Indoor Air Quality - VOCs

What Homeowners Should Know About Indoor Air Quality VOCs

As long as you can breathe easily and relax in a comfortable temperature, you might think the air in your home is safe and healthy. Preventing outdoor air from impacting your indoor air environment has been a goal for homeowners for years, and we’ve come a long way in the past few decades. However, because that indoor air is so tightly sealed, it also reduces the chances for fresh air to enter and cleanse your environment.

This creates a serious indoor air quality concern in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs can cause a wide range of health issues, especially for those with weakened immune systems. Let’s explore the science behind VOCs, where they come from, how they can impact your health, and how you can reduce your exposure to these potentially dangerous indoor air pollutants.

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What are Volatile Organic Compounds?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are compounds with high vapor pressure and low water solubility that linger in your indoor air. Typically, these include by-products of chlorination in water treatment, industrial solvents like trichloroethylene, fuel oxygenates, paint thinners, dry cleaning agents, petroleum products, and more. VOCs are often found in dramatically higher concentrations in indoor air than they are found in outdoor air.

Common Sources of VOCs

You may be surprised to learn which products in your home can have an impact on your indoor air quality. Most household VOCs are found in man made chemicals. Some you may have in your home right now include:

  • Air fresheners, shampoos, and aerosol sprays

  • Household cleaning products like disinfectants

  • Caulk, adhesives, and sealants

  • Cosmetic products

  • Vinyl flooring, artificial carpeting, and other building materials

  • Combustibles and fuel

  • Paints, varnishes, glues, and stains

  • Tobacco smoke

american standard air cleaner installed in residential hvac system

Health Effects of Volatile Organic Compounds

Since there are so many potential sources of volatile organic compounds in your home, it’s no surprise they can accumulate incredibly quickly and damage your air quality. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, even small amounts of VOCs can lead to a huge deterioration of your indoor air quality and lead to a variety of health effects. When your home’s indoor air is full of indoor air pollution like volatile organic compounds, you may experience a wide range of symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Vomiting

  • Respiratory irritation

  • Organ damage

  • Cancer

While VOCs are usually non-toxic when you’re first exposed to them, long-term exposure to such poor indoor air quality can lead to significant health risk and negative health effects. People who already suffer from health problems are far more susceptible to potential health risk from exposure to these compounds.

Reducing Your Exposure to VOCs

Health organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Health Science Center, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and dozens of university environmental health sciences departments have taken notice of the health effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Their findings have led to new measures to limit the amount of volatile organic compounds in products that may impact your indoor air quality. When even common air fresheners are likely to create adverse health effects, it’s important to keep track of their findings and the products for which they issue strong warnings.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Total Exposure Assessment Methodology team found that using products containing these volatile organic compounds were not only in danger of negative health effects during use. Indoor air pollutants from these products were found to persist in the indoor air for hours and even days after activities were completed. And because VOCs’ indoor air concentrations are far higher than in outdoor air (two to five times as high), homeowners should take immediate measures to reduce their long-term exposure.

Limiting indoor air concentrations of hazardous compounds should be one of your primary concerns as a homeowner. And while it may seem a daunting task at first, it is possible to educate yourself about indoor air pollutants.

reme halo whole home air purifier by RGF installed in duct work

Making Your Home a VOC Exposure-Free Zone

Most homeowners have options when it comes to reducing the impact of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on their homes’ indoor air quality. However, some products and common household items may make this more complicated.

For instance, electronic equipment, often built from plastic materials, are common emitters of hazardous air pollutants. While it’s possible to find more environmentally friendly electronics, you may not always have the option. Small digital printers that heat up their ink can seep VOCs into the indoor air and create health risks and noticeable health effects for you and your family as well. But in many cases, particularly in building materials, paints, cleaning products, and insulation, you can find far better alternatives.

Keep a lookout for building materials that may contain formaldehyde or other compounds we’ve discussed in this post. In recent decades, manufacturers have come a long way toward eliminating many indoor and outdoor air hazards. Conscious consumers can do their research and determine the ideal products for keeping their indoor air pollution to a minimum year-round. Look for certification marks on products that represent excellent ratings for environmental impacts, and try to purchase products that say they are suitable for people with asthma and allergies. In most cases, this means they have a lower chance of contributing to indoor air pollution.

Another step homeowners can take to minimize their contact with volatile organic compounds is to upgrade their home’s ventilation systems. Sending stale air out with a functioning exhaust system and bringing clean, fresh air in has an extremely positive impact on your indoor air quality. Simply ensuring your air filters and air purifiers are clean and functioning properly can reduce your family’s exposure to harmful indoor air pollution.

Contact the Professionals

Air quality has always been important to human health. Fortunately, we live in modern times where we have a far more detailed understanding of how air quality – both indoor and outdoor air – affects our health. To both better understand and reduce the health effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), you may want to reach out to a professional HVAC specialist.

At Blue Water Climate Control, we understand what creates VOCs and what homeowners can do to reduce their exposure to them. If you’re curious about indoor air quality inspections, ventilation system checkups, or anything else related to your indoor air, contact the team at Blue Water Climate Control today.

Written by Jeremy James

Jeremy James is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who has grown his family's HVAC business into one of the most successful home service businesses in Knoxville, TN. More than 20 years of experience in the HVAC and Engineering industries and passion for what we do has translated into our customer service, professionalism, and quality. LinkedIn

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