Off-Gassing: What it is & How to Avoid It

Off-Gassing: What it is & How to Avoid It

Traditional building materials and finishes in our buildings shouldn't require this level of canary in a coal mine to justify the argument that green products are better. It's all pretty DUH when it gets laid out like this, right?

So let's talk about the DUH factor...

When we think about designing and living green, so many practices, terms & products come to mind. Living sustainably, eco-friendly, green, etc. They all mean the same thing, and we believe it is our job to put the best information we have out there for customers and the public so that when you make a decision, you are informed.

In the southeast, we are doing this through example: green|spaces' Next Gen Homes. These homes represent an ideal residential space in Chattanooga & the southeast. Ideally, we want our living spaces to create as much energy as they are consuming, using water & other materials as efficiently as possible, & promoting health in those who both build & live in the homes.  Our homes are essentially the building block for our basic needs: food, water, warmth, rest, safety & security.

Next Gen Home Living Room

Next Gen Home Living Room

How can you have your basic needs met without having your health in mind? And how can we begin to care about the earth if we do not first care about ourselves?

When we think about energy efficiency & healthy living, let’s break it down in ways that fulfill our basic needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

  1. Food- Our Kitchens
  2. Water- Bathrooms & Gray Water
  3. Warmth- Windows, Insulation (see previous blog post), weatherization
  4. Rest- Bedroom, mattresses, no wifi/electronics in the bedroom
  5. Security/safety- Off gassing/air quality

 

This week we are focusing on safety, specifically from the things you cannot see, so we recently acquired an Awair. With this fun, new product, we are able to see with technology what we cannot see with our eyes. Awair is able to see the fine particles in the air, chemicals, humidity, & CO2. It’s so sensitive that when we light a candle or when we swept up for the day, the particles indicator shot up, so our overall “air score” lowered. When I added essential oils to our diffuser, the chemicals indicator peaked, making our score again fall. Despite the peaks, Green’s score is nearly perfectly with an average of 92.

But what about when you need to complete a home renovation project such as refinishing your old hardwood floors? Can you think back to the last time you experienced the fumes from refinished hardwood? For many people, the off gassing from traditional products is enough to make you want to - or worse, have to - stay away from your house for months. The impact of off-gassing depends on many factors including: how much ventilation your home gets, how well sealed and insulated your home is, and of course, you and your family's level of sensitivity. Older homes that have been air sealed & weatherized will have less natural ventilation. Off-gassing chemicals love to linger in stagnant air. Meanwhile, newer homes are required to be more energy-efficient and well sealed by building code. This also results in insufficient ventilation and fresh air exchange. In short, the less fresh air that cycles through your home, the more present off-gassing may be - whether it be from refinished hardwoods, "fresh" coats of paint, cleaners, or furniture.

So what exactly is off-gassing and why should we care about it?

Off-gassing is when products release vapors or gases that were formerly trapped in a liquid or solid form. You may be familiar with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some VOCs emitted from paint or hardwood finishes can react with other common air components to form known carcinogens, substances capable of causing cancer in living tissue.

Unfortunately, these vapors or gases don’t just come from low-quality or unsafe products, but can also found in products labeled  “green” and “natural” as well. Whatever the labels may say, however, the VOCs these products emit can cause serious health problems. They may aggravate breathing issues such as asthma, cause allergic reactions, produce headaches or fatigue, and generally make life unpleasant or even dangerous.

In fact, just last week we had someone to reach out to us with a story we have heard so many times before from the VOCs found in paint: “I have extreme chemical sensitivities & autoimmune issues. [I] landed in the hospital last week with a horrible Afib attack after painting with low-VOC [paint from a big box store]. I am afraid to ever paint again but need to. I need the safest & least odor free paint available.”


We suggest AFM (doctor recommended) or Colorhouse Paint

Problem: One of the most prevalent contributors to off-gassing in your home is paint, wax and varnish. These cover surfaces ranging from your walls and ceilings, to chairs, hardwood floors and cutting boards, contain many dangerous VOCs. Chief among them is formaldehyde, a preservative found in paint (as well as cleaners, textiles, cleaning products and more). Formaldehyde is also off-gassed from resins used in manufacturing of a wide range of wood products, from laminate wood flooring to pressed wood to particle board. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, this chemical can cause “eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, coughing, wheezing, and allergic reactions.” Moreover, “long term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde has been associated with cancer in humans and laboratory animals.”

Solution: We suggest using different products. Like our customer who used low-VOC Valspar, sometimes that just isn’t enough, especially if you have allergies and/or are highly sensitive to chemicals. For your paints, we suggest AFM or Colorhouse, and for  waxes, and varnishes, we will always suggest AFM which is literally doctor recommended.

 

A few other suggestions to refrain from off-gassing:

    • Electronics: Electronics, which are now ubiquitous in many homes, can release significant amounts of chemicals; for instance, chemicals may offgas from insulation on wiring that contains the flame retardant triphenyl phosphate. Plastic casing and circuit boards can also offgas. And in the office, laser printers and photocopiers were found to emit at least 30 compounds of VOCs, according to this UC Berkeley study.
      • Solution: Refrain from using electronics in your bedroom. Plug your phone in in a different room. Try to limit electronics in the bedroom to only an alarm clock, and keep in mind that the bedroom needs to be a place where only two things occur: sleeping and love-making. That means don’t bring your computer to bed, don’t watch TV, and limit any screen time to another room.

 

  • Furniture: Wooden furniture and upholstery often off-gases formaldehyde, a chemical known to cause eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, coughing, wheezing, and allergic reactions. Even when furniture isn’t covered with VOC-containing waxes, varnishes, polishes or paint, the resins used to manufacture furniture often contain volatile organic compounds. Plastics, upholstery and treated wood may all contain VOCs, which may be harmful to your health and the health of your family.
    • Solution: Buy wood furniture that has not been treated, and if you would like to use a varnish or sealer, use the above recommended AFM products. We also have a plethora of cabinetry from Executive Cabinetry, many types of countertops, and retailers who do not treat using formaldehyde.

 

 

  • Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softener: Researchers at the University of Washington at Seattle detected over 133 different types of VOCs in common laundry products, and found that each product off-gassed between one and eight toxic substances. Shockingly, those tiny slips of papery fabric you put in your dryer may be harming you. These, and many other commonly used scented products, often emit a range of VOCs in high quantities. And as one study showed, even so-called “green” and “organic” scented home products contain VOCs.
    • Solution: Next time you go to dry your laundry, try a chemical free wool or alpaca dryer ball instead. If you want your laundry to smell great, add a few drops of your favorite essential oils to the balls before drying. One perk is that wool dryer balls also create more air between linens, so it takes less time (less energy) to dry. We love these from a local Tennessee farm.

 

Thanks for reading, and keep building, painting, thinking, and living green!

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