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Designing a Healthy Interior Environment

Designing a Healthy Interior Environment
Designing a Healthy Interior Environment
Ann Marie Ragan, M.S., ASID, IDEC, NCIDQ Cert. No. 023436, Senior Lecturer Department of Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management, NDSU

Selecting interior finishes for a home can be exciting and challenging at the same time. The aesthetics of an interior space tends to be the focus of many design projects, but other characteristics of interior finishes should be considered to ensure a home provides a healthy environment for all of its occupants.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Everyone loves the smell of fresh paint and new construction, right? The scent associated with new homes and renovations actually is from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air we breathe. VOCs can be found in many interior finishes, materials and products we use on a daily basis.

VOCs are released into the air, and many tend to dissipate when the source of the VOC is introduced to the exterior environment for a period of time. VOCs released in an indoor environment take longer to dissipate because an interior space is enclosed.

As homes are designed to be more energy efficient, they are built to be “tight” buildings sealed from the outdoor weather conditions. While energy-efficient homes save the owners money, sealing a home greatly reduces air infiltration. That means VOCs will take longer to dissipate.

Why is this a problem? VOCs are toxic to people and pets. As more and more finishes containing VOCs are introduced
into an interior environment, the problem is compounded.

Designing With Health in Mind

You can choose from several interior finish and material that greatly reduce the amount of VOCs entering your home:

  • Select finishes and materials with no or low VOCs. Avoid using wood products that contain formaldehydes of any type. Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen. Many particle board and plywood construction materials contain adhesives with formaldehyde.
  • Avoid finishes and materials containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Vinyl chloride is classified as a known human carcinogen through inhalation and touch. Many materials and products we use on a daily bases contain PVC.
  • When installing new materials, lay the materials in a well-ventilated space before installing them in your home. Once materials are taken out of their packaging, they will begin to release VOCs. Eventually, the material will release most of the VOCs, as long as the space has proper ventilation. This allows the materials to release a significant amount of their VOCs before they are installed in your home.
  • Be an educated consumer. If you are not familiar with a finish or material, research how the material is made and its composition. Watch for chemicals listed and check on the Environmental Protection Agency website ( or the Perkins + Will Inc. Transparency Lists website ( to see if any of the chemicals are potentially harmful to humans or pets.

The next time you renovate your home or as you make selections for your new home, be wary of that “new home” scent. Instead, opt for a home that is healthy and safe for your family and pets.

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