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Watching Paint Dry… What’s Actually Happening?

May 12, 2014

open windowsReducing VOCs in Your House

This third in our series on Volatile organic compounds  (VOCs)  and their effects on our health, provides tips for reducing VOC exposures at home.  This post will list two principles, a few resources and provide examples to help readers achieve healthier homes.

Principles in Healthy Homes Minnesota‘s  fact sheet are:

1. Control the source.  For example,  remove the product, buy (substitute) products that emit low levels of VOCs or as a last resort; seal the surface emitting the VOCs.

2. Ventilate.  Open windows,  use fans and keep temperatures and humidity as low as is comfortable.

This post emphasizes avoiding the unhealthy product or material in the first place. New VOC emitters/ off gassers might be a new sofa, paint job or cupboards. If we decide we need such a product or material though; it is useful to know some of the healthier choices  available.

One option is to purchase floor model items floor model adthat have already emitted most of their VOCs. Another is to use regulations, labeling and Groups like The Canada Green Building Council  (CaGBC)  to inform us.

The CaGBC promotes  LEED.   Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. One of the seven categories of measurement in LEED systems is Indoor Environmental Quality (which considers VOCs). So if for example, you are considering new kitchen cupboards; perhaps consult the CaGBC or a LEED certified consultant. They may suggest using solid wood instead of plywood or particle board for your cupboard construction. Or, you could consult Manitoba’s new Green Building Directories – An excellent new find!

Canada currently lags behind other countries2 who have stronger VOC regulations; but where Canadian regulations and certifications / labels do exist, they can help us make healthier choices. Paint and carpet are examples.

zero-voc-paintPaint  Broad claims  about environmental impact (e.g. “Green” or “Environmentally Friendly”) might mislead.   VOCs may or may not have been considered in the claim.

Manufactures now sell paints promising low VOC emissions such as Benjamin Moore’s Natura “green promise” paint3 or Home Depot’s “Zero VOCs” paints. These claims reflect mandatory VOC concentration limits that are currently phasing in. For more on that; check Environment Canada’s recently published regulatory information about architectural coatings and look for the information sheet on VOC concentration limits for paints (on that same page).


CCI logo_labelCarpet  In Canada, the Canadian Carpet Institute uses an American  program and suggests, “…specify low-emitting products, including CCI Green Label approved carpet, when selecting household products and furnishings.”  … and:

Ventilation for 48 to 72 hours after carpet installation “adds to good air quality” even if the carpet is LEED recognized. 5


Eco Labels: For a reference on meanings of labels and claims; The Queen of Green gives us the Eco Label Guide!    Highly relevant!

Disposing of old paint and solvent. The City of Winnipeg   says I can take it to: Miller Environmental Corporation;  1803 Hekla Avenue; Phone: 204-925-9600.

More examples of how to reduce VOC levels in your home, can be found by revisiting  the Minnesota Department of Health article used in our first post of this series.


This third post in our series about VOCs in our homes, demonstrated ways to reduce VOCs at home. Many countries have implemented regulatory controls and we in Canada are seeing them phasing in now. While this post looked at VOC source reduction in bigger home maintenance projects; our next and final post will suggest easy, healthier substitutions for everyday home cleaning and personal care products.


  1. Healthy Homes Minnesota
  2. Conference Board of Canada
  3. Benjamin Moore
  4. Home Depot
  5. Canadian Carpet Institute & Canadian Carpet Institute
  6. Earlier posts in this series on VOCs: Do I Have VOCs in my Home? & Indoor Air, VOCs and our Health.