VOCs – otherwise known as volatile organic compounds – are defined as gases that are emitted from certain materials, whether they are solid or in liquid form, and can include a variety of chemicals. According to the EPA, VOCs can typically have higher concentrations indoors, in some cases up to ten times higher, than outdoor concentrations. These emissions can have varying degrees of short-term and long-term health effects. Nowadays, consumers are increasing becoming aware of VOCs and their effects on humans. As a result, consumers have become savvier in understanding the various types of products available in the market and selecting products that identify as low VOC.
While VOCs do not sound appealing, there have been significant developments by manufacturers of chemicals and building materials that reduce the exposure to building occupants.
Where are VOCs found?
The EPA states that VOCs can be found in an array of household products and materials from paints, waxes, aerosol sprays, cleaners, pesticides, craft materials, office equipment, furnishings and building materials including insulation. You may find many of these everyday household materials and products after a quick search through your home.
Effects from exposure to VOCs can vary between individuals depending on the chemical as well as length of exposure and level of VOC emissions. Effects can include irritation of the nose and throat, nausea, dizziness and headaches among other effects.
Although the presence of VOCs and their effects are not pleasant, there have been steps taken by many manufacturers to reduce our exposure to VOCs. For example, the paint industry has been very active in developing paints and varnishes that are considered low VOC. These active steps by manufacturers are helping to ensure that consumers are aware of what VOCs are and how they can reduce their exposure to such emissions.
How to reduce exposure to VOCs
The EPA offers consumers an array of recommendations to reduce exposure to VOCs. There are several recommendations including:
- Do not mix household products together
- Increase ventilation when using a product
- Only purchase in quantities that will be used immediately
- Avoid storing open containers
- Meet or exceed label precautions
- Keep out of reach of children and pets
How is the spray foam insulation industry responding to VOCs?
Like the paint industry, the spray foam insulation industry is responding to VOCs and developing products are considered low VOC. As the spray foam insulation industry leader, Icynene has been committed to the responsible development of spray foam chemistry for over 30 years. Icynene’s leadership position in the category has seen the development of several spray foam insulation products including Icynene Classic Max, Icynene Classic Max Select, Icynene ProSeal and Icynene ProSeal LE. Each of these spray foam products is identified as a low VOC spray foam insulation material. And it doesn’t stop there; chemists and building scientists at Icynene continue to develop spray foam innovation to meets the ever changing requirements of modern commercial and residential construction as well as the demands of architects, builders and homeowners alike.
Icynene has gone further to ensure that their spray foam insulation products are evaluated by UL Environment to gain and GREENGUARD Gold certification. Icynene Classic Max, Icynene ProSeal and Icynene ProSeal LE have received GREENGUARD Gold certification. Furthermore, Icynene spray foam insulation products meet the criteria set by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS).
As a result of Icynene’s low VOC innovation, building occupants are able to re-occupy a home or building after just two hours and in some cases 1 hour after the spray application following active ventilation as prescribed.
What is GREENGUARD?
GREENGUARD Certification has been widely adopted as a trusted standard for low-emitting products. More than 400 green building codes, standards, guidelines, procurements policies, and rating systems recognize or reference GREENGUARD Certified products.
The GREENGUARD Gold Certification standard includes health based criteria for additional chemicals and also requires lower total VOC emissions levels to ensure that products are acceptable for use in environments such as schools and healthcare facilities.
What is CHPS?
CHPS is a collaboration to address energy efficiency in schools. The program covers all aspects of school design, construction and operation. CHPS develops tools that help make schools energy, water and material efficient, well-lit, thermally comfortable, acoustically sound, safe, healthy and easy to operate. CHPS sets a specific set of criteria that must be met by building materials to allow for use in the construction of schools.
Where does LEED fit in?
Low emitting materials are addressed in LEED v4 with the intent to reduce concentrations of chemical contaminants that can damage air quality, human health, productivity, and the environment. Architects can receive credit toward LEED certification in addressing low emitting materials including interior paints and coatings, flooring, interior adhesives and sealants as well as ceiling, wall, thermal and acoustic insulation.
How can architects and builders help?
Architects, designers and builders can all take steps to encourage the adoption of a low VOC approach in design and construction. Through educating and working with their clients in understanding what VOCs are, how they affect building occupants and the low VOC options that are available in the market, architects and builders can create high performance, energy efficient and positive spaces to live, work and play.