MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) — Peggy Draheim built her house five years ago. She loves this house.

Her home is considered low-VOC, which means less off-gassing from surfaces or releasing chemicals into the air.

Low VOC paints contain fewer volatile organic compounds; but one of Draheim’s biggest allergy triggers is polypropylene.

“It’s a handicap, being so sensitive to plastics,” Draheim said. “We live in a plastic world and polypropylene is part of our world.”

She’s an artist with paintings everywhere. A change in the formula of her longtime liquid acrylic paint meant she had to find a new one.

“It would usually be like a reaction to my face, like my nose was starting to get hot,” Draheim described. “My cheeks would turn red. My eyes would be bloodshot.

Now her low-VOC home, which is a healthy solution for most people, including her husband, isn’t enough.

“I don’t feel good, I just don’t feel good,” Draheim said when asked how she was doing at home.

She says her allergic reaction to her house goes beyond sniffling and red eyes.

“I wish that was all there was to it,” Draheim said. “It could be just feeling drained, tired, having headaches, just having a bit of nausea, not enough to stop you from doing anything, just not feeling good.”

Now she hopes a new house built the old way will be the answer.

“[Peggy is] the only customer for something like this,” said Tom Paradis, owner of Paridis Construction, who shares Draheim’s vision.

He handles supply shortages, coordinates multiple teams, and for this house, before anything is installed, he sends every product label to Peggy, who then combs through every ingredient list.

“It’s kind of a check, double check and double check before anything gets put in the house,” Draheim explained.

“I gave her a piece of spray-on urethane, and she lived with it for a few weeks and she wasn’t allergic to it,” Paridis said.

While particle board cannot fit into the house, copper is used in its place. Copper pipes run from the street to the house and are used wherever they can be found inside the house.

Meanwhile, the drains should be plastic.

“There is no alternative to this [plastic drains] I’m scared,” Paridis said.

With this house, this team is always building on what is possible.

“Everything that goes up is made of metal or lined with metal,” Paridis said. “They are usually covered in plastic. There is no plastic in any of this.

The Draheims began this home building project in the spring and plan to move into their new home by the end of September.

Draheim says changes in the materials used in his house increased the total cost of the house by $35,000 to $45,000.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided KEYC News Now with guidance on industry standards and options for builders and homeowners:

When do you see low VOC home building products becoming the industry standard? Is this something the EPA is working towards? Maybe it’s too expensive?

The EPA encourages the use of low-VOC materials through voluntary guidelines such as the Energy Savings Plus Health Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for Single-family renovations and Multi-family renovationsas well as by the EPA indoor airPLUS label for new homes. As the public becomes more aware of VOCs and their potential health effects, the availability of low-VOC and no-VOC products will continue to increase.

What are the resources for people who find that their sensitivity to chemicals like polypropylene means that even low-VOC products aren’t sufficiently chemical-free?

For those who are particularly sensitive, it can be difficult to completely avoid exposures to VOCs, as they are emitted by a wide range of products that number in the thousands. Polypropylene itself is unlikely to be released to air from plastic materials. However, some plastic products can release chemicals such as phthalates that pose potential risks to human health. If someone is experiencing health symptoms that they think are related to exposure to VOCs, it is a good idea to speak with their health care provider about these concerns. Please visit our website for more information on VOCs and indoor air quality.

Homeowners can take several steps to reduce their exposure to VOCs from building materials in their home, especially when building a new home or performing renovations. Choosing materials that meet low VOC emission standards can help reduce exposure. Wherever possible, consumers can also choose materials that are not typically sources of VOCs, such as stone, glass, or ceramic. Other measures that can reduce VOC emissions from materials include minimizing exposed edges of materials and sealing all exposed surfaces with sealants intended to reduce VOC emissions. Whole-house ventilation can also help reduce VOCs and other airborne contaminants from indoor sources in most homes.

For more information on reducing material emissions in existing single-family homes, see the EPA Energy Savings Plus Health Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for Single Family Renovations, Priority issue 3.0: Emissions from construction products/materials. For new construction, consider building Indoor AirPLUS Specifications.

What is the EPA’s advice for people looking to live in low VOC homes?

The EPA recommends the Indoor airPLUS program for people who want to live in low-VOC homes. Indoor airPLUS is a voluntary partnership and labeling program that helps new home builders improve indoor air quality requiring construction practices and product specifications that minimize exposure to airborne pollutants and contaminants. Indoor airPLUS specifications require that 90% of the interior surface covered by field-applied paints be a low-VOC paint. These paints must be certified by one of the following third-party standards or certifications:

  • GREENGUARD or GREENGUARD GOLD certification for paints and coatings, OR
  • Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) Standard EC-10.3-2014, Indoor Advantage Gold, OR
  • A list of third-party low-emitting products based on CA Section 01350 (CDPH Standard Method V1.2-2017), OR
  • Green Seal Standard GS-11, OR
  • Green Wise and Green Wise Gold products, OR
  • Master Painters Institute (MPI) X-Green, GPS-1 or GPS-2 green performance standards.

If these specifications are not respected, the Indoor airPLUS label is not obtained.

Is there an effort to take low VOC to the next level, especially for today’s consumers looking for a smaller but deliberate build? Either as something more widely available, or perhaps even as a low VOC product option?

Many ZERO-VOC certified products are currently available in everyday hardware stores. As the scientific community and the general public become more aware of the effects of different VOCs, we should see low-VOC and ZERO-VOC products more widely marketed and applied.

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