Terminology Time – TVOC

Time for another definition! The sum amount of each Volatile Organic Compound emitting from a test sample at a point in time is known as Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC).

Ok, that was easy. And you’d naturally assume that a high TVOC value is a problem, right? Well, not automatically. It depends on which VOCs are present plus, of course, an individual’s sensitivity to any one specific VOC.

Think about an allergy to cats—someone super sensitive to cats will start sneezing just by standing next to a cat owner, while for someone with a mild reaction it is usually enough to simply avoid touching a cat. And over ninety percent of the US has no problem at all with cats. (At least in terms of allergies.)

Sensitivities to various other chemicals and particles in the air around us are also individualized. And just seeing a high TVOC value isn’t necessarily a reason to panic. Let’s look at some examples. Below are test results for two different engineered floors, both of which meet the VOC emissions standards established by the test method referenced in CA 01350.

Floor 1, with elevated TVOC numbers:

Floor 2, with low TVOC numbers:

Now again, BOTH of these floors are CA 01350 Compliant.

Now let’s look at the details. When you compare the test results of these two floors side by side, you’ll see they both easily meet VOCs limits specified by CA 01350:

However, there is a significant difference in the additional VOCs that were detected but are NOT listed on the Chronic Reference Exposure Levels (CREL) list as defined by the CA 01350 test method:

Simply put, while floor one has got a whole lot more coming out of it, CA 01350 isn’t worried about these particular VOCs.

Almost all are VOCs emitting from the softwood core—if you sniffed this floor, you’d think “ah, Pine forest.” Well, that nice Pine forest smell made for a higher TVOC test value.

Want to know something else about these two floors? Number one happens to be produced using No Added Formaldehyde (NAF) resins. That’s right, the glues used to produce floor one are formaldehyde free. Floor one also happens exempt from CARB 93120 regulations because it is a lumber core construction.

Now floor two is constructed using a hardwood plywood platform that is CARB 93120 Phase 2 compliant. The hardwood plywood platform was manufactured using a phenol formaldehyde glue.

See how it’s not simple? To summarize:

  • Floor one is a lumber core engineered floor produced using NAF resin and is exempt from CARB, however, this floor exhibits elevated TVOC test values due to the emission of a pleasant pine smell.
  • Floor two is CARB-compliant hardwood plywood engineered floor that exhibits a much lower TVOC value, but is produced with a phenol formaldehyde glue which some people (if focused on content) might assume to be a problem.

And by the way, which floor do you think measured a “BLQ” for formaldehyde? (“BQL” meaning, of course, Below Limit of Quantification.)

Well, both of them did.

And all of this hopefully helps illustrate the point that a variety of factors influence the condition of the floor and its fitness for a particular use. If you happen to be someone with a sensitivity to softwood, you may not as concerned about whether the product is CARB or CA 01350 compliant; rather you may want simply want to avoid a softwood core floor as well as solid cedar or pine wall paneling.  If you are sensitive to softwood and also really want a product that is both CARB compliant and made using NAF resins, well, neither of these floors is going to work for you.  And if you are focused on formaldehyde emissions and not the VOC content, both floors should be great.


Oh and by the way, I was curious about cat allergies and went over to webmd and learned that: “Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies. But contrary to what you might think, it’s not the fur or hair that’s the real problem. People with cat allergies are really allergic to proteins in the cat’s saliva, urine, and dander (dried flakes of skin).” Well, YUCK! Fortunately, both floor one and two are easy to clean hardwood, so you can vacuum all that right up….

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