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What are Volatile Organic Compounds?

March 5, 2020

What are Volatile Organic Compounds?

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs are any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions.

You have probably heard about volatile organic compounds, or VOCs as they are often called, and wondered what they are and how they affect you. In simple terms, VOCs are harmful chemicals or compounds that ‘off-gas’ into your home from processes or products we use.

Common VOCs include benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, xylene, and 1,3-butadiene, all of which we are likely to encounter in our daily lives.

Where can VOCs be found?

  • Building materials are a major culprit for the presence of VOCs in homes and VOCs may be present in building materials such as paint, varnishes, caulks, adhesives and silicones.
  • Interior finishing materials such as carpet and underlayment, vinyl flooring, furniture upholstery, and composite wood products.
  • Household items used everyday could also put us at risk. Air fresheners, cleaning products, cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and hair products are some examples.
  • What about harmful activities? Smoking, burning wood, cooking (in particular cooking with natural gas), dry cleaning and using photocopiers in the home could increase your exposure

Although the effects of VOCs are more pronounced indoors, they can also be found in outdoor sources. Diesel and gasoline fumes and emissions, industrial emissions and oil and gas extraction all potentially emit high levels of VOCs.

Are VOCs really that bad?

VOCs pollute our environment, putting us all at risk. And they breakdown and easily diffuse in closed environments, thereby increasing the risk. VOCs in wall paint, for instance, can continue to off-gas for years, long after the paint is dried.

Apart from the strong smell, VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat and can negatively affect vital organs such as lungs and liver.

How can you protect your family?

While it may not be practical to not use certain household items, decorating your house, or constructing a new home, you can make more informed choices regarding your home.

Labels matter: Recent regulations require manufacturers to disclose the ingredients and chemicals in their products. A careful examination of the product label or a review of the products Safety Data Sheet (SDS) provide valuable information that could help you understand the potential impact of the product on your health and wellbeing.

Shop low-VOC products: Deliberately searching out low-VOC may take some extra effort and time but the results will be worth it. It’s worth noting that a quick search on the internet will provide a wealth of suppliers and retailers that carry many low-VOC options that are often no higher in price than higher VOC options.

Partner Right: Planning to renovate your home soon? Looking to buy a new home? It’s important that the developers/realtors you choose to work with are health conscious and committed to the right standards. We recommend you ask direct questions about their position regarding VOCs in construction materials and processes they employ to protect you and your family during the renovation or construction.

As an inspired healthy home advocate, Empire Custom Homes is committed to creating healthier living environments for our employees and clients through a company-wide commitment to the RESIDE Healthy Standard, AVANT Cabinets (NRC tested low-VOC cabinetry), our new healthy home collection in Currie at Valour Park, and on-going research to help reduce the impact of VOCs and related construction materials and practices on our built and lived-in environment.

If you would like to learn more about the RESIDE Healthy Standard, AVANT Cabinets, or our Valour Park single family project, please contact us.