Indoor Air Quality, Part 4: Avoiding VOCs

Jim Mallery

Last of a four-part series, Green Renovation: Indoor Air Quality

In the first three parts of this series, you learned about the dangerous pollutants that are released into your home's atmosphere during the demolition phase of remodeling. The reconstruction phase of your remodeling project can create its own concerns about indoor air quality.

Sure, you will have some of the same issues as with the deconstruction. There will be dust--sawing, pounding, and maybe the always-unpleasant drywall finishing. For this, take the same precautions of dust mask, sealing the room and creating negative air pressure to vent the dust outdoors (see Green Renovations: Indoor Air Quality, Part 3).

What Are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) will be your biggest new concern. They are gases emitted from a variety of sources used in construction materials, and they can have wide-ranging, serious health effects, including breathing difficulties, nausea, liver and kidney problems, and loss of coordination. Some VOCs even cause cancer in humans.

There are many sources of VOCs in construction, including:

  1. paint, lacquer, thinners and strippers
  2. floor finishings
  3. adhesives, especially those used for securing flooring
  4. particleboard and manufactured-wood products
  5. carpet and carpet pads

One of the most common VOCs that you probably have heard of is formaldehyde, which is often used in manufactured wood products. Formaldehyde in light doses causes eye, nose and throat irritation, and the EPA considers it cancer-causing in humans.

If your have a choice, pressed-wood products designed for exterior use will emit less formaldehyde, because they use a different form of the chemical.

Remodeling Alternatives to VOCs

First, you can look for products that have low or nil VOC emissions. With the growing knowledge of the dangers of VOC emissions, manufacturers are striving for more air-friendly products. They aren't hard to find. Ask around and go online to research products--manufacturers usually are quick to point out their eco-friendly merchandise. However, these products also may cost a little more.

Leave the Volatile Organic Compounds Out

If possible, keep the VOCs outside. Use pre-finished products, or, whenever possible, paint outside or in an open garage, and then bring the object into the house. Since many materials emit most of their VOCs when they are first opened, try to first expose them outside your home. New carpet, for instance, may be unrolled for a few days at the warehouse before it is installed.

Newly painted rooms should be ventilated during the painting process and for up to three days afterwards. Use fans or other means to draw or force the air outdoors--not through the rest of your house.

Remodeling projects are fraught with dangers to your indoor air quality, but with proper care to protect against dangerous inhalants, you can minimize the hazards. Indoor air quality is nothing to sneeze at.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.

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