New Home Smell: Low-VOC Paints, Carpets, and Indoor Air Quality

Isola Homes uses low-VOC paints for better indoor air quality.Closing on a newly built home is full of small joys, such as the high fives you give to your loved ones in your new modern kitchen, or taking in that open floor plan with open arms and 360-degree turns. But if there’s one thing house hunters look forward to, it’s going through the front door as new homeowners and taking a deep breath of that “new home smell”.

Not unlike “that new car smell”, the distinct aroma of a new home can give homebuyers a visceral sense of accomplishment and newness. But homebuyers should be wary of what they’re breathing in. “New” smells usually come from the chemicals used to manufacture the paints and carpets in your home.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde that readily vaporize into the air and combine with other elements to create ozone. The result is air pollution that contributes to a variety of possible side effects. VOCs are found in the adhesives used to keep fibers attached to backing in carpets, and in solvents used to keep pigment and binders in liquid form in paints. Indoor VOC levels are often 10 times higher than outdoor levels and increase 100-fold right after painting. Even after painting or installation, VOCs can slowly seep out of paint and carpet for several years.

But rest assured that there are many standards that help homebuilders choose the healthiest environmental options for new homes. Many carpet manufacturers voluntarily adhere to the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Green Label Plus standards, which is an independent emissions testing program that tests carpets for 13 different toxins. For paints, water-based latex paints have lower VOC content than oil-based paints which are thicker and require more solvents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines low-VOC content in paints as 250 grams per liter for flat finishes and 380 grams per liter for other paints including oil-based luster finishes. Some state regulations are even more stringent – VOCs are capped anywhere from 150 grams per liter to 50 grams per liter for all paint types. Independent testers and verifiers such as Green Seal and Greenguard offer certification and labels for low-VOC paint products.

As a 4-Star Built Green homebuilder, Isola Homes proudly installs Green Label Plus carpeting and low-VOC paint on all major surfaces of our homes. When choosing your new home, look for green features that keep indoor air quality in mind. After all, what would be better than a fresher, healthier new home smell?