Indoor air quality – putting the spotlight on VOC

Ever heard of VOCs? VOC is short for Volatile Organic Compounds or to put it more simply, chemicals that are emitted as gases. It’s a topic that normally isn’t discussed around the coffee table, but VOCs and Indoor Air Quality in general, deserves more attention.

When looking at Indoor Air Quality it is common to take into consideration proper temperature, humidity and CO2 levels. But as a matter of fact, offensive odours, smoke, carpet off-gassing and other Volatile Organic Compounds have just as much or more impact on human comfort, productivity and health.

Where do VOC:s come from?

Actually, there are thousands of different VOCs produced and used in our everyday life. They can be found in many things you use in your home, at work, at school etc. For example, cleaning products, paint, perfume and printer ink. But also, air fresheners, and other products that we use to remove bad odours or to make the air smell good. They can come from furniture, carpets and various building materials too.

Surprisingly, they can also be generated from day-to-day activities such as cooking, smoking, and wood burning stoves. Some of the VOCs we can smell when the levels get high, while others are odorless. Depending on the type, quantity, and the duration of the VOC we inhale, the effects can be shown on our health.

An image to illustrate which VOCs are found in a typical home:

VOC, Volatile Organic Compounds in your home2.

For those who want to dive deep into the subject, a more detailed overview of typical VOCs and their sources:

VOC overview, contaminants in your home

Short-term and long-term health effects

If exposed to VOCs, possible short-term symptoms and health effects may include headache, nausea, cough, dizziness, nose, throat and skin irritation. Some of the long-term symptoms of VOC exposure may be hidden as seemingly normal symptoms, such as an allergic skin reactions or leg cramps. Several studies suggest that prolonged exposure to VOCs may worsen symptoms for people who have asthma or are particularly sensitive to chemicals. If you spend time in a new indoor environment and suddenly experience allergies, asthma or other respiratory diseases, it may be VOCs (or particles that we touched on in a previous post) in the indoor environment that are causing the problems.

So, what can we do to reduce VOC levels?

  • One simple action is to remove or reduce the number of products in our homes that emit VOCs and to be aware of which products we buy. A practical example: You’re going to repaint one of your rooms at home. Some paints contain chemicals that can affect your health. The majority of VOCs leave the paint when the wall dries, but not all. In fact, paint can release VOCs into the air for several years after the original painting, which can put you and your family at risk. So start reading product labels to make sure you buy products with no or little emissions. Potentially hazardous products often have warnings aimed at reducing exposure of the user.
  • Buy limited quantities – if you use products only occasionally or seasonally, such as paints, paint strippers and kerosene for space heaters or gasoline for lawn mowers, buy only as much as you will use right away.
  • Do not store opened containers of unused paints and similar materials indoors.
  • Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs. If you don’t have a ventilation system, be sure to open up doors and windows to let the bad air out and get plenty of fresh air inside. Improving the flow of fresh air will make you feel more alert and give you a healthier indoor climate.

Do you share our passion for indoor air? Please get in touch! We love to talk about everything related to air quality, health and productivity. And we love getting in touch with new people. Continue to care about the indoor air, and we will be back with more insights soon!