‘Clean’ flooring products that may not make the grade

While hard-surface flooring is on every list for improving indoor air quality, the type of hard-surface flooring may be problematic, especially if your clients’ health is already compromised.

This article on formaldehyde levels in laminate flooring emphatically waves the health flag. The article is based on testing of Chinese-made laminate flooring. The testing was done by the Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association. The article doesn’t make it sound very rigorous…“We went into a retail store and grabbed a sample, tested it and six out of eight flunked,” says Kip Howlett, President of the HPVA, an industry association that represents some Canadian and American flooring manufacturers.

So let’s be fair, any processed wood product (be it laminate flooring, pre-finished flooring, a particle board vanity) that has been taken off the factory floor, shrink-wrapped and held in storage is going to offgas like crazy as soon as it’s unwrapped and exposed to the air. Even apples and apricots offgas naturally occuring formaldehyde. So let’s be very precise: urea formaldehyde (vs. phenol formaldehyde) is the problematic product here. Urea formaldehyde is an inexpensive glue used to bind wood products.

I’ve heard/read/been told/taught that offgassing of VOCs and/or urea formaldehyde from processed wood products is worst at the exposed cut edges, not the formed portion of the processed board, and that the rate/extent of the offgassing is relative to the temperature of the product and ambient air. While the exposed edges on laminate flooring planks are a very small proportion of the overall product, and are not exposed to air movement when installed, laminate flooring has become very popular in houses with in-floor heating systems. Which could be a problem, except the exposed surface of the laminate is not the processed wood substrate or its cut edges. It’s the laminate — which could have a whole whack of other IAQ impacts, but I’m not going there right now. I haven’t yet found 3rd party monitoring that indicates the urea formaldehyde loads in a room with freshly installed/aged laminate flooring regardless of what country it hails from.

It all leads to questions about the testing rigor, testing protocols, actual in-situ loading, and what levels a range of manufactured floor products from a variety of countries would test out out at…I’m gonna find me some more data points.