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  • Dawn Chau

What are VOC's and how do they affect you?


That strong smell you notice when you open a can of paint or a tube of a strong adhesive ...

That odor you notice when you open a new electronic purchase ...

That new car smell ...

What is it and how does it affect you and your family?


These odors are due to VOC's - let's talk about what all this means and if it's really something to be concerned about.


You may hear me mention VOC's on social media or in a client meeting, but do you know what VOC's really are? I found this definition on the EPA website:


" Volatile organic compounds (VOC) means any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates, and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions. (1) This includes any such organic compound other than the following, which have been determined to have negligible photochemical reactivity: methane; ethane; …. etc. "


...so what does this mean to us?

Anything that smells fragrant releases VOC's into the air (even a fragrant rose!). This can be due to natural or synthetic sources. Depending upon several factors including which chemicals are involved, the amount of time spent inhaling, ventilation, and others, inhaling VOC's can be harmful to your health. Have you heard of Building-Related Illness or Sick Building Syndrome? Symptoms include headaches, depression, dizziness, allergies, asthma, and more. There are extreme examples of this that affect whole buildings and minor or major health issues that arise in your own home due to VOC's. Children, elderly people, and those with other existing health issues are especially at risk.


Let's talk about what we can do in our own homes.

1. Ventilation is the biggest factor to consider. Opening windows, keeping air vents clean, and using your kitchen and bathroom vent fans are all helpful in keeping your home's air quality high. Air purifiers may be necessary in some cases.

2. Purchase cleaning products and air fresheners that are natural or citrus-based.

3. Consider the effects of plastic: limit plastics in your home, avoid heating up plastic containers, serve and store food items in non-plastic containers, allow toys and furniture plenty of time to off-gas before use.

4. Select low-VOC alternatives when it comes to personal care items (sprays tend to be the heaviest contaminators).

5. Limit exposure to hobby supplies (glues, adhesives, etc) or use only in a well-ventilated area.


Now let's talk about how I can help you in your home when working on a project. Whether working on a remodel or new build, there are decisions we can make that will make your home a healthier space.

1. Choosing paints and coatings with low levels of VOCs or no VOC's. Paints have come a long way in terms of quality over the years.


2. Offering flooring options that are natural or organic such as wool carpeting with an all-natural rubber pad or hardwood that has been waxed instead of using a polyurethane. Cork flooring is also a wonderful material. And it's resilient underfoot.


3. When planning a new space, selecting solid wood furniture choices and high-quality items. Many cheap pieces of furniture use particle boards (that crumbly stuff you find at Ikea that chips if you look at it wrong) or plywood (which is actually very common even in high-end cabinetry to keep things from warping) and those boards use glue to keep all those layers together. Most likely, unless specified, that glue contains formaldehyde which then off-gases VOC's into the air.


4. Look for recycled and sustainable products (countertops, tile, and more). There are manufactured countertops that use recycled glass to create new slabs.


5. Educate my clients about all the options available to them. I always ask clients if this is something important to them when starting a project. It does add cost but in the end, it's your home and health.


The decisions we make in our lives and homes can make a huge difference in our communities and the world around us. Sustainability is very important to me for my own family and I want to make sure I help you choose the healthiest and best options for your family as well. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more tips regarding sustainability in your home as well as great products I've found that help make a greener home.


Information about products and options listed above:

Formaldehyde-Free Cabinets and Furniture

Sustainable Carpets and Rugs

Cork Flooring

Recycled Glass Countertop Suppliers - Icestone and Vetrazzo