How Volatile Organic Compounds Can Affect Your Indoor Air Quality
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), found in many household products, reduce indoor air quality (IAQ). Anything made from hydrocarbons can emit VOCs, and people have different sensitivity levels to exposure.
Some people aren’t bothered, while others develop mild respiratory irritations or flu-like symptoms. At their worst, VOCs have been linked to nervous system damage and cancer. VOCs are a problem indoors because they last a long time and can’t be filtered out using air cleaners.
Products that emit VOCs include:
- Paint, finishes and solvents
- New flooring materials
- New furniture and cabinets
- Dry cleaned fabrics
- Some types of plastic products
- Makeup and some soaps
- Cleaning products
- Anything perfumed
- Vehicle exhaust
- Air fresheners and sprays
Fortunately, low VOCs alternatives are readily available for many of the items on the list. Look for a label or symbol that indicates the product has no volatile organic compounds or a reduced amount. Unless you can’t avoid products that contain VOCs, choose unscented products and use natural cleaners like hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, or vinegar as much as possible and let new furnishings off-gas outdoor before bringing them inside.
It is possible to deal with VOCs through your home’s HVAC system by using ultraviolet (UV) lights in the ductwork or the blower compartment, or by increasing fresh air ventilation. UV lights alter the structure of the VOCs, rendering them harmless, along with mold, bacteria and viruses.
A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV) brings fresh air into your home while exhausting the same amount of stale indoor air. They extract the energy of the outgoing air and put it into the incoming air, which makes them an energy efficient way to ventilate during the cooling and heating seasons.
Volatile organic compounds pose health risks and if you can’t avoid them entirely, consider ways to reduce the risk by using your HVAC system.