Recently I stumbled on the question below in a house building forum. It got me thinking about that new house smell, which is kind of like that new car smell. But different.
“I would like to rid our new home as much as possible of all the VOCs before we move in. Other than having the windows & doors open as much as possible, are there any other suggestions? Once in, I will try to add as many VOC cleansing plants as I can. We only have carpet in 2 bedrooms & that will be steam cleaned before we are in. I will also clean out all the new cabinetry & let it ventilate.Is there anything else I am missing? Should I run the A/C hard for awhile? We have 5″ filters – do I change those out frequently for the first few months?”
I wouldn’t go so far as to categorize all new house smells as bad, just the ones that have a smell not found in nature.
A VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) is one that evaporates easily at room temperature. VOCs are common in building materials and are known to off-gas, contributing to that new house smell. Be aware, not all VOCs smell, so your nose is not a perfect guide.
VOC’s can affect health and symptoms might include things such as sneezing and stuffiness, but more severely, VOCs have been linked to cancer.
Common building materials that CAN include VOCs are:
- paints and stains
- any pressed wood product (cabinets, flooring, furniture)
- any vinyl products (flooring, wall covering, trim)
- upholstery products
- caulks and sealants
The list isn’t all inclusive and the good news is that most of these products can be made without VOCs.
Many VOCs will off-gas within a short period of time, but others are more long term. Instead of building with VOC containing materials, I think it’s best to steer clear of them. Like anything, it takes extra effort and attention, but why deal with something if you don’t have to?
If you do find yourself building with VOC containing materials, the best thing you can do is eliminate what you can and ventilate.
Ventilation isn’t a cure, but it will help dilute the VOCs and minimize their effect. The more ventilation the better. Filters can catch some things like particles, but they can’t catch the little stuff like formaldehyde, so it’s really a matter of ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. The downside of over-ventilating is higher energy use/utility bills, which I consider a problem.
REMOVE THE CRAP
The best thing is to not use VOC containing materials in the first place. If you do have them, get rid of them. Of course, that is easier said than done. If it’s something like carpet that’s not very difficult, however if it is a cabinet, paint on the wall or something that isn’t easily removed, the next best thing is to seal the material with a VOC-free sealer.
The good news that it IS possible to build without VOC containing materials.
Ask the person making your cabinets, painting your walls, installing your flooring, and selling you the furniture what options there are for VOC-free products. Get some samples and give it a sniff, if it makes you sneeze try something else. As noted earlier your nose isn’t a foolproof detective so ask for product literature too. Read what the manufacturer has to say about their product. If they’ve figured out how to make a VOC-free product, they will be sure to tell you all about it.