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Volatile Organic Compounds: The Basics for Home Buyers

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By : M Shane    99 or more times read
In the mid 80s, the World Health Organization issued a report, stating that a third of new and remodeled buildings could be linked to Sick Building Syndrome. While not the sole cause of the problem, Volatile Organic Compounds are a part of the issue. If you're in the market for a new home, the threat of VOCs lurking in any prospective home can be daunting; however your greatest tool for making the right decision is knowledge.

Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are gases given off by a variety of things both inside and outdoors. Not all VOCs are produced by man made means; trees, cows, and wetlands all produce VOCs. Most VOCs encountered outdoors are less of a health hazard than those that collect inside your house however because of the reduced concentrations.

VOCs in the home or work place are a great concern because in our modern times, we spend the majority of hours in our day in either the home or the workplace; so we may receive long term exposure to these gasses in one or both of these environments.

There is a wide variety of products that can give off VOCs in a home environment. Home decorating products like paint, paint strippers, flooring, adhesives, wall boards, ceiling tiles, and sealants in furniture can all give off VOCs and make you ill. Other household items like pesticides, cleaners, and laser printers can also add VOCs into your home atmosphere.

The health problems that VOCs can cause range from sick building syndrome to allergic sensitization, asthmatic symptoms, leukemia, and lymphoma. These illnesses are often worse in the very young or old who are exposed to these gasses.

In an indoor environment the VOC levels can be worsened by a couple of factors in particular. High humidity in particular will increase VOC out-gassing. Any levels of VOCs in your home will also be exacerbated by a lack of air movement. Ironically enough, levels of VOCs are more of a problem in homes built since the 1970s due to the increased usage of insulation to make homes more energy efficient. Some VOCs can be readily tested for; check out what's available in your area if you think that your home might be making you sick.

Studies show that proper cleaning of the carpets in your home including shampooing can significantly cut down on the amount of VOCs in your home. If you have any concerns about any out-gassing by the carpets or vinyl flooring in your home consider replacing it with linoleum, hardwood, bamboo, or cork floors. If anyone in your family has allergies or asthma, a non-carpet flooring is particularly healthy as it does not trap allergens.

As a precaution, it is also recommended that you ventilate your home well for a few days after installing a new floor or painting in your home. Some plastic accessories may also require some time to outgas, such as shower curtains. Try hanging items like that in the garage for a few days first until the plastic smell abates. New products are also available that have been designated as low or non-VOC including paint and flooring that you can use to redecorate with.

Don't let the possibility of VOCs in a house scare you away from buying it. Since the industry has become aware of the health hazards, there have been many products produced that give off a minimum of VOCs and many households have moved away from carpeting to more healthy alternatives. Make yourself informed to make the best decision in choosing your new home.

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