Understanding VOCs and the Importance of Professional VOC Testing

Unveiling the Invisible Threat: Understanding VOCs and the Importance of Professional VOC Testing

Sponsored by 1st Choice Inspection in Waukesha WI


In the world of indoor air quality, one term frequently surfaces – VOC, or Volatile Organic Compound. VOCs are ubiquitous in our surroundings, and they have far-reaching implications for our health and well-being. This article will delve into the world of VOCs, exploring what they are, the health dangers they pose, their prevalence in paints, and most importantly, why it's crucial to enlist the services of a professional VOC inspector to ensure the safety of your home. We will also provide a comprehensive checklist that professional VOC inspectors use to assess potential risks.


What is VOC (Volatile Organic Compound)?

VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are organic chemicals that can evaporate into the air at room temperature. These compounds contain carbon and other elements like hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, sulfur, or nitrogen. VOCs are found in a wide range of products, both natural and man-made, and they play a significant role in our daily lives.

Natural sources of VOCs include forests, vegetation, and even some animal emissions. These natural VOCs, like the scent of a pine forest, are usually harmless in the quantities encountered in nature. However, it's the man-made VOCs that often raise concern. These are found in various household products, industrial processes, and construction materials, emitting harmful chemicals into the indoor air we breathe.

Common sources of indoor VOCs include paints, solvents, glues, cleaning products, and building materials like flooring, carpets and furniture. While not all VOCs are inherently toxic, some can pose significant health risks when present in high concentrations or when exposed to for prolonged periods.


The Health Dangers of VOCs

Understanding the health dangers associated with VOC exposure is paramount in maintaining a safe indoor environment. VOCs can have both short-term and long-term health effects, and the severity of these effects depends on several factors, including the type of VOC, the concentration, and the duration of exposure.

Short-term exposure to high levels of VOCs can lead to symptoms like headaches, dizziness, eye and throat irritation, and nausea. These symptoms are often referred to as "sick building syndrome" and can affect individuals working or living in spaces with poor ventilation and high VOC concentrations.

Long-term exposure to VOCs, especially in indoor settings, is linked to more serious health issues. Some VOCs can react with other chemicals in the air to form ozone, a major component of smog. Prolonged exposure to elevated levels of ozone can lead to respiratory problems, worsen asthma symptoms, and increase the risk of lung infections.

Certain VOCs are also considered carcinogenic, such as benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene. Prolonged exposure to these substances has been associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. Additionally, VOC exposure can exacerbate pre-existing conditions like allergies and asthma.


Health Effects of VOC exposure

Acute/short Term Exposures

 (hours to days)

Chronic Exposures

(years to a lifetime)

Eye, nose & throat irritation Cancer
Headaches Liver & kidney damage
Nausea/vomiting Central nervous system damage



VOC in Paint

One of the most common sources of indoor VOCs is paint. Paints contain a variety of chemicals that can release VOCs into the air as they dry. These VOCs are responsible for the characteristic "paint smell" often experienced during and after painting projects.

Traditional solvent-based paints are known to contain high levels of VOCs, with some paints containing compounds like formaldehyde and toluene. However, in response to growing concerns about indoor air quality, many manufacturers now produce low-VOC or VOC-free paints. These paints use water as a solvent instead of more volatile organic compounds, significantly reducing the emissions of harmful chemicals during and after application.

Using low-VOC or VOC-free paints is an important step towards minimizing indoor air pollution. However, even with these improved formulations, it's crucial to take additional measures to ensure the safety of your indoor environment, especially if you live in an older home with existing layers of high-VOC paint.


Why It Is Important to have VOC Testing done in Your Home

While it's possible to minimize VOC exposure by choosing low-VOC products and maintaining good indoor ventilation, there are instances where professional VOC inspections become necessary. Here are some compelling reasons why you should consider a professional VOC inspection for your home:

  1. Identification of Hidden Sources: Professional inspectors have the expertise and equipment to identify hidden sources of VOCs in your home. This includes sources like old insulation materials, hidden water damage, or residual chemicals from previous renovations.
  2. Quantitative Analysis: Professional inspections involve quantitative measurements of VOC levels, providing accurate data on indoor air quality. This data is critical for making informed decisions about mitigation and improvement measures.
  3. Health and Safety: If you or your family members are experiencing unexplained health issues that could be linked to indoor air quality, a professional VOC inspection can help identify the underlying causes and recommend appropriate remedies.
  4. Legal and Regulatory Compliance: In some regions, there are regulations governing VOC emissions in indoor environments, especially in commercial and industrial settings. Professional inspections can help ensure compliance with these regulations.
  5. Home Resale Value: If you plan to sell your home in the future, having a professional VOC inspection and certification of good indoor air quality can increase your property's resale value and appeal to potential buyers.


The Checklist of a Professional VOC Inspector

Professional VOC inspectors follow a comprehensive checklist to assess potential risks and identify sources of VOCs in your home. While the exact checklist may vary depending on the inspector and the specific circumstances, here is a general outline of the key components typically included:

  1. Visual Inspection: Inspectors visually assess the building for signs of water damage, mold growth, deteriorating materials, and other issues that may contribute to elevated VOC levels.
  2. Testing Equipment Setup: Set up monitoring equipment which includes VOC air sampling devices, at strategic locations within the building.
  3. Air Sampling: Collect air samples over a specific period to measure VOC concentrations. These samples are then analyzed in a laboratory for accurate results.
  4. Identification of VOC Sources: Identify potential sources of VOCs within the building, such as building materials, furniture, cleaning products, and recent renovation projects.
  5. Evaluation of HVAC Systems: Assess the performance of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, as they play a crucial role in maintaining indoor air quality.
  6. Review of Building History: Gather information about past renovations, paint jobs, and any previous VOC-related issues in the building.
  7. Interview with Occupants: Speak with occupants to gather information about their health symptoms, habits, and any concerns related to indoor air quality.
  8. Recommendations: Based on the findings, inspectors provide recommendations for improving indoor air quality, which may include ventilation improvements, source removal, or the use of air purifiers.
  9. Documentation: Provide a detailed report of the inspection findings, including VOC concentration levels, potential sources, and recommended actions.


What Level of VOC is Dangerous in Your Home

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of organic chemicals that can easily evaporate into the air at room temperature. Many household products and materials release VOCs, and exposure to high levels of VOCs can potentially be harmful to your health. The specific level of VOCs that is considered dangerous in your home can vary depending on the type of VOC, your individual sensitivity, and the duration of exposure. Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Threshold Limit Values (TLVs): Various organizations, such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), set threshold limit values for certain VOCs in occupational settings. These values are typically much higher than what you would encounter in a typical home.
  2. Short-Term Exposure: Some VOCs can cause immediate health effects at high concentrations. For example, high levels of certain solvents, glues and newly painted rooms can cause headaches, dizziness, eye and throat irritation, and nausea.
  3. Long-Term Exposure: Chronic exposure to lower levels of VOCs over an extended period can have more subtle health effects, including respiratory problems, worsening of allergies, and, in some cases, an increased risk of certain chronic diseases.
  4. Individual Sensitivity: Some people are more sensitive to VOCs than others. Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, allergies, or asthma may be more susceptible to the effects of VOC exposure.
  5. Type of VOC: The type of VOC matters. Some VOCs, like formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene, are known to be more harmful than others. Formaldehyde, for example, is a known carcinogen.

To minimize the potential health risks associated with VOC exposure in your home, consider the following steps:

  • Ventilation: Ensure good ventilation in your home by using exhaust fans, opening windows, and using air purifiers with activated carbon filters.
  • Choose Low-VOC Products: When purchasing paints, adhesives, furniture, and other products, look for low-VOC or VOC-free options.
  • Monitor Indoor Air Quality: Consider using indoor air quality monitors to track VOC levels in your home.
  • Limit Use of VOC-Emitting Products: Avoid using multiple VOC-emitting products simultaneously and use them in well-ventilated areas.
  • Follow Manufacturer Recommendations: Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for any products that emit VOCs.

It's important to note that most homes have some level of VOCs present, and not all VOCs are harmful at the levels typically found in indoor environments. However, if you have specific concerns about indoor air quality or if you experience persistent health issues that you suspect may be related to VOC exposure, it's a good idea to consult with a professional indoor air quality expert or a healthcare provider for guidance.


What is involved with a Rehab VOC of your home?

A "Rehab VOC" typically refers to a Volatile Organic Compound test conducted during the rehabilitation or renovation of a home. Volatile Organic Compounds are chemicals that can easily evaporate into the air and can potentially have adverse health effects on humans when present in high concentrations indoors. VOCs are commonly found in various building materials, paints, adhesives, cleaning products, and other household items.

Here are the typical steps and considerations involved in a VOC assessment during home rehabilitation:

  1. Assessment and Planning: Before starting any renovation or construction work, it's important to assess the potential sources of VOCs in the home. This includes identifying materials like paints, varnishes, adhesives, carpeting, and furniture that may contain VOCs.
  2. Material Selection: When planning the rehabilitation, consider using low-VOC or VOC-free building materials, paints, and finishes. These products emit fewer harmful chemicals into the air, promoting better indoor air quality.
  3. Ventilation: Adequate ventilation is crucial during and after renovation work to help disperse VOCs and other pollutants from the home. You may need to use fans, open windows, or install ventilation systems as necessary.
  4. Testing: VOC testing can be conducted to measure the levels of these compounds in the indoor air. This testing is typically done by professionals using specialized equipment. It can provide valuable information about the effectiveness of your efforts to control VOC emissions.
  5. Mitigation: If the VOC levels are found to be high, additional measures may be necessary. This can include increasing ventilation, using air purifiers with activated carbon filters, and choosing low-VOC products during the rehabilitation.
  6. Compliance: Be aware of any local building codes or regulations related to VOC emissions during construction or renovation. Compliance with these regulations is essential to ensure the safety and health of occupants.
  7. Monitoring: Continue to monitor indoor air quality throughout and after the rehabilitation process to ensure that VOC levels remain within acceptable limits.
  8. Occupant Education: Educate the occupants of the home about the potential sources of VOCs and how to maintain good indoor air quality. This includes avoiding smoking indoors and using proper ventilation when cooking or using cleaning products.
  9. Regular Maintenance: After the rehabilitation is complete, regular maintenance and cleaning can help prevent the buildup of VOCs and other indoor air pollutants over time.

It's important to note that the specific steps and considerations may vary depending on the scope of the rehabilitation project, the materials used, and the local regulations. Consulting with professionals who specialize in indoor air quality and environmental health is advisable to ensure a safe and healthy living environment during and after home rehabilitation.


Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a significant concern for indoor air quality and can have adverse effects on our health. Paints are a common source of VOCs in homes, but professional VOC inspections can help identify and mitigate these risks. By understanding the importance of VOC inspections and the checklist that inspectors follow, you can take proactive steps to ensure a healthier and safer living environment for you and your family.



  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
  1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health (NIH):
  1. Environmental Health and Safety Online (EHSO):
  • Website: https://www.ehso.com/
  • EHSO provides educational resources and information on VOCs and indoor air quality.
  1. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS):
  • Website: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/
  • NIEHS has resources and research on environmental health, including topics related to VOC exposure.
  1. European Environment Agency (EEA):


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When you're buying or selling a home, condo or commercial building it's important to have a thorough inspection done by a qualified professional. That's where 1st Choice Inspection comes in. We're the best home inspection company in Waukesha, WI, and I am here to help you make the best decision on purchase or sale.

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