VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds are very topical these days, and are a particular concern for anyone with babies or small children or anyone suffering from an allergy or an illness. The reason that VOCs are so topical is that they’re invisible, widely recognised as a pollutant (albeit a small pollutant in some instances) and are known to pose potential health risks.
Used in the manufacture of many man-made products, such as laminates, vinyls and carpet backing, VOCs migrate from the product they’ve been applied to into the air we breathe, even at room temperatures. The big worry with VOCs is that although they’re invisible, and largely unnoticeable, they have been connected with respiratory problems, headaches and skin disease, amongst other health problems. So they are, without a doubt, a concern. The good news is that no VOCs are used in the production of solid wood flooring or engineered wood flooring.
If you are installing a hardwood floor and are particularly concerned about VOCs, what you really need to look out for is the VOC rating of the underlay, adhesives and finishes you or your fitter choose and plan to use. If you want to be as VOC-free as possible, it’s important to look out for low VOC options.
As an issue, VOCs are now so topical that many products have a VOC labelling system, which illustrates, at a glance, the VOC content of those products. There are 5 ratings currently in use, ranging from minimal VOC, which covers products with a low VOC of 0.29% or under, through low, medium, high and very high VOCs. Very high VOC levels are products that contain 50% or higher levels of VOCs.
VOCs vaporise from various sources eg. exhaust fumes, cleaning agents and solvents, and it is the combination of these vapours with sunlight which gives rise to a chemical reaction which gives off ground level ozone and photochemical smogs. Although the level of VOCs in most domestic products eg. in coatings or in interior decoration materials and products is very low, there is sufficient concern about the potential damage of these substances to cause people, more and more, to now seek out low VOC alternatives where they exist.