We’re Hiring at Indoor Science! Learn more about our Job Openings.

VOCs in New Construction – Buying New

new construction home, VOCs

New construction homes and commercial buildings are often viewed as a safer bet to avoid the headaches of older properties.  The rationale is that newer properties have fewer problems. While this may be true for some aspects, it is worth considering the negative effects of VOCs in new construction.

Sources: VOCs in New Construction

The major concern in new properties is chemical emissions from new building materials.  These chemicals are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Offgassing is the term used to describe the emission of chemicals from these materials.  Some examples of building materials that can off-gas when new are carpeting, flooring, cabinets, and paint. It’s not just building materials that give off VOCs. New furniture, cleaning products, and personal care products are also common sources for VOCs.

Common VOCs

VOCs are actually a grouping of over 10,000 individual chemicals.  Formaldehyde is a type of VOC that can off-gas from engineered wood materials such as flooring and other products.  It is described as a pungent, suffocating odor 1. Formaldehyde may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat along with coughing and wheezing 2. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health sets its recommended exposure limit at just 0.016 ppm 3.

Toluene is another common VOC that differs from formaldehyde.  Toluene can be found in paint and cleaning products such as degreasers.  Not only can toluene irritate the eyes and nose similar to formaldehyde, it can also cause confusion, euphoria, dizziness, anxiety, muscle fatigue, insomnia among other symptoms 4.  Toluene is what gives people huffing glue a “high”. Toluene and formaldehyde are just a few examples of the thousands of VOCs that exist.

Reducing VOCs

In new construction buildings, VOC levels are expected to be more elevated on the first day right after construction is completed.  As the building materials off-gas, the VOC levels will reduce over time.

The best way to address VOCs in new construction is to not bring them inside in the first place. To avoid high levels of VOCs in a property consider practicing source control.  For this method, the material that may emit VOCs is not used at all or a substitute is found. For example, using “green” or “natural” cleaning products that do not contain harsh chemicals or “low-VOC” or “no-VOC” paints.  Be aware that sneaky advertising may play a factor when labeling some of these low VOC alternatives. We like to recommend GreenGuard certified products. To read more about low VOC products, follow this link to a past blog post.

Continuous ventilation of the space will help reduce the VOC levels.  Introducing outdoor air ventilates the space, but depending on your location, you may run the risk of introducing outdoor air pollution like PM2.5 or humidity.  Installing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) may be an alternative option that could improve the ventilation in your home. If you would like to learn more about increasing the ventilation in your home, click on this link to a past blog post.

There are air cleaners using sorbent media or photocatalysis to address VOCs, but I would consider these to be the last line of defense.

Conclusion

Old buildings can cause figurative headaches, but new buildings can cause literal headaches!

Before you get too concerned, remember that VOC levels in new construction will dissipate over time.  Avoiding products that emit high levels of VOCs and ventilating a newly constructed building can help lower the VOC levels quicker.

If you are buying a new home or commercial space and are concerned that the air quality may be compromised contact Indoor Science.  Our company can provide instantaneous total VOC readings in your property. We also offer laboratory-based testing for formaldehyde and VOCs.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0293.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0293.html
  3. https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/formaldehyde-factsheet.pdf
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0619.html

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”

4 thoughts on “VOCs in New Construction – Buying New

    I am getting a terrible odor from new replacing windows. I have had to stay in hotels and leave my home for another 32 days. I returned and of course the odor is still here. I live in Nevada where the temps are going to 115 or higher this weekend. I have gotten very sick, nauseaus, headache, shaky, etc. and even had to go to ER.
    Please help with my recourse with the window company. They don’t smell anything but I certainly do. I need to get things done in my home but this odor gets worse as the evening starts. A friend loaned me plug in air purifiers and I’m thinking of ordering an air purifier with carbon and hepa and also filters with carbon.
    Please help me. Even if I have to sell the house, I have to be in it to get things in order to sell which will take many months.
    Please respond. Too many of these sites never respond to me.

    Carol,

    It is possible that the heat is causing the new windows to off gas quickly which is why you are experiencing such a strong odor. To remove odor and VOCs from the indoor environment ventilation is key. Increase the air flow in your home by opening interior doors turning on fans, exhausts, and opening windows as much as possible to ventilate the home.

    Refrain from using air fresheners because those are chemicals that you are putting into your indoor environment and only increase the levels of VOCs in the home which could make VOC related symptoms worse.

    Carbon/charcoal filters help reduce VOC levels in the home, HEPA filters are more intended to remove fine particles from the air.

    Best of luck.

    We’re looking at buying a new build home that smells as if everything was FAR from low-VOC. What would you suggest as the best way to remove those harmful gasses? Obviously, letting fresh air in from open windows, but what else can we do? Filters, etc.

    Dianna,

    Ventilation is the best method in addition to increasing the air flow between rooms by opening closet doors and other interior doors. Turn on exhausts that are vented to the exterior. There are air purifiers you can get that have a charcoal/carbon filters that remove VOCs. Prevent introducing more VOCs with new furniture or using lots of chemical cleaning products that are not “green” or fragrance-free.