Have you ever wondered about that funny smell coming from your new wood floor or your new wood furniture? Or maybe, like me, you felt a little light-headed after being in a building where you encountered that same smell.
It turns out that subtle suspicion you were harboring in the back of your mind—It can’t be good for me to be breathing this in!—was accurate.
Volatile Organic Compounds Are Dangerous
You see, part of what you’re smelling is something called volatile organic compounds or VOCS. Those are the stinky and toxic chemicals that become vapors or gasses as your wood finish transforms from liquid to solid.
And it turns out that inhaling those vapors can seriously compromise human health.
For the last several years, in the wake of increased attention to the health impacts of indoor air quality, the hardwood furnishings and floorings industries have worked to make non toxic wood finish the norm and free their finish from dangerous VOCs.
Interestingly enough, solutions have been around since the mid-1970s. Specifically, non toxic wood finish that emits zero VOCs which are instantly cured (hardened) by interacting with a harmless UV light.
We’ve used this nontoxic eco-friendly UV-cured finish here at DCI for over a decade. But the truth is, a lot of companies still use materials in their furniture that off-gas toxic VOCs.
Why You don’t Want VOCs in Your Furniture
So it’s important for anyone who is buying residence hall furniture to gain clarity around VOCs before they commit to buying any furniture. You may be surprised to learn just how important your choice of non toxic wood finish is for the health of your students and the quality of your furniture.
Allow me to explain.
Furniture has a huge impact on indoor air quality. And historically, most wood finishes were filled with VOCs. According to the Green Home Guide:
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are carbon-containing substances that easily become vapors or gases. They can be present in paints, coatings such as varnishes and cleaning products.
For years, the federal government has prodded furniture companies to eliminate these toxic agents from their manufacturing processes.
VOCs Compromise Indoor Air Quality & Human Health
Why? Because VOCs can have all sorts of deleterious effects on human health. And in general, VOC concentrations are as much as 1000 times higher indoors than outdoors.
According to the EPA, these compounds pose a spectrum of potential health risks including:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
- damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.
On the whole, the industry has been slow to respond to voluntary and mandated standards.
The Startling Effects of VOCS on Student Cognition
What are the implications of all this for student housing? For one thing, you definitely don’t want to mess around with VOCs. A recent study from the Harvard School for Public Health analyzed the impact of VOCs and indoor air quality on student cognition.
Researchers exposed participants to high concentrations of VOCs, similar to those emitted from common office materials.
They found that cognitive performance scores for the participants who worked in the green+ environments were, on average, double those of participants who worked in conventional environments; scores for those working in green environments were 61% higher.
Let me reiterate that.
Students exposed to normal furniture that emits standard levels of VOCs performed half as well as students who were tested in an environment that was free of VOCs. In case it’s not clear, that’s a huge difference.
Long story short, you don’t want VOCs in your residence halls and you want to ensure your furniture has a non toxic wood finish. Off-gassing furniture is one of the leading culprits contaminating indoor air quality. So no-VOC assurances for your residence hall furniture are a must.
The Benefits of UV Finish
This is one of the main reasons why DCI uses a finishing process that emits zero VOCs. Instead of using a solvent-based finish like nitrocellulose lacquer, we apply a UV-cured finish. It’s a non toxic wood finish that’s odorless and clean.
How exactly does a UV finish work? According to wikipedia:
Certain inks, coatings, and adhesives are formulated with photoinitiators and resins. When exposed to UV light, polymerization occurs, and so the adhesives harden or cure, usually within a few seconds.
In fact, our UV finish is one of the main reasons why our furniture was awarded the MAS Greencertification. MAS is one of the most stringent third party certifications for guaranteeing residence hall furniture with the highest indoor air quality ratings.
So why and how is this UV-cured non toxic wood finish so effective at eliminating VOCs? This article from Yale’s sustainability department does a great job of comparing a more common finish to a UV finish:
For every gallon of nitrocellulose lacquer, 25 percent is composed of solids. The other 75 percent is chemicals added to the solid resin so that the finish can be sprayed. The finish needs to be cured, and during this drying process, that other 75 percent of the material goes into the atmosphere as VOCs. Alternatively, for a gallon of the UV cured finish, 100 percent is composed of solids. This material stays on the furniture and is cured by ultraviolet (UV) lights, emitting zero VOCs and improving the health and safety of employees.
How UV-Cured Non Toxic Wood Finish Is Better for Your Furniture and Your Budget
It’s worth noting some related benefits of using a UV finish. First of all, unlike other finishes, our UV-cure non toxic wood finish is completely re-useable. So when you have excess coating or overspray, you can capture that for re-use.
It’s much less wasteful that other finishes.
Second, the UV finishing process is more efficient. UV cured wood dries instantly whereas other coatings can take several days. That saves on labor costs and we pass those savings on to our customers.
Third, according to the folks over at American Ultraviolet:
…wood cured by UV is twice as hard as pre-finished floors, as well as most other available finishing options on the market. The hardness provided by UV curing hardwoods provides a better looking product for longer periods of time as it is typically more scratch, scuff, and stain resistant!
Increasing Efficiency, Decreasing Carbon Pollution
And there are other benefits that make this the green finish of choice.
First, we use a roll-applied process to coat the wood. This approach features a 100% transfer efficiency. According to an application comparison in the RadTech Report, spray applied finishes only have an 85% transfer efficiency.
A further advantage to our process is that it allows us to further minimize our carbon footprint because we finish the wood panels on both sides before we assemble the furniture.
What does that have to do with our carbon footprint?
It allows is to palletize components and ship to North Carolina and California for assembly. One truckload of parts equals roughly three truck loads of assembled furniture.
So when we ship by truck—compared to rail—our finishing process allows us to reduce our carbon footprint by approximately one third.
Don’t Risk It
In the end, it shouldn’t be much of a discussion. You don’t want to risk exposing your students to furniture which is laden with VOCs and which might off-gas for months after installation. Instead, there are clean non toxic wood finish options available to you right now.
If you want to learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out to me a firstname.lastname@example.org.