Non-toxic choices increasing
Posted in June's Kelowna Real Estate Blog on June 9, 2007
You have decided to go gusto green in your next new home or reno project: bamboo flooring, Forest-Stewardship- Council-certified wood cabinetry, recycled glass countertops and salvaged timber decking.
Unfortunately, these materials could quickly lose their verdant lustre if noxious adhesives, sealers, stains and caulking are used in their manufacturing and finishing.
Many of the chemicals used in conventional glues and finishes -- including toluene, ethylene glycol, and methanol -- have been identified as being ozone-depleting, carcinogenic and/or toxic to humans and the environment.
Fortunately, in response to growing concerns about indoor air quality, climate change, and more recently, air quality legislation, many manufacturers have begun switching their attention to non-toxic, water-borne, and low- to zero-volatile organic compound (VOC) products that meet performance standards without compromising human or environmental health.
Several organizations, including Greenguard, and the industry-related Carpet and Rug Institute, have also created independent testing and labelling programs to help consumers confirm and qualify low-VOC claims.
Nearly all natural materials require sealing to prevent damage and deterioration due to moisture, UV radiation, mould, and other pollutants. However, many conventional sealants -- including stains and paints -- use petroleum-derived solvents that not only off-gas during application, they can also take several years to fully oxidize, cure and become stable. Fortunately, there is now available a growing selection of protective coatings that are less "fragrant" and/or safer.
Natural oil stains, such as those made with linseed, tung and soy oil binders, offer long-lasting durability with lower VOC content than comparable finishes like lacquer and varnish.
Water-based stains that have acrylic or urethane binders, and which use water in place of most petroleum-derived solvents, emit fewer VOCs and for a shorter period of time. But since these stains often contain small amounts of toxic solvents called glycol ethers, it is important to check a paint's materials safety data sheet before purchasing.
What to look for:
Whenever possible, opt for water-borne, low-toxic, or plant-based products. Avoid the use of butyl rubber, solvent-based acrylics, and neoprene in indoor applications, and do not use any products containing methylene chloride or chlorinated hydrocarbons.
What's available locally:
American Formulating and Manufacturing -- one of the leaders in non-toxic sealers and stains -- has a Safecoat line that offers a wide range of products that not only protect surfaces without the use of solvents, heavy metals and harmful preservatives, but also prevent any off-gassing.
Broda Coatings -- made by Vancouver-based CBR Products -- has Broda Pro-Tek-Tor and Clarity stains and sealers, which offer low-VOC, water-borne oil and acrylic finishes for wood, concrete, masonry and stone.
Green Building Penetrating Sealer is a water-borne, zero-VOC sealer for concrete or masonry available in 20 colours
is no surprise that adhesives, widely used in both building materials and construction, can be one of the greatest sources of short-term VOC emissions in buildings. While most adhesives today contain fewer harmful compounds and emit lower levels of VOCs than their counterparts of years past, many still contain volatile solvents that can contribute to indoor air pollution. Despite critics' initial skepticism, performance qualities such as freeze-thaw stability, retack, and moisture tolerance have all been successfully reproduced in many of the solvent-free adhesives available.
What to look for:
Select low or non-toxic water-based products, and never use a product intended for outdoor use for indoor projects. When it comes to caulking, avoid using PVC- or oil-based products, as not only are they stinky, they typically only last several years.
What's available locally:
Titebond Solvent Free Construction Adhesive. Suitable for all common building materials, Titebond contains no ozone-depleting chemicals. It does, however have a small amount -- 1.5 per cent -- of ethylene glycol.
AFM Safecoat 3-in-1 Adhesive. This is a low-odour non-toxic, water-based adhesive designed for hard composition wall and floor tiles as well as carpeting.
Livos Universal Adhesive. Manufactured from all-natural 100-per-cent biodegradable materials including water, natural latex, talcum, casein, borax, Livos Universal Adhesive is designed for use on cork, linoleum and carpet.
Henry GreenLine -- a line of multipurpose, flooring adhesives with ultra-low emissions and almost no discernible odours.
AFM Safecoat Caulk -- a non-toxic, water-based, elastic emulsion type compound designed to replace oil caulk and putty.
One-hundred-per-cent Silicone Caulk -- pure silicone caulk, or aquarium grade caulk without additives, generally comes in either clear or white and can be found at most hardware stores.
While low- and non-VOC products are an improvement over their conventional counterparts, it is important to remember that these materials can still contain toxic ingredients not prohibited by any governmental regulations. For example, any stain could use toxic pigments such as copper-based Paris green, rather than renewable or abundant pigments like iron oxide.
"Natural" does not necessarily mean "safe," so it is important for consumers to ask questions about any product not labeled "non-toxic." Also, manufacturers are not required to disclose all the chemicals used in their products. Ingredients that are deemed proprietary information or used in very small quantities do not have to be reported. Ultimately, if you have any doubts about a product, call the manufacturer directly and request a list of ingredients.
(prepared by Kim Davis/Vancouver Sun)
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