Researchers have found that many allergic reactions can be triggered by indoor pollutants. These results seem even more relevant when you consider that we spend about 90% of our time indoors, most of it, of course, in sensitive sleeping and resting areas. In the following article, builders learn how to avoid pollutants in furniture and building materials and create a healthy living environment for themselves and their family.
Not only the outer shell and the building services are important if builders want to live in an ecologically sustainable house, but the interior design is also crucial. No matter how sustainable the house, if the furniture emits toxic fumes, it is not only harmful to the occupants, but also to the environment. Builders are best advised to use pollutant-free materials and to avoid assembly foams and solvent-based paints, varnishes or adhesives. Therefore, natural paints, plasters and natural floor coverings are ideal, but also the furniture contributes significantly to the health of the home.
In general, when choosing interior furniture, you should give preference to solid wood furniture and make sure that its surfaces have been treated with natural oils and waxes. Furthermore, new furniture sometimes still emits unpleasant odors shortly after purchase. It is therefore advisable to first allow new pieces of furniture to steam out for a few weeks in a room where people do not sleep. Particularly in the kitchen and bathroom, natural surfaces should be chosen for the furnishings in order to prevent electrostatic charging and to avoid disturbing the ionic ratio. A valuable tip: It pays to take a look at certification and labels when buying furniture!
VOC and air pollutant measurements
When selecting wood-based materials in particular, builders should look for low-emission products in order to avoid increased concentrations of so-called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the indoor air. The VOC group of substances includes, for example, hydrocarbons, alcohols and organic acids. Although these are practically always present in indoor air, a low concentration does not result in any adverse health effects. The effects of individual VOC substances can be quite different: they range from odor nuisance and irritation of the respiratory tract and eyes to long-term effects, such as the triggering or intensification of allergies. Some of these substances can even cause cancer, damage genetic material or impair fertility.
VOC concentration in indoor spaces: On average, the total concentration should be below 0.3 mg/m³, but for individual VOC substances or substance groups, the Committee for Indoor Guideline Values at the Federal Environment Agency has also derived guideline values based on health considerations, which take precedence over a cumulative assessment.
The sources of indoor VOCs are building materials or interior finishes, such as flooring, wall and ceiling materials, paints, varnishes, adhesives and furniture. When solvents evaporate or liquid or paste products dry, the volatile organic compounds are released into the ambient air. However, they can also escape from solid products such as plastics or materials of natural origin. In addition, VOCs are also released from care, disinfection, cleaning and hobby products or from tobacco smoking. Particularly problematic can be laminate panels whose main component is wood chips, which in turn are glued with synthetic resins. In most cases, this contains formaldehyde, which, however, does not permanently combine with the wood chips and creeps out as a gas. So in the worst cases, even 20-year-old floors or furniture can still be emitters of pollutants. Solid wood, blockboard or stickboard as well as plywood or fiberboard are often the lower-emission alternative to particleboard or OSB. The taping of holes and free edges of pressboard is also considered to be a cost-effective and useful measure for reducing the load.
In order to ensure that no volatile organic compounds or other substances harmful to health impair the quality of living in one’s own four walls, it is advisable to have an indoor air measurement carried out in new houses.
Formaldehyde: The chemical compound formaldehyde has been classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization (WHO). It has an acrid smell and irritates the mucous membranes and eyes.
Floor coverings and textiles
Floor coverings and carpets in particular often contain pollutants in the form of solvents, plasticizers or heavy metals. These dissolve when walked over and thus get into the air and subsequently into the respiratory tract. Especially in old buildings, pollutants from wood preservatives, paints, impregnations or plasticizers from floor coverings can be problematic. Builders should also pay attention to the agents with which wool carpets have been treated: Moth repellents in particular represent a risk factor for playing children and pets. But not only moths, but also other vermin such as mites can become a problem. These feel particularly at home in high humidity and usually nest in textiles such as bedding, carpets or upholstered furniture. The best way to prevent this is to keep the bedroom dry, dust-free and cool, air the bedding during the day and wash it regularly at 60 degrees.
Certificates and labels
As a matter of principle, building owners should pay attention to quality seals and certificates for materials with direct indoor air access that are used on a large scale, as the quality of these products is crucial for healthy living. A closer examination of the materials is therefore recommended for interior wall paints, floor coverings and adhesives, plasters, varnishes, sealants and fillers, and primers.
In most cases, it is not easy to tell which products and materials are actually low in pollutants. Certain certificates and eco-labels therefore show which health and safety standards are met. (We have compiled a small selection of these in the article Ecological certification and test seals.
“Health is the highest good of man” is a well-known phrase. Your own four walls can have a significant impact on your health. That’s why we’ve listed a few points here that you should pay attention to in order to enjoy maximum comfort in your home – without allergic reactions or headaches due to harmful substances.
- Prevention is the best solution: When building a house, only pollutant-free and ecological building and insulation materials should be used.
- Ventilation: Regular shock ventilation is best, with cross-ventilation in the optimum case.
- The alternative: ventilation systems for individual rooms or the whole apartment. Building owners should seek advice on which system – centralized or decentralized ventilation system – makes the most sense in their case.
- Indoor plants: they additionally help to keep the air fresh.
- Room temperature: This is optimally between 18 and 23 degrees: 18 degrees in the bedroom and 23 degrees in the bathroom and children’s room.
- To avoid pollutants in the interior: builders are best to use natural paints, plasters and natural floor coverings instead of assembly foams and solvent-based paints, varnishes or adhesives.
- Furniture: when buying new pieces, it is advisable to pay attention to the certification and let the furniture steam out for a few weeks in an unused room.
- Wood-based materials: Here, builders look for low-emission products in order to avoid an increased concentration of so-called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the indoor air.
- Floor coverings and textiles: Carpet and other home textiles should absolutely be free of harmful substances in the form of solvents, plasticizers or heavy metals.
- Against mites: Air bedding and other blankets during the day and wash at 60 degrees.
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