What does VOC mean?

VOC stands for “Volatile Organic Compound” and refers to a group of chemicals that begin to vaporise easily at room temperature and under pressure conditions.

Volatile Organic Compounds can be found in lots of building materials and a host of products, in fact, we use thousands of these VOC chemicals in products we have around the home daily.

Common VOCs include:

Benzene, formaldehyde, flammable alcohols, household cleaning solvents, gasoline, and other liquid combustion fuels.

Common products that VOCs are present within include:

Carpet and upholstery fabrics, air fresheners, make-up, adhesives, varnishes, vinyl floors, cleaning chemicals, fuel oil and paint.

VOCs can be produced by:

Dry cleaning, cooking, burning fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, or natural gas. Smoking cigarettes, photocopying, printing, electric devices, stored paints, and chemicals, painting a room. At any one time, there could be hundreds of individual VOCs floating in the air.

Why are VOCs harmful chemicals?

Unfortunately, VOC chemicals let off gases that are harmful to people and the environment, which is why they must be regulated by the government. VOCs found in many paints are a particular concern because paint is commonly used in most rooms of a house and therefore, the chemicals can build up quite a lot in the home. While some of them have an odour, others have no smell. VOCs are partially responsible for that new paint smell that fills the house after you have decorated. When paint is applied inside a confined indoor space, the concentration of VOCs can be up to ten times higher indoors than they are outside therefore, interior paints boasting large amounts of VOCs can have a shocking impact on our health, if insufficient ventilation isn’t given. VOCs emitted from paint do dissipate eventually overtime, but this process can take a while with most VOCs dispelling within the first six months after application.
When inhaled, VOCs can contribute to some nasty health problems such as headaches, nausea, and irritation to your airways. Not to mention their constant contribution to air pollution. Due to this, it is always best to try and use products with low amounts of VOCs whenever possible to do so.

What are low VOC paints?

To keep the damaging effects from the gasses produced by VOCs in the UK, the government brought regulations back in 2012 to try and control the VOC content of the products that are manufactured and sold here. The regulations are called ‘The Volatile Organic Compounds in Paints, Varnishes and Vehicle Refining Product Regulations 2012. These regulations prevent the likes of paints and varnishes with particularly high levels of VOCs from making their way into retail outlets, encouraging paint manufacturers to produce and sell low paints and other products. While the regulations do sift out products with very high VOCs, they don’t require all products to be low VOC. However, they do require manufacturers to label their goods in a way that allows consumers to identify what VOC levels are present in the product they want to buy.

Items with minimal VOC content levels will be labelled anywhere between 0 – 0.29% and products with low level of VOCs will fall between 0.3 – 7.99%. We will delve further into what to look out for when shopping for paint later in the article.

How does using low
VOC paints reduce air
pollution and help the

Using low VOC paint = Cleaner air
Cleaner air = less air pollution, an improved
environment, and a healthier population of
humans, plants and wildlife living within it.

VOC chemicals let off gases that can be harmful to a person’s health and pollute the environment. They are also guilty of entering groundwater, which effects plants and wildlife too. Choosing a brand of paint that has as few volatile chemicals as possible will minimise the impact of VOC emissions, reduce the concentration of contaminants in the ozone layer, and keep the ground and water free of harmful irritants.

The higher the VOC content in paint, the lower the outdoor and indoor air quality leading to a greater contribution to pollution. Exposure to VOC fumes can have a damaging effect on our long-term health, including risk of cancer, central nervous system issues, irritation to the nose, eyes, mouth, and lungs. Reducing your exposure by choosing more natural paints with lower VOC paints means that the air in your home may be safer to breathe and can help reduce your chances of experiencing these nasty side effects.

Are low VOC paints used at Parsons Joinery?

Absolutely, yes! Here at Parsons Joinery, we use Teknos for all paint and treatments for our timber products. Teknos is an extremely high-quality manufacturer of low VOC paints with sustainability at their core. Prior to painting our windows and doors, we use a Teknos End Grain Sealer which seals the wood on the face/end grain and prevents it from starting to dry, so that it evens out the drying on the piece of timber. We then apply two coats of Teknos Water-Based Primer followed by two coats of Teknos Water-Based Topcoat.

All the paints we use are spray paints as they give a nice perfect, smooth finish and you do not get the brush strokes or paint runs that you can get with hand applied paints. Brands such as Farrow & Ball, Dulux, Little Green and Fired Earth all offer paint that contains virtually zero VOCs too. It is also worth noting that if you cannot find a Teknos colour that you like for your joinery, we are able to colour match any other paint brand.

What to look out for when shopping for low VOC paints:
If you want to ensure you are buying high quality paint that is not harmful to the environment and is safe to use at home, then you need to request zero or low VOC paint (VOC content between 0 – 7.99%). If someone is carrying out the work for you, you need to check this with them also. Check that the tint used to create your chosen colour paint is also zero or low VOC too.

Look for the Green Seal mark of environmental responsibility on the paint pot. which means that the contents meet Green Seal Standard GS-11. The Green Seal organisation sets more stringent standards than the EPA for acceptable VOC levels in paint.

Other benefits for choosing paints with minimal volatile compounds:

  • Help reduce allergy-causing toxins.
  • Easier to clean with soap and water than other paints.
  • Less smelly than traditional paints
  • Quick drying
  • Non-yellowing
  • Less toxic and cause fewer toxic emissions

If everyone were to make more of an effort to make and use low VOC products, it would help to reduce the overall levels of air pollution both indoors and outdoors. Manufacturers need to think carefully about the products they are making and understand that many consumers are looking for companies with good green credentials, making environmentally friendly products good for business as well as the planet. So next time you are looking for some water-based paints, gloss, emulsion, varnish, and the like, opt for zero to low VOC brand and help do your bit!