Harmful chemicals (VOCs) to avoid when building & renovating
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals in everyday products and building materials. They can significantly impact your health, with symptoms ranging from minor irritations to more severe long-term effects.
But it’s not just about health — these compounds also affect indoor air quality. Poor air quality inside buildings can lead to environmental issues, including pollution and energy inefficiency.
That’s why it’s imperative to be aware of these implications. This article will uncover the seven most common VOCs in architecture to help you make more intelligent, sustainable choices for your or your client’s living environment.
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a strong, pungent odor. It’s common in various products like furniture, plywood and some types of fabric. You’ll often find it in adhesives and resins that hold particleboard and other composite woods together. Formaldehyde can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. Long-term exposure may even cause certain types of cancer, such as myeloid leukemia or cancer of the nasopharynx. Knowing which products contain this compound, especially if you have children or pets, is essential.
Xylene & Lead
Xylene is a clear, colorless liquid with a sweet, aromatic smell. It’s common in paints, varnishes and some printing and rubber products. Many people encounter xylene when painting or renovating their homes. In addition to xylene, homeowners who renovate their houses also come across lead paints. This is particularly true for residences built before 1978 and can make selling a home more challenging. Exposure to xylene can cause headaches, dizziness and respiratory issues. High levels of susceptibility can even impact your central nervous system, so proper ventilation is crucial when using these products. Xylene also contributes to smog formation when it evaporates.
Vinyl chloride is a gas with a slightly sweet odor. It’s a key ingredient in making PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a material in plumbing pipes, vinyl flooring and some types of packaging. You might experience dizziness and headaches when handling vinyl chloride. Be mindful of how much you expose yourself to and how often — long-term susceptibility could lead to serious illness. It can also harm aquatic ecosystems and contribute to air pollution. It’s not easily biodegradable, making it a persistent pollutant.
Isocyanates are a group of reactive chemicals used in manufacturing foam insulation, paints and adhesives. You’ll frequently find them in products for home renovations, car repairs and some types of furniture. These chemicals can be harmful — exposure may lead to skin irritation and respiratory issues. Severe cases might experience asthma-like symptoms, making it among the leading causes of occupational asthma worldwide. Always ensure proper ventilation and wear proper protective equipment when working with products that contain Isocyanates. These chemicals also contribute to long-term ecosystem damage because they don’t break down over time.
Glycol Ethers are a group of solvents in various products, from cleaning solutions to paints and cosmetics. They’re common in these household items, so there’s a good chance you have goods containing glycol ethers right under your sink. Exposure to these chemicals can affect renal and neurologic systems and, in some instances, liver or kidney damage. It’s vital to use these products in well-ventilated areas and store them safely away from children and pets. Glycol ether has also been known to contaminate air and water sources, proving harmful to ecosystems.
Epoxy resins are a polymer used extensively in adhesives, coatings and sealants. They’re popular in building and DIY projects, like sealing floors or bonding materials.Wear protective gear like goggles and a mask while using epoxy, and work outdoors or in a well-ventilated room. Exposure can irritate your eyes or skin, cause allergic reactions or even lead to respiratory issues. Epoxy resins can be pretty persistent environmentally, meaning they don’t break down quickly. It can lead to long-term environmental pollution, affecting soil and water quality.
Benzene is a colorless liquid with a sweet, aromatic scent. It’s common in vehicle emissions, industrial processes and household products like paints and glues. You might encounter benzene in outdoor and indoor environments. You might experience dizziness and headaches while handling benzene. Long-term exposure can lead to medical disorders such as leukemia. Because benzene isn’t readily biodegradable, it can pose long-term risks to the environment through air and water pollution.
Strategies to Reduce VOCs
There are a few steps you can take to reduce VOCs and limit your exposure to them:
These might seem like small changes, but they’re an easy way to reduce your exposure to these materials and promote a more positive environmental impact. Remember, VOCs are dangerous in any form — even materials with relatively low levels of emissions can be hazardous when present in large quantities.
Clearing the Air
You’ve got the knowledge. Now, it’s time to take action! You can significantly reduce VOC levels by making simple changes like choosing low-VOC products and optimizing your living spaces. You’ll create a healthier environment for yourself and those around you while contributing to a more sustainable planet.