Volatile Organic Compounds: What’s the Big Deal?

volatile organic compounds

Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are chemical contaminants that are found in many different common products, especially building materials.

VOCs are organic chemicals that can emit toxins into the air and are typically found in houses, workplaces and public buildings.

Some materials that contain volatile organic compounds may initially release toxins and odors into either the indoor or outdoor environment. However, as the materials ‘de-gass’, they may become somewhat inert.

That is, the materials are much less toxic and cause little to no air contamination in the long term. However, many products that contain VOCs continue to release toxic chemicals and are a health hazard over a prolonged period of time.

Avoiding VOCs to the greatest degree possible is a major goal in healthy house construction, especially as it relates to indoor air quality.

Replacing standard building materials with green building materials that are no VOC or low VOC is absolutely necessary if you want to build a new home or remodel a portion of your existing house to make it a healthy living environment.

Common Building Materials High in Volatile Organic Compounds

  • Glues and Adhesives
  • Sealants, Caulks and coatings
  • Wall covering products
  • Paints, stains and varnishes
  • Cleaning products
  • Fuels used for heating
  • Vinyl in flooring and other products
  • Textiles & furnishings
  • Pesticides

Some materials are manufactured with various levels of VOCs, so each type of product can be different in its level of toxicity and length of time it may emit toxins.

For example, kitchen cabinets that are constructed with OSB board emit a huge level of VOCs as compared to cabinets that are made from solid wood.

Pressed board contains formaldehyde and other dangerous chemicals that continually release toxins and odors into the air, sometimes for years.

There are many health symptoms associated with VOC exposures. Some homeowners have developed Sick Building Syndrome as a result of living in a house that continually emits chemical vapors.

Exposure symptoms can include:

  • Itchy, watery, or burning eyes
  • Skin irritations or rashes
  • Nose and throat irritation
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

Then of course the degree to which a person’s health is affected depends on many unique, personal factors that are not always measurable from person to person such as:

  • How much of the chemical is present in the building / building air
  • How often a person comes into contact with the chemical
  • How harmful the chemical is to human health
  • How sensitive a person is to the chemical

That’s why some people develop minor irritations and others become severely ill with syndromes such as Environmental Illness, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Sick Building Syndrome as well as a host of other illnesses.

Damage to bodily organs can occur and even death in some cases, depending on the chemical and the severity of exposure.

2 Major Ways to Avoid Volatile Organic Compounds Indoors

The most important ways to avoid exposure to volatile organic compounds in the indoor home environment is to:

  • Choose best HVAC system for good indoor air quality

Even though there are other design issues to consider in order to avoid air contamination, such as humidity control, dust control, proper cleaning methods and more, the first step is to replace all toxic building materials with safe, healthy no VOC  products.

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