Articles - Indoors Air Quality
Aerias AQS IAQ Resource Center
IAQ Problems Associated With
Different Types of Flooring
Different types of flooring
Indoor air quality concerns with flooring
Decreasing IAQ problems associated with flooring
Different Types of Flooring
Sheet vinyl is made by taking a layer of a PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
compound (usually a PVC resin mixed with plasticizers and other
additives like fungicides)
and putting it on a backing material such as paper or a foamed
Of the 2.6 billion square feet of vinyl flooring shipped in 1992, 61
percent was sheet vinyl and 39 percent was vinyl tiles. In 1992, 66
percent of vinyl flooring was used in residential buildings and 34
percent in commercial buildings. A 1991 survey showed that vinyl
flooring is found in 73 percent of all kitchens. Other flooring used
in kitchens included ceramic tile (7 percent), carpeting (10
percent), and wood/other (9 percent). In bathrooms, vinyl flooring
was found in 47 percent of homes, compared with ceramic tile (28
percent), carpeting (24 percent), and wood/other (17 percent).1
Vinyl flooring may be sources of
compounds (VOCs) and odors, and may require high solvent materials
Carpet: Carpet is
a very common flooring used in homes, commercial facilities and
schools. It is the first product to be thoroughly studied for its
indoor air quality (IAQ) effects, and found to be a low-emitter of
VOCs. The carpet industry voluntarily instituted an indoor air
quality testing and labeling program in 1992. This program assures
consumers that they can purchase carpet that will contribute minimal
levels of VOCs into the air. The program was expanded to include
carpet adhesives and cushions. When choosing any of these materials,
make sure that the product carries the Green IAQ Label from the
Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI). This is the only flooring specific
industry program in place that assures acceptable IAQ performance of
flooring. Carpet must be maintained so that settled dust and dirt is
effectively removed. Carpet is also susceptible to mold growth if it
remains chronically damp or wet. This may occur near water sources
or areas where there is a constant moisture problem such as on
concrete in damp basements, near leaking pipes or pipes with
condensate on them, near water fountains, to name a few examples.
Wood: For the
environmentalist, wood flooring can be very attractive, especially
if the wood comes from sustainably managed forests. Look for a stamp
from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This is the best way to
make sure that the wood being used came from well-managed forests
since the FSC has a certification process. Some of the drawbacks to
wood are that it is more expensive than vinyl and must be
periodically refinished to keep it looking good. While new
water-based polyurethane varnishes are available, most varnishes and
other floor finishes still give off large quantities of VOCs into
the air. Though there are some low-VOC floor finishes available,
they have not been popular since they are not as durable. Wood
flooring may also be sources of formaldehyde if laminates are placed
on pressed wood underlayments. The coatings and sealants may also be
sources of formaldehyde.
and linoleum floorings are environmental choices because they are
"natural" materials using a mixture of linseed oil, cork, wood dust
and dyes. Cork flooring is available in tiles composed of compressed
cork chips. However, check this type of flooring carefully since
some are just vinyl flooring with the cork being used in place of
the plastic foam layer. These products are sources of VOCs and
formaldehyde, and can have unacceptable odors. The chemicals
associated with linseed oil are very odiferous.
Ceramic tile is another environmentally good choice since it is
produced from natural clays, lasts longer than vinyl if properly
installed, can be laid with Portland-cement-based grout, which does
not give off any vapors, and it requires almost no maintenance. In
addition, ceramic tiles can be made out of recycled materials such
as ground glass, auto windshields, and old fluorescent light bulbs.
On the down side, ceramic tile floors are hard, cold, and are more
expensive to buy and install.
IAQ Concerns with
Asbestos is found in
some resilient floor tiles (such as vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and
rubber) as well as on the backing of vinyl sheet flooring. Asbestos
may also be found in the adhesives used for installing floor tiles.
Sanding these tiles can release fibers, as can scraping or sanding
the backing during removal. Determine whether resilient tile
flooring contains asbestos before you begin removing them. This is
particularly true of materials manufactured before 1980.
VOCs emit from all of
the flooring types. Volatile organic compound emissions are
typically higher in the adhesives used to install the flooring. The
vapors from these bonding agents can cause skin rashes
or respiratory irritation. The VOCs from vinyl floorings are also a
major source of contamination in the indoor air environment.2
Only low-emitting materials should be used as listed by the
CRI Green Label
Program or GREENGUARD™.
Another source of VOCs are those products used to clean the floors,
particularly the hard surface flooring. High solvent and ammonia
materials are used to strip and shine vinyl resilient materials.
Hydrocarbon waxes are used on wood floorings. Most carpets are
cleaned with minimal organic solvent, but one needs to be sure that
carpet does not become too wet and that it is rapidly dry within 12
to 24 hours.
Because solvent vapors
can build up, it is important to have good ventilation
or problems can occur. For example, at the Newark International
Airport in September 2000, about 3 dozen people were hospitalized
after complaining of headaches, dizziness, chest pains and sore
throats and eyes in the area where a new terrazzo floor was being
installed. Workers had been grinding down the surface of the fresh
terrazzo, made of a combination of an epoxy resin and marble chips,
when others began to complain that the strong solvent-like odor was
making them dizzy. The VOCs usually found in the epoxy resins
include phenols and xylenes.3
may be seen from pressed wood products made using adhesives that
contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) for sub-flooring. Since this
subflooring has been a major source of VOC contamination, some
designers have begun using less rigid non-VOC materials and
formaldehyde-free materials as acceptable substitutes for pressed
wood (particleboards and MDFs)
in certain applications. Laminate floor systems can contain pressed
wood or coating that emit formaldehyde.
Mold can grow under any
flooring material if moisture is excessive or standing water exists.
Moisture from ground water or wet concrete should be avoided or
corrected before the installation of any flooring. In some cases, a
vapor barrier (like plastic sheeting) may need to be placed over the
concrete with sub-flooring. Wet concrete may also react with
resilient and carpet flooring to increase VOC emissions and odors.
Problems Associated with Flooring
friendly, low-emitting flooring.
If adhesives are used,
use low-emitting ones only.
Ask manufacturers or
suppliers to submit certification information to validate their
product's participation in the CRI Green Label Program or equivalent
recommendations for installation and ventilation of the installation
area. Do not over apply the adhesive and tack down product when
If practical, have the
flooring product and cushion (if any) unwrapped and unrolled in a
well-ventilated location before it is installed.
Remove old flooring
carefully and thoroughly clean up the area using HEPA vacuum systems
before installation of new product
Vacuum new flooring
after installation to remove loose matter and particles generated by
the installation process and general construction in the area.
Air out the space well
for a minimum of 48 hours following installation? or longer if odors
Clean and maintain the
flooring following manufacturer's instructions. Use HEPA vacuum
Do not install on damp
floors or in areas where water intrusion or leakage is expected. Fix
the water problem first.
carpet-cleaning systems that show greater than 98 percent efficiency
in the removal of dust, allergens and mold. Make sure that carpet is
dry within 12 to 24 hours after cleaning.
Malin N, Wilson A.
Should we phase out PVC? Environmental Building News. 1994;3(1):
Yu C, Crump D. A review
of the emission of VOCs from polymeric materials used in buildings.
Building and Environment. 1998;33(6):357-374.
Noxious chemical fumes
sicken workers at Newark, N.J., Airport. The Star? Ledger. September