We spend a lot of our time indoors — up to 90% of our day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Learn why it's critical for architects and designers to understand how the materials they specify can affect indoor air quality.
We spend a lot of our time indoors — up to 90% of our day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As buildings are built to be more energy efficient, air exchange rates are reduced and operable windows are eliminated. After all, it costs money and requires energy to condition outside air. When air is not exchanged and fresh air is not brought into a building, indoor air quality can suffer. If products that are used inside the building off-gas or release volatile chemicals into the air, those chemicals stay in the building.
For this reason, it’s critical that architects and designers are aware of materials that off-gas or release chemicals that degrade indoor air quality. Various certifications and standards, like FloorScore® and LEED®, include guidelines that set air quality requirements for products like flooring to support indoor environmental quality.
What is Product Off-Gassing or Emissions?
Off-gassing or emissions occur when newly manufactured products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). A VOC is any chemical that will volatize or become a gas, but not all VOCs are harmful. For example, when you go into your local coffee shop and smell coffee, you are smelling VOCs. According to the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA), there are over 10,000 chemical compounds that can be classified as VOCs. Products that can include VOCs are paints, carpets, certain textile treatments, mattresses, furniture and cabinets. Anything that has an odor is a VOC, but not all VOCs have odors.
This release of VOCs can negatively affect air quality; some VOCs dissipate quickly while others release more slowly. Chemical compounds, and other factors like temperature and humidity, contribute to different rates of off-gassing. One study published in the Indoor Air Journal found that the average time range needed to elapse following renovation activities before normal VOC levels were reached was in the range of 2-8 weeks.
Proper ventilation can help reduce VOCs, but the best strategy to managing VOCs is to source products that meet leading organization and certification standards.
Organizations that Monitor VOCs
The U.S. Green Building Council Environmental Quality Technical Advisory Committee (TAG) maintains a table of product emissions certification programs, such as FloorScore, that meet the requirements of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Low Emitting Materials credit. FloorScore is a third party certification standard that verifies hard surface flooring materials, adhesives and underlayments are tested and comply with California Department of Public Health (CDPH) standard test method, which is considered the industry standard when it comes to VOC emissions testing.
For more information on VOCs and air quality, consider downloading our white paper on the Six Pillars of Sustainable Flooring.