Smelly/noxious building materials

Smelly/noxious building materials

Recommendation 82
When building or renovating be alert to odorous/noxious materials

Chapter (theme)
Architectural spaces (smell)

Because of
sensory sensitivity and general health effects

In order to
avoid the effects of foul and noxious smells

In new or renovated homes the odor of paints and carpeting (mainly emanating from carpet-glue) often lingers. Similarly fiberboard and plywood release odorous gasses.

In these and other cases of odors produced by building materials two issues are at stake. One is that such odors can be unbearable to people with extra sensibilities to odors. The other is that their possible toxicity is hazardous to the health of people breathing (or sometimes touching) them.

‘Carpet products are notorious for their “new” carpet odors caused by toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the carpet or padding,’ according to Ahrentzen & Steele. They add however that: ‘Now that LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for buildings has established high standards for building materials and products, manufacturers are adjusting to these demands. As a result, VOCs have been greatly reduced by some carpet manufacturers.’
Radon (or, in fact its isotopes) is another example. It’s a radioactive gas emanating from building materials such as bricks, concrete and stones, causing significant harm. Such gasses can’t totally be avoided but underscore the need for good ventilation.

The recommendation is twofold. In cases in which the mentioned odors and gasses are a transient phenomenon, enough time has to elapse (and the necessary ventilation has to take place) between finishing the building and taking residence in the home.

In other cases extra care has to be taken to establish the absence of odorous and/or noxious ingredients in paints, glues and materials such as plywood and fiberboard. (Absence is also understood in the sense that such gasses are kept harmless through paint or other ways of sealing.)


*Ahrentzen & Steele

Ahrentzen, S. & Steele, K. (2010). Advancing Full Spectrum Housing: Designing for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Board of Regents.
significant harm
The ‘Indoor doctor’ says it’s the cause of more deaths than drunken driving, here.