You might have heard about concerns regarding the role various building and home décor products play in the air quality of our homes and offices. It became more of a concern for many, confirming what is referred to as “Sick Building Syndrome” (SBD). The syndrome was first related to the air quality of buildings when people sharing common spaces suffered from the same acute health and comfort effects. When symptoms couldn’t be related to other medical causes or conditions, it was believed the issues were caused by the environment in which they worked.
Because we spend 90% of our time inside, the quality of the air we breathe can have adverse effects on our health. For this reason, the materials used in interiors require careful consideration, as they can contribute to overall air quality issues. Here we look at how flooring plays a crucial role in healthy buildings.
Contributors to SBD
Poor air quality due to material emissions isn’t new. In fact, in the Victorian era, arsenic was used to enhance the colour of green wallpaper products. As a result, many people became seriously ill and even died. Today, many chemical contaminants can be linked to different aspects of a building’s construction and design. This includes everything from adhesives used in the building and manufacturing process for furniture to the materials used to create sofa fabrics and carpets and from finishes on wood products to chemicals in paint. All of these items and materials can release what is called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
This includes a long list of harmful contaminants such as formaldehyde. While many elements contribute to poor air quality, such as tobacco smoke, a buildup of VOCs can lead to chronic and even severe health issues. This is because they often contain carcinogens, substances that cause cancer. Thanks to the discovery of SBD, more architects and designers now try to reduce the materials used to contribute to the VOC content in the air. This includes using flooring products and materials that emit less or zero VOCs.
Symptoms from SBD
Signs of SBD include several occupants of a building complaining of the following:
● Eye, nose, or throat irritation
● Dry cough
● Dry or itchy skin
● Dizziness and nausea
● Difficulty in concentrating
● Sensitivity to odours
As well, there would be no known cause of the symptoms, such as diagnosis of an illness or allergies. However, a telltale sign of SBD is that people with the symptoms find they feel better when they leave the building.
Product Off-Gassing and Emissions
This is the process when new products release VOCs. Keep in mind that all materials release some form of VOCs, but not all are harmful. When chemicals become a gas, they can be breathed in. An example of VOCs that aren’t harmful would be the heady aromas in a coffee shop or even the smell of fresh flowers. To add to the confusion of VOCs, while anything that produces a smell is considered a VOC, it does not mean that all VOCs have a smell at all. Other factors can increase the danger of VOCs or how quickly they release into the air.
For example, something such as the temperature of a room or the humidity level can change the rates of emissions and off-gassing in a space. These emissions are most prominent following the first two to eight weeks an item is introduced into space. As a result, new flooring can impact the air quality of your home or business for as long as a few months. Following this period, the VOCs should begin to dissipate and bring the levels back to normal.
What are the Healthiest Flooring Options?
The good news is that many flooring manufacturers have embraced a healthier approach to manufacturing their products. As well, installers and builders are taking precautions that help reduce harmful VOCs in buildings. However, there are several products you can choose for healthier flooring options, including:
● Cork flooring
● Ceramic and porcelain tile flooring
● Hardwood flooring
● Bamboo flooring
● Cork flooring
● Low VOC carpet flooring
As you can see, it is not just “natural” flooring products that can be healthy options. The trick is to look for low VOC products, regardless of the material you choose, as things such as fire retardants and different finishes or adhesives can all contribute to the amount of off-gassing a product produces. Due to improved and safer manufacturing processes, you can also find just about any flooring type that has reduced the amount of VOCs emitted.