Saturday, October 21, 2017
 

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: 119

Leave a reply »

 
  • MEgan

    Hello,

    I have done a lot of research and place high importance on the safety and air cleanliness of flooring as we hope to start a family in the near future. After doing much research, we decided to put in a Pergo Laminate flooring. Their website states that they are fully compliant with all of the regulations and that their products do not release VOCs into that air. Can you confirm this?

     
     
     
  • Lizette Warren

    We cose US Floors Castle Comb preengineered floors The product was delivered today. I was shocked to see it was made in China. Their website leads you to believe they are a US made company, but when you read closer all their pre engineered floors are made in China!! Am I making a mistake? For quality or even health reasons. VOCs?

     
     
     
  • Hi Megan,

    Pergo is a great laminate brand and hasn’t had issues in the past regarding failure to label VOC emissions correctly. They are most likely being truthful when stating that there are no VOC emissions, but if you’re still concerned, you can always purchase a formaldehyde test and test the product itself prior to installing the flooring.

     
     
     
  • Hi Lizette, we don’t work with Castle Comb products so we can’t say for sure what their manufacturing process is. After taking a look at the US Floors website, it is a bit confusing as their About Us page contradicts itself by mentioning that products are made in the U.S. but they also have Chinese operations. There are quite a few moderate to high quality manufacturers that ship products to China to be fused together and/or finished prior to bringing them back to the U.S. to sell. Somehow, this is cheaper for them to do rather than keeping the entire process in the U.S. Typically, when it’s a U.S. company managing the Chinese mill, VOC emissions aren’t really something you need to worry about. It’s only when brands are buying no-name Chinese finished products that you can run into trouble. For example, when the Lumber Liquidators scandal was happening with their laminate products exceeding regulate VOC emissions, they weren’t managing the actual mills making the product. They were just buying super cheap laminate products made in China and selling them as their own. Overall, you should be fine, but if you have more concerns, you can also get a formaldehyde test done prior to installing the engineered flooring just to make sure emissions fall within CARB II standards.

     
     
     
  • Durga Adluru

    Hi, we are planning to use our builder’s wood laminate option which is Mohawk sustainable wood laminate floor. Can anyone please explain what is the formaldehyde emission level for this laminate brand? I searched in their website and I could not find the actual level. Thanks!

     
     
     
  • Carole Prescott

    Can you tell me what materials are used in Shaw laminate flooring? Can it be installed over radiant heat? I also would like the materials used in the vinyl plank flooring made to be installed over radiant heating. What is the VOC rating??

     
     
     
  • Hi Durga,

    We would recommend calling Mohawk directly and have them send you the product specifications regarding formaldehyde and VOC emissions. https://www.mohawkflooring.com/customer-care

     
     
     
  • Hi Carole,

    For technical information like what the components are or what the VOC rating is on their laminate flooring or vinyl flooring, we recommend contacting the manufacturer directly here: https://shawfloors.com/contact-us. Both the laminate and the vinyl planks are approved for installation over radiant heating systems.

     
     
     
  • Bill Brzoskowski

    I am thinking about buying engineered hardwood manufactured by Indusparquet. It is a Brazilian pecan on the website it says it is low in formaldehyde, does it meet the standards.

     
     
     
  • Hi Bill,

    These are the certifications from IndusParquet:

    CARB II certified (only naturally occurring VOC’s)
    European EI standard for low formaldehyde
    CE (Conformité Européene) – EU Legislation compliant
    LEED IEG 4.4 low emitting materials
    Lacey Act compliant
    Floor Score Rated

    CARB II certified means that it is at or below the limit for acceptable VOC emissions.

     
     
     
  • Joe

    Buyer beware, I bought some engineered wood that was manufactured in China. They claim to be Carb II compliant. However after my sister complained of a chemical smell and my splitting headaches and strange nightmares, I ordered a test kit. The result tested in the lab showed elevated levels which were ABOVE Carb II limits.

    I honestly think these Chinese companies have found an easyway around certification. They may get close to spec and send wood with lower emissions in to get a certificate. I doubt they are well regulated.

     
     
     
  • Amy

    Joe #3114 mentioned that he bought the test kit to test Carb II compliant. I wonder where I can buy the test kit?

    Thank you,
    Amy

     
     
     
  • Alex

    Hi,

    Any info on Hill Country Innovation Hardwood Collections? I couldn’t find any information on their website?

    Thanks,
    Alex

     
     
     
  • Hi Amy,

    You should be able to find formaldehyde/VOC emissions test kits at Home Depot/Lowes or Amazon.com.

     
     
     
  • Hi Alex,

    I’m sorry, we don’t work with Hill Country Innovation. If you contact them directly, they should be able to send you the specifications for their products.

     
     
     
  • Since LM floorong is Lacey certified, does this mean their engineered wood is low VOC off gassing? I am interested in their Coventry Burton European Oak. I think their manufacturing in China.

     
     
     
  • Hi Pam,

    The Lacey acts basically bans trafficking illegal wildlife and includes plants and trees. So, if they are Lacey certified, it means the raw materials they are using to produce their flooring is certified and legal. It’s pretty much protecting the forests so industries who use trees in their production of goods don’t over source. For VOC off gassing levels/formaldehyde, you want to take a look at their CARB II certifications or contact them and ask for their technical specifications (sometimes you can even find these specs on a flooring brand’s website). In the specs, if you see E1 or E0 formaldehyde emission standards, usually they are in compliance with CARB II as well. CARB II is the U.S. standard, E1 and E0 are the European standard equivalent.

     
     
     
  • Parker

    Hi Jeff, thanks for taking the time to assist everyone.

    I’m trying to figure a way to buy hardwood floors while having dogs. But I know it will just scratch too much and not be as resistant if they decide to “do their business.” Is there any way around this / a hardwood that doesn’t scratch, etc? Somerset seems like the best company to me if I went the hardwood route.

    For laminate and kids crawling on the floor, would you buy from Pergo, Mannington, or Quick-step?

    Thanks for any advice.

     
     
     
  • Hi Parker,

    Unfortunately, all real wood is going to scratch and show more wear and tear if there is high traffic and energetic pets. Here are some tips for finding the best hardwood flooring when there are pets in the home: http://www.hoskinghardwood.com/Department/Hardwood-Floors/Pets-and-Your-Hardwood-Flooring.aspx?dId=7&pageId=58

    In terms of laminate flooring — it’ll definitely be more durable than a hardwood flooring when it comes to dog urine and scratching. Our top selling brands are Quickstep and BerryAlloc.

     
     
     
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