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New Home Air Quality

Building a new home or acquiring a new home can be an exciting experience. One of the first most recognizable features of a new property is the new-home smell; some home buyers love this smell so much it is sold as an air freshener scent. However, many people do not know that this new-home scent is off-gassing chemicals used in the construction of your home. Hence, a new home presents indoor air quality concerns and poses potential health risks to the short and long-term inhabitants.

With the advent of technology, modern construction materials are now less expensive and facilitate faster construction. These building materials, however, introduce pollutants to our homes. Most building materials, when they cure and settle, emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Volatile organic compounds are chemical byproducts of several building supplies. Besides building materials, new furniture, carpeting, flooring, cleaning products, paint, and cabinets also emit volatile organic compounds. Studies show that new homes contain 2 to 5 times the pollution levels of outdoor air.

Common Design and Construction Building Materials That Emit Harmful Gases

  • Paint:
    • Newly applied paint brightens the room's ambiance and eliminates irritants like molds but can potentially release VOCs into the air. Exposure to such paints that emit harmful gases can cause dizziness, nausea, and headaches. Paint is responsible mainly for the new home smell that people do not consider dangerous. It can cause respiratory problems depending on the exposure and the chemicals in the paint.
  • Flooring:
    • Adhesive-installed flooring potentially introduces very high levels of both VOCs and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs). Flooring adhesives have often raised air concerns; there are both national and regional policies to determine those used to maintain indoor air quality.
  • Caulks and Sealants:
    • Mortars, grouts, and caulks contain plasticizers that can introduce VOCs to indoor air. Indoor air typically contains 100 to 1000 times phthalates than outside air due to caulks and sealants. It is advisable to stay out of the bathrooms for a couple of days after caulking.
  • Carpets:
    • The popular new carpet scent emanates typically from a chemical known as 4-phenyl cyclohexane (4-PCH), used in carpet backing. One study shows a few hours of exposure of the compound to animals caused high levels of toxicity and death. New carpets can also emit known carcinogens, including Styrene and Formaldehyde.
  • Engineered Wood:
    • This is a common material used in making plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard. Most of these pressed wood products contain urea-formaldehyde, which over a long time off-gases formaldehyde. Exposure to these gases can cause skin, nose, eyes, and throat irritation.

Common VOCs in New Homes

Volatile organic compounds are a group of 10000 chemicals. New and renovated homes have a higher level of these chemicals and gases. VOC levels decrease over time with off-gassing depending on the choice of building material. VOCs in pressed wood off-gas for a long time, even months. Cabinets are enormous sources of these pollutants because most homes have them in every other room.

Here are some common VOCs: 

    • Toluene
      • Commonly found in paint and cleaning products, including degreasers. Always check the paint ingredients; if it has Toluene, keep the window open for air circulation. Toluene is responsible for the "high" feeling to those who huff glue. It irritates the eyes and nose, euphoria, dizziness, confusion, anxiety, muscle fatigue, insomnia, among other symptoms.
    •  Formaldehyde
      • A type of VOC that off-gasses from engineered wood materials used in flooring and other plastic molded products. It is advisable to use water-based polyurethane finishes or natural plant-chemistry-based floor finishes when constructing homes instead of Formaldehyde containing floor lacquers.
    • Acetone
      • Found in furniture polish and wallpapers in new homes. Pick water-based furniture polish or choose a product that has a different solvent such as alcohol to save your lungs.
    • Benzene
      • Found in paint, carpeting, glue, and gasoline combustion emissions. Check paint ingredients and go for Benzene-free paint and glue (widely available). If you must use Benzene products, make sure to keep all windows open.

VOCs are usually noticeable from the odors, but this is not always the case. It is always advisable to check the label for instructions and ingredients. If a product requires use in a well-ventilated surrounding, that is your indicator for VOCs.

Effects of VOC Exposure

Volatile Organic Compounds present many health risk factors. The body quickly absorbs these gases through the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Short term exposure can present the following symptoms:

        • Headaches
        • Dizziness
        • Visual impairments and other disorders
        • Irritation of the eyes
        • Irritation of the throat

Higher concentrations and exposure to volatile organic compounds can present long-term health effects. The symptoms include: 

        • Prolonged eye, throat, and nose irritation
        • Chronic headaches that can lead to loss of coordination
        • Chronic Nausea and vomiting
        • Liver Damage
        • Kidney Failure
        • Central Nervous System Damage
        • Some strains of cancer; there is evidence that high exposure to some VOCs increases the chances of one contracting cancer.

Ways of Reducing New Home Indoor Air Pollution

It is difficult to entirely avoid building materials or household items that off-gas volatile organic compounds. However, because of increased active awareness against indoor air pollution, the market has introduced new products that reduce environmental and health risks of these chemicals and gases. Here are some ways to reduce pollution: 

    1. Consider not bringing in new homeowners immediately after the end of construction to allow the materials to off-gas for some time. Property owners can substitute materials with those that do not contain VOCs or at least a low concentration. It is advisable to use GreenGuard certified products; use "green" or "natural" products that do not contain harsh ingredients. Beware of products that claim to have low-VOCs because it could only mean lower than other known products, which is still risky. Green Seal means that a product has been tested and meets environmental standards.
    2. You can purchase alternative materials made of glass, ceramic, stone, metal, or tile, and other inert and hard materials. These materials do not release VOCs.
    3. You can eliminate the odor of the chemicals and gases through:
      • Keeping windows open
      • Turning on exhaust fans
      • Air cleaning plants
      • Air purifiers 

    Air Purifiers For Improved Air Quality in New Homes

    As a certified Indoor Air Quality Expert, Think Air Purifiers is ready to help you improve indoor air quality by finding the right VOC air purifier for your concerns. For example, we highly recommend the following product which packs HEPA and an impressive special Activated Carbon blend designed to make your new home a healthy home. Act now to mitigate the adverse health effects of VOCs and address your concerns:

    Model & Concerns Activated Carbon Filter Type

    Airpura C600 DLX Air Purifier

    Shop Airpura C600DLX

    Chemicals and VOCs
    Acetone, Toluene, etc.
    Asthma & Allergies

    Great for Salons

    3.0 inches thick, 26 lbs.

    Standard: Blend of Potassium Iodide + Coconut Shell Carbon



    HEPA Barrier

    (95% at .1 microns)


    Learn More about the benefits of clean air.

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