Improving indoor air quality for healthier environments
Green construction strives to deliver sustainable structures that provide a healthy and comfortable environment for their inhabitants with the smallest possible footprint.
When we think about air pollution, images of cars and factory chimneys pumping smoke into the atmosphere usually come to mind. But nowadays people are more aware of another relevant problem – poor indoor air quality.
Greener buildings, indoors and outdoors
As the summer ends in the northern hemisphere and we retreat to our homes, offices, and schools, it is the right time to consider how much good indoor air can improve health and wellbeing.
Green construction strives to deliver sustainable structures that provide a healthy and comfortable environment for their occupants with the smallest possible footprint. That includes actively contributing to improving indoor air quality.
Several sources can add to this problem. Building materials such as paints, varnishes and coatings can be one of them. They are responsible for overtime chemical discharges that deteriorate the quality of the air inside1.
Once released, those chemicals can remain indoors, especially since current energy-efficiency requirements have made buildings more air-tight2.
New solutions can make a positive contribution to healthier indoors.
Let's look into the facts
The air inside the places where we spend our time can change our behaviour
Achieving good air quality in the places we live can result in an improvement on how healthy, physical and mentally, we feel.(3) For example, higher concentrations of particulate matter can reduce our sleep time and quality, leaving us less rested and more stressed.(4)
Ensuring that our workplaces have clean air can make employees happier and increase their overall productivity. Estimates indicate that the investment necessary to renovate an unhealthy office building could be recovered in just 1.5 years thanks to the higher output achieved afterwards.(5)
Poor indoor air quality in the schools, for example, can negatively impact performance(6) and reduce attendance.(7, 8) Higher chances of passing math and reading tests, at around 2 to 4 percent, have been observed when air quality is improved in classrooms.(9)
Ventilating is not enoughIn an effort to improve indoor air quality, mechanical ventilation and air filtration systems are widely used. Their efficiency, however, depends on several environmental factors and the quality of maintenance and filters used10.
These methods require energy, non-recyclable materials, and expensive maintenance. And while reducing airborne substances indoors, they increase their concentration outdoors. It can therefore be wise to reduce our reliance on these methods.
Improving our indoor air quality can be achieved by consciously choosing solutions that actively contribute to a more nurturing environment. Small changes, like reducing the levels of VOC, can add up to significant progress.
Prevention before mitigation – the case for non-VOC binders
While VOC can come from many sources, including human activity itself, decorative paint is an important source, as the wide surface of the walls and ceilings increases the chance of off-gas release.
Typically, VOC are present in concentrations low enough not to be perceived through smell but still around 10 times higher than in the outdoor environment 11.
For this reason, using low to no-VOC paint alternatives is an example of an incremental step towards cleaner indoor air.
IMCD on improving indoor air quality
VOC can play different roles in paint formulations, such as binder or solvent. New formulations with low to no-VOC are able to deliver the same or better results in terms of key performance indicators such as wet-scrub resistance and hiding power.
Binders based on acrylic, styrene acrylic, or vinyl acetylate-ethylene (VAE) are commonly used to achieve that goal.
Our experts explain:
Why is indoor air quality an important topic for IMCD?
How do we achieve improved indoor air quality through paints?
Low to no-VOC in-can concentrations lead to lower emissions after the paint is applied. Several binder technologies with low minimal film forming temperature (MFFT) can be used to achieve those results.
To increase our understanding of the influence of different binders in paint formulation, we have conducted a study of 22 different paints in the European market. The aim was to assess their performance in terms of yellowing, blocking resistance, wet-scrub resistance, and hiding power. From those 22 paints, only 18 had a VOC level below 10gr/L, the limit for having the eco-label and Nordic eco-label, hence those were the ones that we considered during our analysis.
We observed that better blocking resistance, the ability of a paint to not stick to other surfaces other than the one being painted, was achieved by using VAE and acrylic.
Hiding power, the opacity of the paint, had better results when styrene acrylic or acrylic were used. Finally, VAE-based paints performed best at lower levels of titanium doxide and had no impact on the quality of the paint job, ensuring no yellowing and a good wet-scrub resistance.
What challenges do customers face when it comes to reducing VOC?
We must then make decisions on the raw materials in the formula. For example, coalescing agents can help reducing foam formation in the paint, as taking it out can result in a tendency for foaming. Hence the quantity of defoamer has to be adapted, or maybe a new defoamer has to be chosen.
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1 US EPA
2 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
4 Journal SLEEP
5 Paths to Better Building Environments
6 Journal of Environmental Economics and Management
7 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
8 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
9 Journal of Environmental Economics and Management
10 Atmospheric Environment
11 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health