Be sure to select bamboo floors that are formaldehyde free and meet E-1 standards. Also, when installing glue-down bamboo floors, make sure that the bamboo planks are glued using a low- to no-VOC water-based adhesive. The finish used on bamboo floors can also have a high level of VOCs. Make sure that you choose a bamboo floor finish that's water-based and contains no- to low VOCs.
  • Carpet – A number of carpet types tend to emit a high level of VOCs within the first few days of installation. During this time its important that you keep the area well-ventilated (you can do this by opening up windows and doors). Fortunately, there are now carpets available that contain a safe level of VOCs. This is thanks to the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Carpets and carpet adhesives that have no- to low VOCs are marked with a Green Label from CRI. You can also find this green label on carpet padding and cushions. If you have pets use cleaning methods and products that are considered pet safe.
  • Hardwood Flooring – Like bamboo, it comes down to the floor finish used on the flooring. Ask the manufacturer or flooring retailer what type of finish is used and the level of VOC's. Certain states such as California have strict policies and guidelines as to the amount of VOC's on products.
  • Linoleum – Made almost entirely with natural materials, linoleum flooring is another low VOC emitter. While linoleum floors often outgas a strong odor during and after installation (on account of the linseed oil) its harmless and will dissipate after a few weeks.
  • Vinyl – Vinyl floors are often confused with linoleum; however, these two floors couldn't be more different. Unlike linoleum floors, which are made with natural materials, vinyl is made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a thermoplastic polymer. A number of chemicals that are used to strengthen PVC can outgas for years after vinyl floors are installed. These chemicals are believed to cause illness and even increase cancer risk.

Stick to low VOC flooring choices and you can rest assured that you have taken a step towards maintaining, and possibly even improving your family’s health.

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Talkback – Leave a commentThere are 3 comments

Sustainability requirements for planning , we have been asked to provide data sheets confirming low VOC emissions and applicable EU Standards for the carpets installed and flooring adhesive used.
October 5 2017
Think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. Therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. Use http://american-writers.org/ to order custom essays.
August 2 2016
Hello, I would like to know if the new carpet they have picked out for our church has a voc rating. There are no opening windows and many people with allergies and who are elderly. the proposed carpet is Coulors by J andJ Commercial.Can you let me know the voc rating or a better alternative. The church is over 100 years old and the old carpet is 40 years old. The wood floor benasth is painted pine with large spaces between the slats. Thank you Betsy
May 29 2009
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