As we move further into the fall and the weather becomes cooler, log homeowners everywhere are closing their windows to keep the houses warm and snug. Closing the windows also means that the air quality within the home becomes even more important. One of the most important aspects of indoor air quality, but one that isn’t often discussed, is the level of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. In this post, we will give a brief introduction to the nature and hazards of VOCs and discuss the most common sources of VOCs in the home and how to limit your exposure.
From their name, volatile organic compounds are organic, meaning carbon-based, and volatile, meaning they have a high vapor pressure. The high vapor pressure means that these compounds have a low boiling point and thus readily evaporate into the air. Since airborne chemicals are most easily absorbed into the bloodstream, VOCs can be a health concern. Not all VOCs are hazardous; plants produce about ten times the VOCs that humans do but these compounds (like myrcene, which is found in hops and other plants) are usually benign. Many manmade VOCs, however, can be harmful and should be minimized if possible.
Formaldehyde is perhaps the VOC of most concern to the homeowner. With its boiling point of minus two degrees, formaldehyde easily evaporates at the temperatures found within the home. A major source of formaldehyde is off-gassing from paint, which can also contain other VOCs like acetone. These chemicals can cause irritation to the eyes and throat. Formaldehyde is also often present in carpets and is used in adhesives in manufactured wood products like particleboard and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). The natural wood logs of the exterior and posts of a Real Log Home will not release harmful VOCs, but you should take care when maintaining or modifying your log home to limit your exposure. If you are selecting paint for the interior, make sure to choose one labeled Low or No-VOCs. Even with this selection, you should paint in the spring or fall when you can leave the windows open afterwards for the few VOCs that remain to dissipate. Once done with paint, especially if it is a high-VOC paint, make sure not to store the paint jars inside where they can off gas into the home. If you are installing carpeting and padding, try to get that certified as low VOC as well.
Other VOCs have sources that are easier to control and keep out of the house. Dichloromethane, for example, is used as a solvent in products like paint strippers. If it enters the bloodstream, it is converted to carbon monoxide by the body and a person can get carbon monoxide poisoning. For this reason, products like paint strippers should be used outdoors, or in very well-ventilated areas indoors if absolutely necessary. Perchloroethylene is used in dry cleaning, and some chemical will remain with clothes after they are cleaned. If you have many outfits dry-cleaned at once, it is best to keep them in a ventilated area that is not frequently occupied. Car exhaust contains benzene, which is highly carcinogenic and part of the reason that garages should be well-ventilated.
While it may be a somewhat unpleasant topic to think of, we hope this post has been informative. After all, with how snug and insulative a log home is, it’s a great idea to think about what you’re putting into the air inside your home. And if you think about just how natural a Real Log Home itself is, with minimally processed natural logs, you might want to keep the products in your home just as natural. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about designing a log home of your own, please call Real Log Homes today or fill out the form below for more information.