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 The Division of the State Architect's Sustainable Schools Resource
Indoor Environment Quality » Indoor Air Quality » Materials and VOCs

Indoor Environment Quality

Materials and VOCs

Picture of a computer lab, focusing on the blue carpeting on the ground; picture's caption, 'Carpeting in a computer lab.  Select carpet and other materials that are low in polluting emissions and contain recycled content.'  Photo excerpted with permission from CHPS - courtesy of the Carpet and Rug Institute.

Many products can contribute to indoor air pollution, such as school furniture, carpets, adhesives, paint, finishes and cleaning products. Products such as these often contain formaldehyde and other chemicals that can be hazardous to the health of building occupants. When these products off-gas, they may cause dizziness or induce asthma attacks. Children are especially susceptible because they respire more in proportion to their body weight. By using low emitting materials rather than common indoor building materials, schools can eliminate many sources of pollution before they even reach the building site.

Colorful picture of a paint can, colored in the spectrum of a rainbow with a brown brush nearby;  picture's caption, 'VOC content as well as overall composition and performance characteristics should be considered when selecting paints.  Water-based paints are lower in VOC content than solvent-based paints.'

Volatile organic compounds contribute to indoor air pollution. Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to VOCs.

Reduce indoor air pollution by avoiding interior building products that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or other unsafe compounds, and by ensuring that interior spaces are adequately ventilated. Currently, California's Department of Health Services and the California Integrated Waste Management Board are testing products for VOC off gassing. Results from these tests will be used to help guide schools towards healthier material selection.

Many products can contribute to indoor pollution, such as school furniture, carpets, adhesives, paint, finishes, cleaning products, and others. High concentrations of indoor air pollutants can cause illnesses in faculty and students alike, but students are especially susceptible.

Featured Resources

Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)
(Best Practices Manual Volume 2, Introduction to Guidelines Section, Material Selection and Research) CHPS aims to facilitate the design of high performance schools in California - environments that are not only resource efficient, but also healthy, comfortable, well lit and contain the amenities needed for a quality education. CHPS has developed a set of Best Practices Manuals (available at to create a new generation of high performance school facilities in California.

Green Building Materials - California Integrated Waste Management Board
CIWMB's website provides a discussion and recommendations on material use and choice for sustainable building projects as well as products directories that identify products with environmentally beneficial attributes.

California Department of Health Services
Reducing Occupant Exposure to VOCs From Office Building Construction Materials: Non-binding Guidelines
This set of guidelines, created by DHS, makes available numerous resources concerning indoor air quality, including this report on reducing VOCs through product selection.

California Energy Commission, Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) - Reference Specifications for Energy and Resource Efficiency
These specifications for building materials will address issues such as embodied energy (the energy to manufacture, deliver and install a product), indoor air quality, recycled content, recycleability and visible light reflectance.

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