As we move further into the 21st century, “eco-friendly” and “go green” have become more than trends. They are now the mainstays of a society that is continually searching for new ways to increase health and wellness, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminate environmental hazards.
Nowhere is this more apparent than within the home improvement industry. Home and apartment owners have not only become more diligent about the materials used under their roofs, they are also more knowledgeable about the potential adverse effects. In addition, more and more commercial business owners are looking to increase the marketability of their buildings through the use of sustainable products that often includes the push for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
This has spurred green building demands to rise sharply over the past few years, along with the increased exposure to liability. Approximately 20 states throughout the country currently have green building codes in place, while the market is constantly being bombarded by new eco-friendly products that in some cases are marketed with the unsubstantiated claims of manufacturers.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when it’s just too costly to be neglectful and shortsighted. Litigation has become a national pastime, with contractors nationwide often suffering in multiple ways from the unwanted attention it brings. This is especially true when it comes to the choice of products and the short- and long-term harmful effects that some can cause.
In recent years, VOCs have become very recognizable terms within the building, home repair and contracting industries. They refer to the hundreds of different carbon-containing chemicals that easily evaporate into the air at room temperature. For instance, the average paint contains a multitude of chemicals and the level of indoor VOCs is normally two to five times higher than the common levels that can be found outdoors. If not properly ventilated, these levels can even increase 1,000 times in rooms sporting fresh, new paint jobs.
And just because you can’t always smell them doesn’t necessarily mean they are not there. Common home products and building materials such as caulks, sealants, solvents, varnishes, carpets, adhesives, cleaning chemicals and upholstery fabrics can off-gas VOCs for long periods after their initial use and without much notice. But only until the problems begin.
VOCs can infiltrate the body in one of three ways – breathing, touching or swallowing – to produce a range of harmful effects based on the toxicity of the chemical, air saturation levels, the length of exposure and even personal details like age, health condition and gender. The short-term effects to hours or days of exposure can include sensory irritation problems involving the eyes, nose, throat and skin; headaches; nausea, vomiting and dizziness; and the worsening of asthmatic conditions. Some studies have even suggested that years of prolonged exposure to VOCs can result in cancer and damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. As a result, the introduction of low-VOC building products and materials into the marketplace by reputable manufacturers has been welcomed by contractors and home and business owners as well as building occupants.
For painting contractors looking for greener products, it is important to consider the legitimacy and substantiation of manufacturers’ claims. Reputable, third-party certifiers can help guide purchasing decisions by identifying materials that offer low chemical emissions. For example, with the increased focus on indoor air quality and smog, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is a regulator of adhesive and sealant products in numerous applications under CARB Rule 1168. The purpose of this rule is to reduce emissions from VOCs and emissions of chloroform, ethylene dichloride, methylene chloride, perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene from the application of adhesives, adhesive primers, sealants, sealant primers or any other primers. The current CARB standard for non-chemically curing sealants for consumer use is <1.5% by weight, measured in grams of VOC per liter of adhesive, less water and less exempt compounds (g/L).
Another widely recognized voluntary certification standard to look for is GREENGUARD Certification to validate low-VOC products. In fact, more than 400 green building codes, standards, guidelines, procurements policies and rating systems give credit for GREENGUARD Certified products.
Formerly known as GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification, the GREENGUARD Certification Program ensures that products used specifically in commercial building applications meet stringent chemical emission limits for 360 separate VOC’s resulting in healthier indoor environments for all occupants. The GREENGUARD Gold standard (formerly known as GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certification) is designed to protect the safety of sensitive individuals like the very young and elderly in applications that can include schools and healthcare facilities. GREENGUARD Gold Certified products must also comply with requirements of the State of California’s Department of Public Health “Standard Method for the Testing and Evaluation of Volatile Organic Chemical Emissions from Indoor Sources Using Environmental Chambers, Version 1.1 (2010).”
Another important motivator for manufacturers to offer low-emitting products like caulks and sealants is the contribution of LEED compliance for a building or structure by improving indoor air quality. For subcontractors, the active pursuit of LEED points can help score brownie points with an employer, whose building will benefit from their use of these alternatives for as long as the products perform to industry standards.
In recent years, many manufacturers have dedicated their efforts toward the greening of their products and the voluntary pursuit of highly reputable, third-party accreditation. That’s because both the market and the industry have changed greatly over the past 20 to 30 years. The health and welfare of contractors who use these products every day, concerns of their customers and the environment are now culminating into a universal awareness.
Contractors and consumers are more demanding and knowledgeable than ever before when it comes to the welfare of their homes and family as well as the potential risks posed by products that were previously used for decades without a second thought. Workers and subcontractors have also become keenly aware of the adverse implications associated with both the short- and long-term exposure to VOCs and the related chemicals used within the materials that they use every day on the job.
In addition to the moral implications, personal injury lawyers permeate the land. When in doubt, go with the safer, credible choice. Your employees and customers, the environment, and possibly even your bottom line will welcome the added effort. APC
Jason Ringling is marketing director of RED DEVIL Inc.