Flooring Research and Shopping

We’re flooring 3 areas in our home. We’re also expecting a child in a few months. We decided to pick flooring based on these factors:

  • Safety
  • Installation
  • Quality
  • Appearance
  • Cost
  • Hardness

You can and should rank those for yourself, of course. Given that we care about safety the most, we researched Indoor Air Quality standards, during which these kept coming up:

  • CA sec. 01350
  • CARB
    • Phase 1
    • Phase 2
  • GreenGuard
    • Certified / BIFMA X7.1
    • Gold
  • FloorScore
  • European standards
    • E1
    • E0
    • Super E0

There’s a lot going on here. We’re going to have to understand things like

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are organic (all around us) and bad in concentrations
  • agencies have created standards to more simply quantify and communicate to a consumer the content and behavior (off-gassing) of a given product
  • standards bodies define Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) for each individual VOC
  • There are a couple different units of measurement you’ll find referenced
    • Parts per Million (ppm), and Parts per Billion (ppb)
      • 1 ppm = 1000 ppb
    • mg / m^3 is a milligram per cubic meter, and µg/m^3 is a microgram per cubic meter
      • 1 mg/m^3 = 1000µg/m^3
    • converting between units might be most simply done online
  • California Department of Public Health (CDPH), formerly the Department of Health Services, has their hand in a lot of this stuff

I’ve compiled the result of my research here so you have to do less digging!

California Section 01350

 

This standard targets 35 VOCs (including formaldehyde) and limits the emissions of each.

The entire list of VOCs and their allowed emissions is available in section 4.1 of the standard method v1.2 document (https://www.scsglobalservices.com/files/program_documents/cdph-iaq_standardmethod_v1_2_2017.pdf)

CARB Phase1

Prior to January 2009, formaldehyde emissions were allowed to be at .20 ppm.

Starting in January 2009, the CARB formaldehyde standard was lowered to an average of 0.18 parts per million, depending on the type of composite wood product:

Material E1333-equiv. Emission limit
HWPW 0.08 ppm
PB 0.18 ppm
MDF 0.21 ppm

CARB Phase 2

This standard is all about formaldehyde in various materials:

Material E1333-equiv. Emission limit
HWPW 0.05 ppm
PB 0.09 ppm
MDF 0.11 ppm

Thin formaldehyde emissions in medium-density fiberboard is limited to 0.13 ppm

GreenGuard

It helps to get a high-level and quick comparison of the two tiers within the GreenGuard standard (last page of http://ecofabrix.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/GG_Standards_EN.pdf).

Products attempting to earn GreenGuard certification of any kind are screened for more than 10,000 VOCs.

GreenGuard Certification

This is the new name for what was originally called the GreenGuard Children & Schools tier. This tier…

  • ensures 360 VOCs are less than 1/10th of the TLVs,
  • ensures formaldehyde emissions are less than 0.050 ppm = 50 ppb
  • enforces emission limits on the total sum of VOCs that can off-gas from a product,
  • but does not speak to dioxin or phthalate content in floors made with poly vinyl chloride.

The highlights of this certification are available (http://greenguard.org/Libraries/GG_Documents/GG_VOC_tables.sflb.ashx), but that only mentions about 34 individual VOCs, so you’d have to look up the remaining ~330 VOCs from something like the 2017 TLVs (https://www.acgih.org/forms/store/ProductFormPublic/2017-tlvs-and-beis).

It’s interesting to note that GreenGuard Certified doesn’t meet CA 01350 for those 28 types of products to which Certified applies. Those 28 types of products are listed at http://greenguard.org/en/manufacturers/manufacturer_certificationCategories.aspx.

GreenGuard Gold

Because developing children are more susceptible to the effects of chemicals, limits set for this certification include a body burden correction factor, making limits more stringent than those listed for the GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification tier.

This tier…

  • is based on the same TLVs are GreenGuard Certified
  • ensures individual VOCs emissions are no greater than 1/100 of the TLVs
  • ensures individual VOCs are no greater than one-half of the California’s Chronic Reference Exposure Levels (CRELs).
  • ensures formaldehyde emissions are less than 0.0073 ppm = 7.3 ppb
  • does set limits on total phthalates, consisting of
    • dibutyl (DBP),
    • diethylhexyl (DEHP),
    • diethyl (DEP),
    • dimethyl (DMP),
    • butyl benzyl (BBP), and
    • dioctyl (DOP) phthalates.

(Phthalates, which are present in flooring and other household items made from poly vinyl chloride, have been linked to endocrine disorders, reproductive and developmental disorders, asthma and allergies)

The highlights of this certification are available (http://greenguard.org/Libraries/GG_Documents/GG_VOC_tables.sflb.ashx and http://greenguard.org/Libraries/GG_Documents/GGPS_002_GREENGUARDChildrenandSchoolsStandard_1.sflb.ashx), but again you’d have to look up all 360 VOCs from the 2017 TLVs (https://www.acgih.org/forms/store/ProductFormPublic/2017-tlvs-and-beis).

 

FloorScore

This certification tests chemical emissions from hard-surface, resilient, and laminate flooring and is based on California Section 01350.

European / Japanese

E2

The European standard for formaldehyde emissions with a limit of 0.38 parts per million.

Material E1333-equiv. Emission limit
PW 0.38 ppm
PB 0.38 ppm
MDF 0.38 ppm

E1 (Japanese F 2-star)

The European standard for formaldehyde emissions that went into effect in 2004, with a limit of 0.14 parts per million.

Material E1333-equiv. Emission limit
HWPW 0.14 ppm
PB 0.14 ppm
MDF 0.10 ppm

E0 (Japanese F 3-star)

This standard means that a product contains no added formaldehyde and ensures that emissions do not exceed 0.07 parts per million.

Material E1333-equiv. Emission limit
HWPW 0.07 ppm
PB 0.07 ppm
MDF 0.07 ppm

Super E0 (SE0, JapaneseF 4-star)

This standard means that a product contains no added formaldehyde and ensures that emissions do not exceed 0.04 ppm

Material E1333-equiv. Emission limit
HWPW 0.04 ppm
PB 0.04 ppm
MDF 0.04 ppm

Summary of Standards:

All of CARB phase 1 and 2, E2, E1, E0, SE0,  are only about formaldehyde emissions.

Meanwhile, CA 01350, Floorscore, GreenGuard standards are more broad and include many VOCs, not just formaldehyde.

GreenGuard Gold stands out as the most strict standard we can use to protect our long-term health.

Manufacturers

CaliBamboo

  • impressive formaldehyde scores
  • awesomely-high Janka hardness scores
  • Doesn’t have every style in every installation type
  • website doesn’t mention a GreenGuard certification of any kind. That means to me that all or some of their products fail some part of even the basic GreenGuard certification, let alone GreenGuard Gold.

USFloors

  • has CoreTec GreenGuard Gold options
  • has click-lock installation type
  • has horrible customer reviews and customer service conversations on facebook that gave us the he-bee je-bees.

HomeLegend

  • claims GreenGuard Gold on their website
  • but BigBox distributors of their product don’t consistently mention GreenGuard Gold, just GreenGuard Certification, so that will require extra careful verification

As of today, we’re still shopping!

I hope this material…

  • is not confusing, or at least less confusing than doing the research yourself
  • empowers you to shop wisely for your own flooring
  • is accurate. I’m not an expert. I’ve never installed flooring before. I just recognize, however, that not everyone has time to pull all this together from scratch and digest it. I have some capabilities here, but there are things I still don’t understand that could mean I have something wrong.  If I have something wrong, please reach out so I can fix it.

Resources and cited material:

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