WELL Tip: Navigating the new VOC requirements in WELL v2

WELL Tip: Navigating the new VOC requirements in WELL v2

Tuesday, October 23, 2018
/ By:
Mona Holtkoetter


Have you looked at the WELL v2™ Pilot and wondered how to navigate through the new VOC requirements within the Air and Materials concepts? Here at IWBI we strive to make WELL v2 as accesible and clear as possible so that project teams can implement new features and adapt to the changes with ease. With the addition of the new Materials concept in WELL v2, some features regarding VOCs have changed, and others that were initially included in the Air concept have migrated over to Materials. By providing an overview of the VOC- related changes in WELL v2, as well as some background and technical details, we aim to help you and your team navigate the new changes and requirements smoothly.

In WELL v2, there is one precondition and four optimization features that specifically address VOCs:

Air Concept - Feature A01, Part 2 - Meet Threshold for Organic Gases (Precondition)

Feature A01, Part 2 is a precondition for all projects and covers the indoor air quality testing requirements for VOCs during performance verification. Under this feature, formaldehyde and individual VOC components need to be measured during performance verification and must comply with the allowable concentration levels listed in the feature table. The feature table also lists the component’s CAS number.

What is a CAS number?

A CAS number is a unique number assigned by the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), a division of the American Chemical Society, to every chemical substance described in the scientific literature. These numbers are also often used in Australia, but in Europe, European Community (EC) numbers are used more commonly.

Why has the measurement from Total VOCs (TVOC) in WELL v1 shifted to individual VOC testing in the WELL v2 Pilot?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic compounds with boiling points between 50°C and 260°C, excluding pesticides. The term encompasses a very large and diverse group of compounds containing carbon, with several thousand synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals that could fall into the category of a VOC. Over 900 VOCs have been identified in indoor air. Importantly, when considering the health effects, not all VOCs are equal. Some are more harmful than others. Some are irritants, while some are carcinogenic.

Previous health guidance typically stated that indoor air should not contain more than 500 ug/m3 of VOCs, but this was a measurement of the total amount of VOCs in the air (TVOCs). This measurement was often followed with the caveat that the indoor air should also not contain any single compound exceeding 250 ug/m3.

However, as we learn more about both the effects of individual VOCs, as well as how to accurately measure them, health guidance has moved to establishing limits for concentrations of individual compounds. For example, the limit for the allowable concentration carbon tetrachloride is much smaller, due to its high toxicity and health effects - including disruption of the central nervous system, kidney failure, liver degeneration and even death. This VOC is rarely used, but had been found in fire extinguishers and cleaning agents. Conversely, a VOC like isopropyl alcohol - a common antiseptic that is much less harmful - has a far higher allowable limit than that of carbon tetrachloride and other dangerous VOCs.

This approach of considering individual compound limits instead of TVOCs, is consistent in both the leading public health advice (Californian District Public Health limits) and other building rating tools that consider VOCs (e.g. Air Testing Credit of LEED v4).

Air concept - Feature A01 Part 2- Meet Threshold for Organic Gases (Precondition)

There is a list of optimizations in WELL v2 that can be targeted to set your project up for successful air quality testing under Feature A01 Part 2. The most important features are those that control the source of VOCs. These features should be prioritized to increase the likelihood of meeting A01 Part 2 testing and include:

  • X07 Pesticide Use

  • X09 Cleaning Products and Protocol

  • X10 Volatile Compound Reduction

  • X11 Long-term Emission Control

  • X12 Short-term Emission Control

The following features specifically target indoor air quality and can also contribute to successful testing under Feature A01 Part 2:

  • A06 Enhanced Ventilation

  • A10 Combustion Minimization

  • A11 Source Separation

  • A13 Active VOC Control

  • A04 Option e) Building Air Flush

In addition, the following two optimizations can be targeted. These require some of the most stringent material labels on the market:

  • X13 Enhanced Material Precaution

  • X14 Material Transparency

Air concept - Feature A13 - Active VOC Control (Optimization)

To meet this optimization, projects need to incorporate activated carbon filters within their ventilation system, or provide standalone air cleaning devices that use carbon filtration. Carbon filters are designed to absorb volatile pollutants and remove the largest particles, and they can remove 60% to 70% of ozone from the passing air. This optimization can be targeted for projects that specifically want to reduce VOCs and ozone concentration in the indoor air, and can be used an optimal strategy to increase the likelihood of passing the air quality measurements for Feature A01 Part 2 during performance verification.

Materials concept - Feature X10 Volatile Compound Reduction (Optimization)

This feature specifically targets hazardous VOCs and SVOCs (a subgroup of VOCs that typically have higher boiling points), that are commonly used in building materials. Part 1 targets VOCs, specifically Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFR) and Urea- Formaldehyde. Part 2 targets SVOCs ,specifically phthalates. Part 3 of the feature provides projects the option to include these VOC and SVOC restrictions into their ongoing purchasing and maintenance strategies.

Materials concept - Feature X11 Long Term Emission Control (Optimization)

This feature targets VOCs in materials that emit slowly over long periods of time. Long-emitting materials include furniture, flooring and insulation. Whereas this feature was a precondition in WELL v1, it is an optimization in WELL v2, allowing project teams have the option to target this feature within their scorecard.

Part 1 of the feature regulates VOC emissions from furniture and furnishings, while Part 2 regulates VOC emissions from flooring and insulation. In WELL v2, optimization parts can be targeted individually. Further, for Part 1, the feature provides further flexibility for projects to target a percentage of newly installed furniture and furnishings. Depending on the percentage achieved, projects can earn either 1 point for 50% of the materials or 2 points for 90%.

Materials concept - Feature X12 Short Term Emission Control (Optimization)

This feature targets VOCs in materials that emit rapidly, including paints, sealants, adhesives and coatings. The use of low-VOC products, particularly those that emit rapidly and tend to be replaced frequently, can help improve indoor air quality substantially.

As for Feature X11, this is an optimization and project teams can choose to target this feature in their project scorecard.

Part 1 of this feature addresses the product VOC emission rate and Part 2 of this feature addresses the VOC content. Depending on the percentage of compliant materials (by cost), the project can earn up to three points.

Building materials and products may contain VOCs (content), but the amount and rate of VOCs that are actually emitted from the product and end up in the indoor air (emission) may vary. The emission rate can also vary depending on the environmental conditions. When considering product eco-labels, seals or VOC certificates, products may be tested for VOC emissions, VOC content or both, depending on the requirements of the certification.

The scientific community continues to learn and discover more about how VOCs and other important chemicals affect our health and wellbeing. As our understanding of the air and materials around us evolves, we continuously adjust and change our approach to providing safe and healthy indoor environments. The new features in the Air and Materials concepts in WELL v2 reflect the most up-to-date recommendations for how VOCs should be regulated in WELL Certified buildings.

As an Associate in the Market Solutions team at the International WELL Building Institute, Mona Holtkötter supports project teams and clients looking to promote health and well-being in the European market. Mona's focus is to provide technical solutions and act as a WELL coaching contact for Europe.