How to Handle Off-gassing and VOCs

Off-gassing can pose serious risks to occupants’ health, satisfaction, and productivity



From particle board to upholstery, many furniture materials are made with volatile organic chemicals that may sicken occupants.

“Air the furniture out – there’s no other artificial way to accelerate off-gassing,” Reardon explains. “Just get the furniture out of the packaging and expose it to fresh air.”

A quick look at the label will also give you an idea of what’s in your furniture. VOCs don’t preclude you from ordering the piece that best fits your needs, Inglis adds, but requesting low- or no-emitting finishes, components, and upholstery will help increase demand for more environmentally friendly items. Some manufacturers also add UV-cured coatings to reduce the amount of emissions escaping the product.

“In some cases, the manufacturer would love to use a no-VOC finish, but it doesn’t exist for what they have to do,” Inglis says. “Ask the manufacturer if they’ve used a low-VOC or no-VOC finish, but if they haven’t, that’s not necessarily a reason to write off that product. It could still be the right product for you – you just want to confirm that the off-gassing has been done before you bring the product into your facility.”

Moving Past VOCs
In addition to looking at label information, check to see if your furniture or any of its components are certified by GREENGUARD, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), or SGS Group.

These organizations offer seals of approval to sustainable and low- or no-emitting products, labels developed in part to serve customers who request lower emissions, explains Reardon.

“The industry has made tremendous strides in the last 10 to 15 years to reduce the amount of VOCs,” Reardon says. “Particle board and adhesive producers are well aware that they’re being asked by their customers for lower-emitting products, and they’ve responded, so it’s not the issue today that it was even 10 years ago. There are a lot of different protocols in place requiring lower and lower levels of formaldehyde emissions.”

Pressure from customers is the quickest route to a low-emission solution, Inglis adds.

“The way that more solutions will come out quicker is when buyers are asking for no-VOC or low-VOC finishes,” Inglis adds. “If buyers don’t find a low-VOC finish for the piece or group of furniture they need now, they should support the company that’s made a commitment to transition to a low-VOC finish as soon as they can.”


Janelle Penny (janelle.penny@buildings.com) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.


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