Wood Coatings: Volatile Organic Compounds

By Bernie Bottens | Posted: 01/20/2012 9:33AM


I have come to the realization this week that I have been focusing on formaldehyde release in coatings of late at the expense of VOCs. VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds are a major source of indoor air pollution. They are used in the creation of coatings. Some examples are acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol, methylene chloride, toluene, and xylene. They are those things that “flash off” when that coating dries and/or cures. Lowering VOC content in coatings is a must in today’s green market place.

Additionally, VOCs are released from the components that make up our homes. Some examples of these are carpets, adhesives, composite wood products, paints, sealants and caulks, solvents, upholstery fabrics, and vinyl flooring materials.

If you took my advice from last week and went for a stroll through the website at www.greenguard.org, you found that when you did a product search that there are 28+ categories for exploration and literally hundreds of examples from which to choose GREENGUARD certified products. Furthermore, GREENGUARD certification indicates products have been screened for over 10,000 chemicals. Certified products,“help create healthier indoor environments” according to their website. Wow, ten thousand chemicals!

Let me clarify three things for you. Volatile means that the compound vaporizes or evaporates at “normal” temperatures and pressures. Organic means that the compound contains carbon and is subject to the science of organic chemistry. Thirdly, a compound is made up of more than one item. In this case, there is more to it than the carbon element.

Stop and think about that. That’s a very large group of items and among them are formaldehyde and isocyanates. Then, think about all the other examples I have mentioned that contain or release VOCs. There are a lot of things that can negatively impact your indoor air quality. And speaking of which, the aldehyde group of compounds has many members that are fragrances…they smell as do those solvents I listed.

It should come as no surprise, then, why indoor air quality is important. According to GREENGUARD, “people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors where air pollution levels are typically 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels.”

It stands to reason, then, that we all should be concerned with what we breath and how much. As tight as currently constructed buildings are built to deal with heat loss and moisture transfer, the potential for compounds detrimental to human health lingering within buildings is not only a potential hazard…it is real.

So if you didn’t take my suggestion last week. Do it now. Go look at the products listed as certified at www.greenguard.org. Think about those that would potentially fill the bill for your current and/or future needs. Then, when you get that call asking if you have a low VOC product to recommend, you will be able to jump right in and seal that next deal!

Until next time…spray on!



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About the Author

Bernie Bottens

Bernie Bottens (WoodworkingNetwork.com/blogs)writes and teaches on the subject of wood and wood finishing in industrial woodworking. He and his wife, Carol, live in Vancouver, WA. Bernie has been teaching wood finishing to shop owners, shop foremen, spray technicians and finishers all over Oregon, southwest Washington, and northern California for the past 9 years. Prior to that, he owned his own cabinet shop. His shop credentials include apprenticing and becoming a journeyman exhibit builder. Before that he taught in the public schools for 20 years. Bernie is the owner of Kapellmeister Enterprises, Inc. and Kap Coatings Consulting. Reach him at kapenterprises@msn.com.

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Ron Budman    
Milton, PA  |  January, 21, 2012 at 09:05 AM

Please allow me to expand a bit on this subject. I have what the doctors term “Peripheral Neuropathy” which is nerve damage where the outer layer of fat is dissolved from the nerve endings. It’s not pleasant. I sprayed cars on and off from 1964 – 1983, and doctors think this could have contributed to my problem. With that said, before you use a solvent based product, you may want to do a net search for the MSDS (Manufacturers Safety Data Sheet) and make yourself aware of a products potential dangers and the precautions you should take when using it. All coatings manufacturers are required to publish these sheets on each of their products. Thanks Mr. Bottens for bringing this to peoples attention.

Bernie Bottens    
Vancouver, WA  |  January, 22, 2012 at 09:55 AM

Ron, Thanks for reading and taking the time to underscore the need to do some research before one delves into finishing either as a hobbyist or a professional. I wote my first four artilces for this blog on what is in lacquer thinner. I encouraged people at that time to look at the MSDS and explore what was involved with the chemicals they were using. Don't forget a good respirator with fresh cartridges and proper clothing including gloves when you work woth those chemicals...even with water-bornes. Best wishes, Bernie


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