Emission ConcernsHow Safe Is Vinyl?
With the groundbreaking 60 Minutes report in March 2015 about Lumber Liquidators misrepresentation of the formaldehyde emissions of its laminate products, many questions have arisen about the safety of various flooring products. Although formaldehyde emissions are much less prevalent in vinyl flooring compared to laminate (where the fiberboard or hardboard core is made of a high percentage of adhesive), there are still emissions concerns to consider with vinyl flooring.
Indoor Air QualityVOC’s and FloorScore
The fundamental safety issue with any flooring product relates to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Because interior spaces have significantly less ventilation, even small amounts of emissions can accumulate over time, and create an unsafe living space. You may be familiar with the strong smell of oil-based paints, and the “light-headed” feeling that can occur if you inhale the fumes for too long. This is an example of VOC’s, or Volatile Organic Compounds, becoming airborne. Too much exposure to VOC’s has been shown in multiple mainstream studies to lead to birth defects, learning disabilities in children, and higher likelihood of cancer.
There are many effective ways to mitigate indoor exposure to VOC’s, starting with ensuring proper ventilation (for example, installing a good HVAC system that promotes efficient ventilation and filtration). But the best solution by far is to control the source of VOC’s. This is why third-party testing of flooring products, along with other building materials and finishes in your home, is so important.
The most established certification for resilient flooring emissions is FlooreScore. Although there was initial skepticism about the certification, since it was formulated by an industry group (the Resilient Floor Covering Institute), it has since gained mass recognition, being approved in 2006 by the US Green Building Council for a LEED credit in sustainable design (IEQc4.3). FloorScore has also been recognized by over 20 national and state-level environmental programs. The FloorScore certification is managed, audited and enforced by an international third party agency based in California (SCS Global), and relies on testing products directly from manufacturers. Certifications can be independently verified on SCS’s website.
Many people who have been part of the sustainable building movement are familiar with dioxin, and its relationship with vinyl. Considered one of the most highly carcinogenic pollutants, dioxin is created by many phenomena, including forest fires, diesel engine exhaust, and even wood-burning fireplaces. With vinyl, it has the potential to be released during the manufacturing process, and then again if the flooring product is incinerated in a particular temperature range. The argument goes that since most vinyl floors will end up in a landfill, and there are over 8,000 fires per year in US landfills, vinyl contributes to overall dioxin levels.
Developments with vinyl, and particularly vinyl flooring, have made the debate over dioxin much more nuanced, to where many authorities in sustainable building take a less severe stance against it. It is important to note some realities about vinyl flooring in 2015: Safety standards at vinyl manufacturing facilities have improved dramatically over the last 10 years. Cases where vinyl manufacturing lead to high dioxin levels in nearby communities have dramatically decreased, due to increased regulation and industry standards.
Dioxin is never released inside a home unless it burns. Even if there were a fire in your home and you were exposed to dioxin, testing on rats has shown that over 500 grams must be ingested every day for over 100 days before developing cancer. These kind of quantities are virtually impossible to be consistently exposed to.
Vinyl recycling is the future. There are already major recycling facilities in Europe, and with the massive rise in popularity of vinyl flooring there are developments for US-based facilities. With regulation evolving, it is very likely that by the time your new vinyl floors have to be disposed, there will be affordable (if not required) methods of disposal, that eliminate the risk of vinyl incineration in landfills.
Vinyl floors last a long time (especially durable vinyl floors with thick wear-layers). Because of their durability, vinyl flooring can last 2-3 times as long as similar resilient flooring products. This means less flooring in landfills, and ultimately lower impact on health and environmental concerns.
Bottom LineAre Vinyl Floors Safe?
At Flooret we set out to only carry products we believe in. Our opinion on vinyl is that it is an extremely durable, waterproof solution that provides a long life cycle. We believe that when compared to similarly priced solutions like laminate or carpet, the safety record of FloorScore certified vinyl is significantly higher, and better enforced. We are also confident in the future of vinyl disposal, and believe that vinyl floors will soon be easily recyclable. When taken together, we feel confident in the safety of vinyl for our customers and our families.