If you move to a newly built home: Watch out for dangerous chemical cocktails. In recent studies two important observations ...
- 49 different dangerous VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) were detected1
- Unharmful VOCs unexpectedly merged with other gasses, thereby creating new harmful VOCs (dangerous chemical cocktails)2
On a European level, REACH3 means that all chemicals must be controlled, and the emission of gasses and potentially dangerous chemicals must be declared.
In several EU countries there are rules about the indoor climate. In new housing and apartments, the building regulation often demands that the indoor climate must be “non-harmful and satisfactory”4. But at present, there is no clear overall evaluation method that can be enforced. Sometimes the indoor air quality (IAQ) is assured by a minimum level of basic ventilation. However, explicit limits of VOC emissions are rarely in place. (One exception is the limit for formaldehyde.)
So, in the future there are issues that each country must look into:
- Fully understand the VOC emission levels of building materials, i) in a new building, ii) during the first years of habitation, iii) when materials interact (the poisonous cocktails!). The present EU compulsory material declarations are a good starting point, but far from enough.
- The acceptable VOC levels inside your home must be defined. Today it is unclear what “clean air” is.
- Ventilation in new homes must be reconsidered. There are many hybrid possibilities, where extra ventilation – when needed – is a good option. In recent years focus on energy consumption has often prevented any form of demand-driven ventilation, but good health must come first and can be assured with ventilation (if the outside air is clean).
- How can your indoor climate be measured? It must be simple and reliable. In schools the CO2 level is often used (and far above the recommended 600 ppm in up to half of all schools). In some countries (France and Belgium) the moisture level tends to decide if more ventilation is needed. The temperature is of course also used to increase the air flow or otherwise cool (or heat) the rooms. Much too rarely are the VOCs used as a deciding factor for improving the indoor environment.
- The complexity of extra ventilation is high. It is a matter of fact that too many VOCs are present in newly build homes, and particularly in the kitchen of all dwellings. Moisture is first and foremost the enemy in all the “wet rooms”, that is, where you bath and wash your clothes. CO2 is an issue when you have a gathering of many people at home, or every night in your bedroom: If you close the door and have no ventilation you probably experience 2-3 times more than the recommended level when you wake up in the morning: Not a great way to start your day.
All this said, we see that there is a strong trend towards better ventilation. We strongly suggest extracting the air and therefore to get a good (wall-mounted) cooker hood in your kitchen.
In the future, air cleaning will probably become more important, particularly if you cannot get good, clean air into your home from the outside.
- Unwanted Chemicals When Building – see summary on page 9. (Original Title: Uønsket kemi i bæredygtigt byggeri). Published in 2016 by the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food.
- REACH. Construction Product Regulation. A guide to The CPR Requirements.
- Do Builders know enough about Indoor Climate Passes? (Original Title: Ved branchen nok om indeklimamærkningen.) 2020-09-10, Amanda Agergaard Bonnerup, Danish Technological Institute.