VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are organic materials which evaporate and diffuse easily at ambient temperature and are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. For those of us that desire wellness centered living, VOCs in the home can drastically affect our health. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of building materials, paints, and common consumer products that are known to trigger nausea, headaches, asthma, respiratory irritation and allergies. These chemicals, if not addressed, can cause health problems for homeowners and will degrade their quality of living.
Why this matters
Clean air is essential for health. Air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature mortality, contributing to 50,000 premature deaths annually in the United States and approximately 7 million worldwide. Humans take in an average of 15,000 liters of air a day, exposing their lungs, central nervous system, and brain to potentially harmful chemicals. Poor ventilation, and the use of VOCs, PAHs, and microbial pathogens contribute to a range of negative health outcomes such as asthma, allergies and other upper respiratory illnesses (Well Building Standard, 2018).
How to combat unhealthy air
At Vigeo, we combat unhealthy air in 2 different ways:
- Limit VOC producing materials and practices during construction, and
- Provide a fully-enclosed building envelope through spray-foam insulation, HEPA air filtration, and UV purification
The idea behind our approach is to limit the amount of harmful chemicals in your home, create a barrier that prevents unwanted outdoor air quality from entering the home, and to run a system that constantly scrubs your air of harmful components.
Limiting VOCs in the home
Indoor Air Quality (or IAQ) begins with a very simple concept. Keep materials that are hazardous out of your home (or limit them if there are no viable alternatives) and keep air flowing. The energy movement of the last two decades wreaked havoc on homeowner wellness by restricting air circulation and allowing off-gassing chemicals to remain in the home instead of passing through the walls as they do with homes that are less energy-conscious. With the advent of pandemics and a decrease in outdoor air quality, this movement leads contractors, like ourselves, to seek out a solution to address these concerns. This require an intentional balance between energy efficiency and wellness centered living.
A 100% VOC free home is impossible with today’s standard building products and materials. We can, however, select materials that meet green building standards and reduce VOC off-gassing immensely. This first step is to ensure we’re limiting the amount of exposure to our homeowners. We purchase our materials from Green certified suppliers. All paint and finishings must be as low/no VOC as possible, as these are the first components to begin off-gassing. Pressure-treated lumber, plastics, and many other materials will always contain VOCs and other harmful chemicals. However, these effects can be mitigated through proper installation methods (including sub-floor barriers between pressure treated wood and flooring, for instance).
Fully-enclosed building envelope
This second step is designed to protect our homeowners from the ever-increasing worry of contamination and pollutants from outdoor air (read: the latest contagion scare). We use spray-foam insulation to create a near air-tight building envelope for our homes, wrap our houses in a vapor barrier, and seal up every hole to create a seal. We then perform an air test to identify leaks in the home and determine how tight the building envelope is, identifying areas of improvement along the way. Generally, our homes are very air-tight. We install an additional Heat Recovery Unit to increase CFM (airflow) and promote energy-efficiency in the process. Read more about spray foam insulation and its benefits in our Q & A blog https://vigeoconstruction.com/the-benefits-of-spray-foam-insulation/
As the building envelope is normally very tight, we now must address the indoor air quality concerns such as VOCs. Our multi-stage furnaces pull air from the outdoors and from the Heat Recovery Unit to supply the home. Air passes through a HEPA filter and a UV purification process before it’s introduced into the home. This process ensures that air is constantly circulated through the unit to remove particulate matter, harmful gasses, and even kills organic material.
The cost of wellness centered living
Ultimately, homeowners are curious as to the pricing of such solutions and removing VOCs in the home. A standalone UV and HEPA setup can be applied aftermarket to your current furnace/blower setup without too much expense ($4-5k). Applying spray-foam insulation to your building envelope will require a bit more work ($4.20/SF @ 4″ thick, plus drywall, painting, etc.). If you’re interested in a personalized estimate to improve the wellness of your home or workspace, reach out to us through our contact form. We would be happy to perform an energy and wellness assessment for you and your family. /J