The development and process of building a new home from the ground floor is an exciting journey, giving the new home owner the power to select the precise style of their home with every decision in their hands. From the paint colors, to the type of flooring, and even the cabinets and counter materials used in the kitchen and bathrooms – everything is up to you! However, with such power comes extreme responsibility, especially when it comes to selecting safe and nontoxic materials to use in this new home for your family. That new unmistakable smell of ‘new’ that will flood throughout the entire airspace of your new home is far more ominous than just a fragrant odor that highlights the new items in the environment.
New house smell is composed of construction chemicals that are released into the air from the items that are new in the environment such as chemicals emitted from new flooring, cabinets, countertops, adhesives and glues, polyvinyl chloride plastics, and even new paint fumes that are emitted from a recently completed paint job in the home. These chemicals are off-gassed into the air of your new environment and will flood the air quality with pollutants which can be both hazardous to human health and dangerous to air quality levels in the space. What can be done to avoid these potential airborne hazards in your new environment and which building materials should a new homeowner avoid using in their new home?
In this article we are going to discuss the most toxic building materials that are used in a new home and learn what can be done to properly eliminate these hazardous airborne chemicals from the air of your new indoor environment.
Are New Homes Toxic?
A commonly asked question that many people have after building a home is “are new homes toxic?” due to the high amounts of chemicals and building materials that are used in this space to construct the home. The building materials that are used such as flooring, plastics, adhesives and glues, polyurethane spray foam and adhesives, and even paint fumes can all release chemical compounds into the air that will work together to significantly compromise the air quality in the environment. When the air quality is tainted it will affect the health of those occupants in this environment that are exposed to these elevated levels of chemical pollutants in the indoor air quality. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the construction of a new home can play a major role in the buildup and accumulation of chemicals in the air of this new environment.
New homes are being constructed with a tight fit and configuration in place, and this layout leaves for little to no ventilation throughout the environment. Ventilation and air flow are critical in indoor environments to aid in the mitigation and removal of tainted chemical-filled air, replacing it with fresh outdoor air in the air space. However, home builders today are building homes to be “tight” which will cut ventilation and airflow but help to make the indoor environment energy-efficiency – reducing energy bills. Although an energy-efficient building layout can be useful to reduce bills, it can be a significant problem when it comes to indoor air quality in a new home where many chemicals are being off-gassed into the air.
Construction Chemicals Released from Toxic Materials
A new home can be completely submerged with chemicals that have entered into the air and traveled throughout the space. As we discussed above, there are many different sources of these chemicals such as new flooring, cabinets and counters, paint, adhesives and glues, plastics, and other items that release VOCs into the air. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemical compounds that are known for creating and distributing a distinctive chemical odor throughout the environment through an off-gassing process that these compounds go-through in an indoor environment. Off gassing volatile organic compounds happens when these VOCs turn from a solid or liquid into a gas when introduced into ambient temperatures, this will then be released into the air and produce that ‘new’ smell that will permeate within the environment, similar to that of new car smell.
Additionally, there are other chemicals that can also be released into the air from a new home such as polyurethane construction adhesive, epoxy resins, and even polyvinyl chloride plastics that will all release different chemical compounds into the air.
Toxic Building Materials and Their Uses
Are you aware of the most toxic building materials that are used today to construct and build new homes? The list of toxic building materials is lengthy, with each of these materials containing a different set of hazards and chemicals within its composition. The chemicals in these building materials will vary in severity including the specific chemicals that are present in the material, along with the amount of material that is used in the home that can produce abundant amounts of this chemical into the air of this new environment.
Some of the most toxic building materials that are used in newly built homes includes polyvinyl chloride plastics, polyurethane spray foam and construction adhesives, volatile organic compounds, epoxy resins adhesives and glues, and paint fumes. Below we are going to learn why these building materials are used and why they are hazardous when used in these indoor environments.
Polyvinyl Chloride Plastics
The world’s third-most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a building material that is both an economical and versatile thermoplastic polymer that is used heavily in the building and construction industries to create doors and window profiles, pipes, and wire and cable insulation. PVC, also known as vinyl is produced in large quantities in the United States, with nearly 14 billion pounds produced per year. This plastic building material is needed to be versatile and flexible to use in certain areas of the new home construction process, and thus there are many chemical concoctions that can be severely hazardous to human health and to the environment.
In addition to polyvinyl chloride (PVC), home builders will also use an array of other chlorinated plastics such as chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC). This is a form of PVC that contains extra chlorine and that is commonly used in pipes. Also, polychloroprene is another plastic material that is used in the construction of a home in weather stripping, expansion joint filler, water sealers, and other gaskets and adhesives. When these different forms of PVC are used abundantly throughout your new home it can eventually lead to the emission of dioxins from these materials. Dioxins are an unavoidable by-product of this type of plastic that include hazardous carcinogens in its concentrations that can potentially lead to reproductive and developmental altering, according to the Global Health & Safety Initiative.
Volatile Organic Compounds Sources from New Construction
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemical compounds that can vaporize at ambient temperatures, turning a solid or liquid into a gas in the air of the environment. These hazardous organic compounds can be the source of many different items that are used within your home during the construction and building process that are installed into your home. Those chemicals that are classified as volatile organic compounds are typically used in plastics, binders and resins, composite wood, insulation, paint, coatings and adhesives, and other treatments for water-resistance or stain repellents. The chemicals that are known to be under the classification of VOCs includes formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, toluene, isocyanates, xylene, and benzene. Formaldehyde is a well-know VOC that can significantly alter air quality, and thus there are formaldehyde removal tips to aid in this chemical mitigation.
As these products and items are added into or used in the indoor environment it will begin the process of these VOCs being released into the air through off-gassing. Higher levels of VOCs will be released immediately following the installation or use of these chemicals and will begin to lower in levels during the cure time, or drying time of these items in the environment. The off-gassing of these VOCs, however, can vary in severity and the duration in which they are emitted into the air. These variables will depend on the source of the chemicals such as flooring, fabric, furniture, and furnishing that are releasing these compounds into the air and the number of chemicals contained in these products.
The concerns and health risks associated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) became known as further research and testing was conducted in indoor environments where these chemicals were found in elevated concentrations like a new home. The EPA’s Office of Research and Development’s “Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study” found that levels of about nearly a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, due to the large volume of sources of these pollutants within a home or other indoor environment. In addition, it found that these volatile organic compounds can lead to several different health effects to human health including eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to the liver, kidney, and/or central nervous system.
Polyurethane Spray Foam & Construction Adhesive
A highly utilized and popular material that is used throughout a new home for use as insulation in attics, crawl spaces, and other areas of the home to make the home energy-efficient, used as a sealant and adhesive, and even applied into bedding, furniture, carpeting, and other sources in a home. Polyurethane is made up of polyols and diisocyanates, a known bronchial irritant and asthmagen that can be hazardous to human health if exposure occurs. This chemical material is known to be one of the most popular, energy efficient insulations that can cost costs in a residential property if used, which is why spray polyurethane foam is regularly used in new homes. In addition, polyurethane can also be used in coatings, adhesives, and sealants because it enhances the appearance of an item and increases its lifespan due to its structure.
Is polyurethane toxic? Polyurethane used in spray foam can contain a dangerous reactive chemical known as isocyanates within its construction that can lead to a range of adverse health reactions if and when exposure occurs in the indoor environment. Isocyanates are a class of highly reactive chemicals with widespread industrial, commercial, and retail applications, that can cause an array of health issues. According to the Health Concerns about Spray Polyurethane Foam page from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is stated that isocyanates can cause skin, eye, and lung irritation, asthma, and sensitization. Additionally, it can cause irritation to the mucous membranes of the eyes and gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts.
Epoxy Resin Adhesive & Glues
The use of adhesives and glues are common in most homes including those newly built homes who are experiencing higher chemical emissions from these newly installed adhesives/glues within the air of this environment. Epoxy resin is an adhesive glue that can be used throughout a home in many areas such as in paints, coatings, primers, sealers, resurfacing flooring, wood repairs, composite materials, etc. The use of this adhesive generously throughout many indoor environments has led to the discussion of the safety of this agent to public health when exposure occurs in an indoor environment like a home.
Cured epoxy poses health risks that can occur as a result of airborne exposure through fumes that this chemical agent releases into the air. When epoxy fumes are inhaled or ingested into the body it can affect the nose, throat, and lungs and lead to other health issues like inflammation in the respiratory tract. Therefore, alternative adhesives and glues should be used in your home in lieu of epoxy resins.
The smell of new paint fumes is among the odors that can swirl inside a new home, as every wall in the home will have been plastered with new paint including both the exterior and interior of the home. Depending on the size of your home, there could be a lot of paint used in the environment to cover all the walls, which will in turn produce significant levels of paint fumes into the air. There are a variety of different types of paint that can be used in a home such as latex or acrylic paints, oil-based paints, and even solvent-based paints that are known to harbor VOCs within its construction. As paint is applied onto the walls in a home, once the paint begins to dry it will release and off-gas these chemicals into the air, turning the VOCs into a gas into the airspace.
The paint fumes can be so strong that is will be dangerous to breathe paint fumes while sleeping or inhaling paint fumes in general. How long are paint fumes harmful? These fumes can be dangerous in the air for an ambiguous amount of time depending on a wide range of factors in the environment such as how much paint was applied, the type of paint, and the ventilation and airflow in the tightly constricted home. If your new home has recently been painted it is best to avoid exposure for several weeks after the paint has dried, as well as increase airflow and ventilation inside to speed up the off-gassing of the chemical VOCs in the paint.
How to Bake Out New House
As we have recently learned, a new home can be potentially full of toxic building materials which will release airborne pollutants and chemicals into the air for an undetermined amount of time. The off-gassing process that new building materials undergo in a new home can not only be dangerous to the indoor air quality of the environment but also to the health of those first time occupants in the space, and if you have been living in this new home you may already be experiencing the effects of these higher levels of chemical pollutants in the air. So, what can you do now other than sell the home as quickly as possible and find a home that has less toxic building materials used in its construction?
The solution may be to conduct a “bake-out” of your home to expedite the removal of these chemical pollutants in the indoor environment. A chemical “bake-out” is a process of heating the home to high temperature to rapidly speed up the off-gassing process of new building materials inside of your home, with the help of fans, airflow, and proper air filtration. During this process it is best to close all the doors and windows, remove all occupants from the home including pets, and turn up the temperature in the home to around 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, before you proceed with this bake-out process it is important to follow these instructions to aid in the effectiveness of this chemical removal process.
- Remove filters from furnaces, heaters, air conditioners, humidifiers, etc. These filters can trap odors and chemicals on the filter media and potentially lead to the restriction of airflow.
- Seal off any openings or ducts that lead to areas that you do not wish to treat, and open or remove interior doors, passages, trap doors, cabinets ceiling tiles that may be blocking access to the areas you wish to treat in the home.
- Open all doors and cabinets to expose all the surfaces, especially if the sources of these chemical emissions come from within this material.
- Turn up the heat in the home to elevated temperatures.
- Place an air filtration machine in the environment like the EnviroKlenz Air Purifier to aid in the chemical mitigation process in the environment.
The total job time of this process is dependent on odor concentrations, treatment area, source odor treatment procedure success, and environmental conditions. Once the temperatures begin to elevate the concentrations of odors and chemicals will continue to rise due to the bake-out, which drives off the chemical odors in the environment.
The EnviroKlenz Air Purifier works effectively in new construction environments where VOC and chemical levels are elevated due to the proprietary earth mineral technology that is utilized within the first stage filtration of the air purifier. This technology will work to contain and neutralize noxious and toxic chemicals and odors from the air including VOCs like those emitted from new building materials. Additionally, this air purifier contains a second stage filtration using a hospital-grade HEPA filter that is capable of capturing and removing fine particulate matter from the air that is larger than 0.3 microns in size that can be produced into the air through construction.
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality (link)
- Global Health & Safety Initiative: Toxic Chemicals in Building Materials: An Overview for Health Care Organizations (link)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality (link)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Health Concerns about Spray Polyurethane Foam (link)
- Sentry Air Systems: Hazards of Epoxy Fumes (link)
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