Chemicals in Carpets Have Been the Tradition, but You Don’t Have to Compromise Your Family’s Health Anymore

When selecting carpet for the house there was no doubt that we were going to choose a low VOC carpet. Last year at GreenBuild, I sat in a session on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) that terrified me. The speaker provided multiple case studies supporting the growing sick house syndrome in LEED-H pilot homes. As homes have been built to tighter standards, the buildings envelope has been sealed so tightly that there is little air exchange resulting in a noxious build-up of toxins that have off-gassed from surfaces and substances brought into the home. Paints, finishes, fabrics, cleaning products and carpets top the list of items that are producing hazardous VOCs (volatile oragnic compounds) and compromising our indoor air quality.

“The indoor environment is the single most important venue for environmental health,” says Timothy Buckley, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Hopkins’s School of Public Health. “On the order of 75 percent of our risk for carcinogens comes from indoors.”

From the production of synthetic carpet to its installation in the home, there are toxins and hazardous chemicals used at nearly every step of the process. Most carpets today are made from fibers derived from petroleum. They are bonded to their backings with natural or synthetic latex. They are treated with pesticides, bleaches, dyes, stain protectants, and anti-static solutions. Add to this mixture anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents, as well as chemical baths containing substances like chlorine, bromine, and phosphorous to render the carpet non-flammable. And this is where our children play, roll around, read…you get the idea.

After a high to low search, feel tests, smell tests and cost tests, we chose SmartStrand® carpet with DuPont™ Sorona® renewably sourced polymer from The Home Depot. SmartStrand  is made in part with naturally occurring sugars from readily available and renewable crops. The carpet exclusively offers fiber made with Bio-PDO which is produced from corn sugar. Thanks to this central ingredient, 37 percent of Sorona is made from renewable resources instead of the more limited petroleum-based ingredients in most other carpets.

The carpet is Green Label Plus certified from the Carpet & Rug Institute. CRI offers Green Label and Green Label Plus testing and certification to indicate carpet, carpet backings, cushions and adhesives that emit low VOCs.  The carpet we selected certifies that it does not contain  seven chemicals as required by Section 01350, plus six additional chemicals as required by CRI.  The 13 chemicals measured are as follows:

  • Acetaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Caprolactam
  • 2-Ethylhexanoic Acid
  • Formaldehyde
  • 1-Methyl-2-Pyrrolidinone
  • Naphthalene
  • Nonanal
  • Octanal
  • 4-Phenylcyclohexene
  • Styrene
  • Toluene
  • Vinyl Acetate

Adhesive products are also independently tested for emission levels for the following 15 chemicals:

  • Acetaldehyde
  • Benzothiazole
  • 2-Ethyl-1-Hexanol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Isooctylacrylate
  • Methylbiphenyl
  • 2-Methyl-Pyrrolidinone
  • Naphthalene
  • Phenol
  • 4-Phenylcyclohexene (4-PCH)
  • Styrene
  • Toluene
  • Vinyl Acetate
  • Vinyl Cyclohexene
  • Xylenes (m-,o-,p-)

The Green Label carpet program was approved by the American Lung Association in its Healthy Homes programs. If you choose low-VOC carpets, studies show that these emissions dissipate very quickly.  The odor from new carpet disappear within the first 48 to 72 hours after installation and even sooner with open windows or doors.

Carpet also needs padding. According to CRI, a firm and resilient carpet cushion is necessary to form a good foundation for your carpet, increasing its comfort and extending its life by acting as a shock absorber when someone walks on the carpet. The cushion, or pad, helps buffer sound and provides increased insulation, making a room quieter and warmer. It is recommended that when selecting cushion, check the carpet manufacturer’s requirements for thickness and density. Improper selection of carpet cushion can negatively affect carpet appearance, cause wrinkling and buckling, cause separation of the carpet seams and can cause a breakdown of the carpet structure itself.   A general rule of thumb for most residential carpet applications is to choose cushion no more than 7/16 inch thick and no less than 1/4 inch with 6 pounds per cubic feet density.

We selected Healthier Choice 8 lb. carpet padding  made with the soy based polyurethane foam made with BiOH Polyols from Carghill.  It is GREENGUARD IAQ certified for low VOC emissions and is 100% post-consumer recyclable. We’re only putting carpet in three locations in the house, but to us, they are the most important locations in the house; the kid’s rooms and their playroom. Manufactured to the most stringent air quality standards in the nation, GREENGUARD endorses Healthier Choice for use in children’s areas. And no other padding has earned this endorsement. 

I really wanted wool carpets for their organic and natural nature but it simply wasn’t fitting in our budget averaging around $55/yd insatlled. The carpet we chose was $26/yd installed, the pad was another $8/yd. It also meets LEED-H requirement for an environmentally preferrable product. I have to admit, I sure hope they are right because there is a lot of controversy over CRI’s testing procedure and the certification program. Here are some photos form our install.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter :  newscaster

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2 Responses

  1. Where can I buy this carpet and carpet pad? I’m in Los Angeles County? Thanks.

    • We bought our carpet and pad at Home Depot. It came to $36/yard installed with the eco pad. Put it on my Home Depot card and have no interest or payments for a year. Enjoy! Kim

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