Friday, May 27, 2016
 

Formaldehyde Free Flooring?

By Crystal Hosking, Hosking Hardwood Flooring

You’ve exchanged your gas guzzler for a more environmentally friendly smart car. You’ve taken the steps to quit smoking in order to reduce the over 4000 chemicals ingested with each puff. You’ve reduced your carbon footprint and pesticide intake by shopping the local farmer markets. These are all simple steps for a healthier home for you and your family! But could your own house be poisoning you?

How safe are the materials in your home?

How safe are the building materials in your home?

The hardwood flooring industry has always been pretty candid regarding formaldehyde levels of certain engineered flooring products. It was never a secret that formaldehyde was a major part of physically keeping some subfloors and engineered flooring together. Engineered flooring is a layer of real wood fused to either cross layers of plywood or a birch or pine core. You can read more about engineered flooring construction here. Formaldehyde is significant in this process. Or, at least, it was.

So, what IS formaldehyde anyways?

Composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, formaldehyde is a chemical that occurs naturally in our atmosphere. We are constantly exposed to this organic compound in small doses. These small amounts of formaldehyde floating around in our atmosphere are naturally disposed of, breaking down in sunlight and in water and therefore not causing any harm to you.

If formaldehyde is a natural gas of the Earth, then what’s the problem?

Well, problems with formaldehyde arise when levels of the gas form are increased, especially in enclosed areas with low ventilation. Typically, when one thinks of toxic gases, automobile exhaust and cigarette smoke come to mind. However, there is a wide array of products that consumers come in contact with on a daily basis which contain formaldehyde, including:

Car Parts

Copiers and Printers

Facial Tissue, Napkins and Paper Towels

Fungicides, Germicides and Disinfectants

Furniture

Glues and Adhesives

Insulation Materials

Laminates, Compressed Hardwoods and Carpet

Paint

Particleboard, Plywood and Fiberboard (popular subfloors)

Shampoos and Cosmetics

Perhaps the biggest shocker is the realization that formaldehyde is one of the main chemicals used for the embalming process in mortuaries. It’s used for temporarily preserving dead bodies. And manufacturers are putting these chemicals in your lipsticks and shampoos?!!

What makes formaldehyde dangerous to the living is that it is classified as a VOC, which stands for Volatile Organic Compound. When VOCs reach room temperature, they convert to a gas form and “off gas” into the air. If a high enough concentration of these formaldehyde gases are ingested, it can cause significant damage and, in some cases, death.

Severity of the side effect of formaldehyde exposure can vary from person to person and obviously is dependent on formaldehyde levels in the air. As mentioned earlier, formaldehyde is constantly present as a naturally occurring gas in our atmosphere; it’s really just high concentrations that should be avoided. Symptoms of high formaldehyde intake are: irritation of the eyes, ears and throat, coughing, wheezing, skin irritation, headaches, dizzy spells and nausea. Long term exposure is thought to cause nose and throat cancer.

No wonder the “green” movement is making strides. As “green” living has become more widespread, consumers are beginning to take more interest in what they are actually putting into their homes – everything from food products to personal hygiene products to the construction materials used to build homes and renovate. In fact, in recent years (when formaldehyde was labeled a human carcinogen) major engineered flooring manufacturers have started taking a more in depth approach to lessening the amount of formaldehyde present in their final consumer products.

Obviously, nobody wants to experience the short term or long term symptoms of high formaldehyde exposure. So, how does a consumer guard their home and family against this dangerous chemical when it seems to be present in everything?

As government and environmental agencies started discovering just how dangerous formaldehyde really is, regulations on the chemical became more stringent and all encompassing. Perhaps one of the first huge steps in regulating formaldehyde came from the California Air Resources Board, commonly referred to as CARB (also as ARB). The CARB was established in the late 1960’s and their mission statement is: “To promote and protect public health, welfare and ecological resources through the effective and efficient reduction of air pollutants, while recognizing and considering the effects on the state’s economy.” (You can find this and more information about CARB at www.arb.ca.gov) The CARB basically regulates the amount of formaldehyde found in products marketed to the U.S. consumer and many states have absorbed the CARB standards into their own state policies. Most of the top hardwood flooring manufacturers are now CARB compliant; meaning the formaldehyde off gassing from their engineered products is below the limit allowed by CARB and recognized a safe level. Along with the CARB, the U.S. government has taken a stance against unhealthy off gassing with The Clean Air Act and, most recently, President Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, establishing specific limits for formaldehyde emissions, specifically from composite wood products.

With all of the actions taken by government agencies and private environmental groups, alternatives to products with high formaldehyde levels are becoming increasingly available. The hardwood flooring industry has taken many steps since the first CARB VOC policies were introduced, and now makes cleaner, greener flooring products with lower formaldehyde emissions.

Specifically, engineered flooring manufacturers originally used Urea Formaldehyde adhesives during the pressing process, offering the lowest cost but, at the same time, the highest levels of formaldehyde off gassing. An example of the industry’s changing standards is the introduction of Phenol Formaldehyde Adhesive (PF), as well as No Added Formaldehyde Adhesives (NAF). Some of the major brands of engineered flooring that boast of their little to no formaldehyde emissions are Harris Wood, Mannington, Kahrs and Teragren Bamboo. You can learn more about specific manufacturers by visiting their own website, as virtually every brand of hardwood flooring these days has their own site listing the company’s history, technical specifications, environmental stance, product lines and more.

So, if low-to-no formaldehyde processes are readily available, then why are some manufacturers still not complying with the CARB standards?? The answer is simple: low cost processes are high in toxins = cheaper products. If you search for the least expensive engineered flooring, you’ll probably find that the cheapest products are made outside of the U.S. by foreign owned flooring companies. These cheap engineered products, usually coming straight from China, may seem like a great and affordable way to put hardwood flooring in your home, but they also contain the high toxin levels and formaldehyde emissions. Most hardwood flooring manufacturers in North America and Europe are fully compliant with the CARB emission rate policies.

Ultimately, you’re never going to be completely rid of formaldehyde emissions. However, there are steps that you can take to greatly reduce the level of off gassing happening in your own home:

  1. Recognize older building materials already in use in your home which may be out of code in terms of formaldehyde emissions and make a plan to replace these materials in the future.
  2. Prior to deciding on building materials for your home, do your research and find out the specifics on the particular products you’d like to use.
  3. Make smarter choices when it comes to remodeling your home by using low-to-no formaldehyde products.
 

Tags: buying hardwood, CARB, Engineered Hardwood Flooring, Formaldehyde, Green Flooring

Comments: 91

Leave a reply »

 
  • alina

    Hi Jeff,
    We chose to go with Kahrs flooring. Now we are trying to choose an underlayment with the lowest VOC emissions. Looking at Floor Muffler vs. Eternity SG. Which one would you recommend? Thanks.

     
     
     
  • Hi Alina,

    In order to uphold their flooring warranty, Kahrs typically requires the use of one of their own underlayments. They offer a Combi Underlayment, which is a foam pad with an attached moisture barrier. They also offer a more dense option with better acoustic properties, which is called QuietStride. You can find more technical information on these products on the Kahrs site at: http://www.kahrs.com.

     
     
     
  • Karen Lang

    We selected Homelegendd from Home Depost. It is an engineered Hardwood Hickory click and lock floor. On the package it does say made in China, Carb Phase 2 Emission Requirement. Is it safe?

    Thank you

     
     
     
  • Hi Karen,

    After taking a look at the brand’s website, it seems like a reputable brand but I wouldn’t be able to say with 100% certainty what their products are like since we don’t work with Home Legends. You should contact them directly if you feel you need more information than their website offers. Or, if you’re still concerned, you can get a kit to test for VOC emissions.

     
     
     
  • Jessie Wright

    My daughter gave me hardwood flooring for Christmas. The company can no longer sell the type they gave me. I was given the “free wood sample test”. The company said that my wood level is. .06 and the cut odd is .08. I have several of the s/s of problems to include coughing, sore throat , difficulty breathing. I have to do periodic breathing Tx. What do you suggest ? I’m scared!!!

     
     
     
  • Cathy T.

    I am thinking about purchasing an exotic engineered wood manufactured by Nature Flooring (Peruvian Tigerwood). I see this on your website but the manufacturer is Nature Wood Flooring. I’m assuming it’s the same manufacturer. Can you confirm this? Also, I understand Nature Flooring is a company based out of China. With the recent formaldehyde concerns for flooring made in China, is Nature Flooring a risky buy?

     
     
     
  • Hi Cathy,

    Yes, Nature Wood Flooring on our site is Nature Flooring. There are lots of floor options coming out of China right now and very few of them have these problems with formaldehyde levels. It’s typically the no-name brands that the big box stores buy from Chinese mills. Nature, however, is an established company from the U.S. and they do oversee all production in China so formaldehyde levels should fall into the acceptable range for sales within the U.S. If you want more technical information about Nature’s VOC emissions, they should be able to send you it if you contact them here: Nature Flooring Contact

     
     
     
  • Hi Jessie,

    Here is some information from the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) regarding risks of formaldehyde:

    Chronic Effects: “The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has established a chronic inhalation minimal risk level (MRL) of 0.003 ppm (0.004 milligrams per cubic meter, mg/m3) based on respiratory effects in humans. The MRL is an estimate of the daily human exposure to a hazardous substance that is likely to be without appreciable risk of adverse noncancer health effects over a specified duration of exposure.”

    Cancer Risks: “EPA estimates that, if an individual were to continuously breathe air containing formaldehyde at an average of 0.08 µg/m3 (8.0 x 10-5 mg/m3) over his or her entire lifetime, that person would theoretically have no more than a one-in-a-million increased chance of developing cancer as a direct result of breathing air containing this chemical.”

    You can find the entire article here: Air Toxics

    Because different people have different sensitivities, different formaldehyde levels in the home can affect individuals differently. If the test kit that you used was one that you test yourself and then mail in, you may want to consider having a professional come out and test the flooring in person as those mail in tests have been known to give erroneous errors from time to time. Additionally, kits you use yourself will test the combined levels of everything in that room (furniture, appliances, etc.), so the total level might not be accurate for solely the flooring. If the flooring does have increased formaldehyde levels, it could definitely be causing your symptoms depending on your sensitivity to it but, of course, we’re not medical professionals, so we can’t offer medical advise or any diagnosis.

    Typically products which contain formaldehyde will take some time for off-gassing. You can expedite this process by upping air ventilation (open windows, ventilation systems) and/or keeping humidity levels low inside your home.

    Ultimately, if the company is telling you that they can no longer sell the product, that’s definitely a red flag. But, it might also be because it’s just a discontinued color.

     
     
     
  • Lynn

    I bought Noble house flooring from Lowes. I couldn’t buy extra. They told me they would get more in. They never did. Almost every board has split (only 3 years old) I’ve called Lowes and was told by a salesman that they discontinued carrying the wood as it was manufactured in China. I can’t find any information on this manufacturer. I will wither need to get new flooring or have floors redone. What can I do to see if this is one of the floors that have had issues?
    FurnCo Manufacturer all numbers disconnected

     
     
     
  • Hi Lynn,

    Sorry to hear about your flooring problem. We’re not familiar with Noble House Flooring, but hardwood flooring boards shouldn’t be splitting after only 3 years in your home. Unfortunately, big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes buy truckloads of no-name flooring and slap they own house brand name on it. There have been a lot of problems in the past with them doing this with flooring that they bring over from China that has either been harvested illegally or has had incorrect certification of chemical levels. If you do replace the flooring you have down, I’d recommend sticking with a well known independent brand. Somerset is a great U.S. brand and all of their products are made here in the U.S. They carry a lifetime structural warranty (so no splitting) and a 50 year finish warranty on most of their products (finish won’t wear off).

    Refinishing is always an option, but if there is structural damage to the board, chances are that the boards will start splitting again. If you’re concerned with formaldehyde levels, you can always have the flooring in your home tested. Formaldehyde is typically more of an issue with engineered flooring than solid hardwood planks.

    Ultimately, unless Lowes offered a warranty with the floor that they sold you, they probably won’t offer any compensation for the problems you’re having with your floors now.

     
     
     
  • Manish shah

    Hi Jeff, I bought Mazma south american camaru wood from builddirect and not sure about formaldehyde level. I also notice this floor is easy to get dent. I don’t think it is brazillian teak wood as it should be hard and scratch free. What is your take on this?

     
     
     
  • Cumaru/Brazilian Teak is a very dense and hard wood. That being said, the finish will still scratch if you drag something heavy across it. Additionally, it will still dent, just not as much as a softer wood like American Walnut or American Cherry. If you’re concerned about it not being the wood species that you paid for, you could always take a piece to a local flooring dealer and have a sales person check.

    Formaldehyde shouldn’t be a concern with solid hardwood flooring. It’s typically engineered and laminate floors where you have to be careful who you buy from.

     
     
     
  • Jeff Worsham

    Installed millstead engineered hand scraped hickory flooring purchased from Home Depot in July of 2015. Myself and more recently my daughter have been suffering from severe dermatitis. I have been to a dermatologist and have a appointment with a allergist this week. Cant seem to find any info on millstead flooring specsk. Any info would be helpful.

     
     
     
  • Lisa

    Hi,
    I am looking at laminate flooring for my son. He has allergy problems. I thought that Shaw was a good/green brand, but then saw that they have a Proposition 65 warning.

    I am looking at the usual home improvement stores, in addition to a carpet/flooring company. I am overwhelmed by the information, or lack thereof.

    Can you make some recommendations?
    Thanks!

     
     
     
  • Hi Lisa,

    There has been a lot of news recently about laminate flooring not meeting the US standards for formaldehyde and VOC emissions. The brand we recommend over most is Quickstep. See how they measure up here: https://us.quick-step.com/about-us/environmental-responsibility. For their full product line: QuickStep Laminate.

     
     
     
  • jennifer

    Hi! I have a Mohawk floor installed about 5 years ago. It has the warning label on the new replacement box I just purchased. Can you tell me is it is safe?

     
     
     
  • Megan

    We recently bought acacia engineered floors from lumber liquidators, schon brand. They say CARB 2 compliant on the box. Are these safe?

     
     
     
  • B A S

    We recently onstalled flooring from Unilin Flooring and are wondering…is it safe? It says made in USA. I.am concerned however. Does anyone know if this has been tested?

     
     
     
  • Linda Gooding

    Hello,
    I am going to have to replace my back room’s flooring due to finding out I have the bad laminate from L&L. I have a dog and was thinking about going the tile route but was told that is a very costly. What would be my best options for around 150 sq. ft. This is a high traffic area?

     
     
     
  • Hi Linda,

    Tile can get a little expensive. You might want to consider a laminate that has the appearance of tile flooring. http://www.hoskinghardwood.com/Laminate-Floors.aspx?dId=9

    Or even LVT (vinyl tiles) or cork. There are brands of LVT (http://www.hoskinghardwood.com/Vinyl-Tile/Cerameta-Click-LVT/Cerameta-Click-LVT-Tiles–Stone-Visuals.aspx?sId=3822) that do a pretty realistic tile appearance but with a warmer feel underfoot. Same with cork (http://www.hoskinghardwood.com/Bamboo–Cork-Flooring/WE-Cork-Flooring/Serenity-Tile-Patterns.aspx?sId=3353) and both will be a lot less costly than actual tile flooring.

     
     
     
  • Unilin is the manufacturer of Quickstep and Pergo, two well known brands in the market. I would say that since the laminate you purchased is made in the U.S. it is probably okay in terms of VOC off-gassing. It’s so much easier keeping track of chain of custody when products are made in the U.S. Whereas, with products made overseas, who is handling what can get a little lost in translation. If you are super concerned about the formaldehyde levels of the laminate you purchased, you can always get it tested; but chances are, you’re fine.

     
     
     
  • If the box you purchased at any time passed through California, it’s required by their state law to have a sticker with “potential warnings” on it for products containing any formaldehyde at all. This doesn’t mean there are unsafe levels of off-gassing, just that it’s a product that contains some sort of levels. All products from Mohawk need to meet the CARB II standards, so your product should be fine. If you’re super concerned, you may be able to contact Mohawk for more information on the required sticker or you could definitely get your flooring tested to see how much formaldehyde is being off-gassed into your home. Chances are, your Mohawk flooring is fine.

     
     
     
  • We’re not familiar with the Schon brand, however LL has recently been found to be selling products with incorrect labels regarding formaldehyde and CARB II compliance. LL seems to have acknowledged this mistake (after being taken to court), so they should be able to tell you if this was one of the products affected by the mislabeling. If you’re still concerned, you can get the flooring tested for formaldehyde off gassing, just to make sure it’s compliant.

     
     
     
  • Al

    Hi Jeff,

    I bought Harmonics laminate flooring from Costco to replace about 400 sq feet of carpet. Their website said flooring is made here in US and meets CARB Phase 2 compliant. Do you have any suggestions regarding Harmonics flooring? All the materials are in my garage and I am debating if I should return them before I start with the project.

    Thanks.

     
     
     
  • Bettijean Meyer

    I have purchased Nuvelle Bordeaux Natural Acacia Smooth engineered wood do you have any information as to the safety of this product which comes from China ?

     
     
     
  • John vella

    WE RECENTLY PURCHASED A SHAW LAMN. WOOD FLOOR AND WE ARE JUST HEARING ABOUT FORMALDEHYDE IN THIS TYPE OF FLOORING CAN YOU HELP US IN GIVING SOME INFORMATION ABOUT The floor and company. I read the company is in the USA but sent to China to finish is this true and could there be FORMALDEHYDE. In the gluhe and are they even glued.

     
     
     
  • Hi John,

    We’ve never had a problem with Shaw Laminate in terms of it having high VOC emissions. If you’re concerned, I would recommend doing a formaldehyde test on the flooring you purchased. It probably does have formaldehyde in it (pretty much all consumer man-made items do), but it should still fall under the limitations set by CARB II standards if it was sold within the U.S. Shaw Industries should have the technological specs including VOC emission rates on their site as well. If you can’t find it on their website, you can also contact them directly and have them email it to you.

     
     
     
  • Hi Bettijean,

    You would have to go directly to the manufacturer of the flooring in order to get the detailed specifications on their VOC emissions. If you’re still concerned, you can always do a formaldehyde test to make sure it falls within the limit set by CARB II.

     
     
     
  • Hi Al,

    We don’t sell the Harmonics collection, so I wouldn’t be able to say for sure. If it’s made in the U.S., chances are it’s fine. If you’re very concerned about it, though, I would recommend getting the technical specs directly from the manufacturer or do a formaldehyde test on the flooring to see if it falls within the limitations set by CARB II.

     
     
     
  • Johnr

    Jeff were do you get. A test for FORMALDEHYDE in LAMN. Wood floors john

     
     
     
  • Gina

    Glad I saw your informative site while searching for some answers like many others are. Didn’t know vinyl flooring could have formaldehyde in it too until I happened to see it on the Dr.Oz show, after I already ordered vinyl flooring. Just received the shipment of Allure Gripstrip Vinyl Plank Flooring from Home Depot, box reads formaldehyde Class E1 from China. Would you put this in your home? It’s returnable so lucky there, if find concerns. Have babies that would be on floor. 275 Sq. Ft.

     
     
     
  • Hi John,

    You can find formaldehyde tests on Amazon.com. You might also be able to find one at a Home Depot or Lowes. Or, you could bring in a professional to test the flooring for you.

     
     
     
  • Hi Gina,

    Floors with the E0 or E1 formaldehyde classification have the lowest amount of VOC emissions, so you should be fine. Keep the area well ventilated for a little while after installation to get rid of that “new vinyl” smell.

     
     
     
  • Div

    Hi Jeff,

    We are looking to replace our carpet with engineered hardwood as our daughter has severe asthma and highly allergic to dust. It very confusing on where to start because we are particularly looking for low-VOC, chemical free/ low product.
    1. If you can share some information on the brands with no formaldehyde and low VOC and best padding/ material that needs to be put under the hardwood.
    2. Nail or glue which is the best option?

     
     
     
  • Hi Div,

    Brands to take a look at would be Kahrs, Baltic or Boen. All are known as having low to no VOC emissions. Additionally, all three offer click lock options. Floating would be the best option, as there would be no glue necessary (so no adhesive fumes after installation).

     
     
     
  • Div

    Thank you for your prompt response. Instead of floating can we nail it down? Thank you!

     
     
     
  • Most click lock manufacturers do not recommend nailing or stapling because it will damage the click lock system on the boards. If you want a floor to specifically nail down, you might want to take a look at Lauzon’s Pure Genius Collection. The Pure Genius finish is exclusive to Lauzon and is said to actually make the air in your home cleaner by taking impurities out. More information here: Lauzon Website.

     
     
     
  • Michelle

    i just found out about this issue. We just has pantim white oak had scraped wood installed. it is from China. it isn’t a laminate. should I be worried?

     
     
     
  • Hi Michelle,

    We’re not familiar with the Pantim brand, so it would be hard to give you a firm answer right away. If it’s solid, you should be fine. If it’s engineered, you should contact the manufacturer if you have concerns. They should be able to supply you with CARB II certification information. If you still have concerns, you could always get your new flooring tested for formaldehyde to see the level of VOC emissions.

     
     
     
  • Ush

    Hello

    Having 7″ solid hardwood oakanksha@southalltravel.com floors installed soon and they need to be nailed and glued.
    They will be finished with a product called OverMatt Profiline which is supposed to be similar to Rubio mono coat.

    Do I need to be worried about toxic emissions from the adhesive glue or the finish? Thanks

     
     
     
  • Hi Ush,

    VOC emissions should be below the limits set by CARB II. However you should contact the manufacturer of the finish and/or adhesive directly if you’re looking for more specific technical information.

     
     
     
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