Tag Archives: IAQ

Walk this Way: New trends in vinyl flooring


Photo © BigStockPhoto/Sorsillo

by Jesus Moralez, PhD
Manufacturers and suppliers in the flooring industry are responding to the call for more environmentally responsible products for non-residential applications. While raw material suppliers study the science of sustainable plasticizers, manufacturers have capitalized on new emerging technologies to develop products offering increased design flexibility, but reduced ecological impact.

Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and luxury vinyl plank (LVP) are fast-growing trends in the flooring industry. Unlike the vinyl floors seen in kitchens of previous decades, these new high-performance products are, in part, the result of improved science and technology in vinyl and plasticizers. Other flooring categories—such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-backed carpets, resilient flooring, and carpet tiles—have also benefitted from improved chemistry and better manufacturing formulations. In addition to improved indoor air quality (IAQ) performance, LVTs and LVPs offer low maintenance needs, decreased lifecycle costs, and ease of installation. LVT and LVP differ from traditional vinyl and vinyl composition tile in various ways, namely in the materials used and composition of each.

LVT is growing exponentially across various commercial segments, including healthcare, retail, corporate, education, and hospitality. St. Louis-based interior designer, Chelsea Madden of Design Extra Studio, reports vinyl tiles have had a very significant impact on the firm’s projects.

A specialist in senior living facilities, Madden frequently specifies LVTs and LVPs for their low maintenance, aesthetics, and cost-effectiveness compared to traditional tile, which must be sealed after installation. Further, with LVTs and LVPs, replacements can be made for a few tiles or planks, rather than an entire flooring assembly, which results in significant cost savings. Additionally, luxury vinyl flooring has additional cushioning for less impact and a softer feel, as well as acoustic features to absorb more noise compared to tile, wood, and laminate.

LVT/LVP is a high-impact solution for areas such as entryways, kitchens, or flooring for retail stores because of its ability to stand up to heavy traffic, regular wear, and sunlight. It is also ideal for bathrooms because of its resistance to moisture and mildew. There are various installation options for luxury vinyl flooring, including tape, floating, click-and-locking, and glue-down systems, along with spray adhesives. The appropriate type of installation should be determined based on the environment the product is being installed in.

vinyl_Eastman 1

Plasticizers make it possible to achieve improved compound processing characteristics, while also providing flexibility in the end-use product.

The manufacturing process
To understand how far the flooring industry has progressed in developing more environmentally responsible products, it is helpful to look at the manufacturing process. For many years, the industry relied on phthalates, esters of phthalic acid, to make plasticizers—substances added to plastics to increase flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity.

For plastics such as PVC, the more plasticizer added, the more flexible and durable it becomes. Plasticizers make it possible to achieve improved compound processing characteristics, while also providing flexibility in the end-use product. Scientists must evaluate ester plasticizers for compatibility, processibility, permanence, and other performance properties. There are various ester chemistries for numerous applications, including:

tubing and hose products;
seals and gaskets;
wire and cable;
medical equipment and supplies; and
print rolls.

There is no alternative to plasticizers—and without their use in these products, the materials would be rigid and lose all flexibility.

Phthalates under fire
Phthalates have been used in plastics since the 1930s, but concerns have been raised recently. Some believe there is strong evidence linking phthalates to reproductive defects and early onset of puberty. This issue has been raised because phthalates are used to soften plastics in the manufacture of toys. In 2005, the European Parliament imposed a permanent ban on six phthalates used in plastic toys and childcare items. The ban on two of the phthalates was reviewed in 2013 and confirmed for items than can be mouthed by children aged three and under.

In October 2007, California became the first state to pass a bill banning certain phthalates from some toys and other items. In 2008, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) passed the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act, which implemented a ban, similar to the one in Europe, on three phthalates and a temporary ban on another three phthalates, covering the same substances as the European ban. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, says it has found no compelling evidence to suggest phthalates pose a safety risk. Although this ban does not directly impact the flooring industry, building owners are becoming more aware and conscious of what chemicals are in the products they use and how these products are made.

Non-phthalates flooring solutions
While the controversy continues about the use of phthalates, the flooring industry is a step ahead. Many of its suppliers used their own discretion and began making changes, developing non-phthalate plasticizers to serve the industry’s needs. Non-phthalate plasticizers were introduced more than three decades ago, and are still in use today with performance equal to phthalate plasticizers (Figure 1).

Figure 1

vinyl_Table 1

Non-phthalate polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plasticizers were introduced more than three decades ago and are still in use today with performance that is equal to phthalate plasticizers. Image courtesy Eastman Chemical Company

Characteristics of most current non-phthalate plasticizers include low-temperature flexibility, resistance to extraction by soapy water, and non-migration properties (Figure 2). Raw material suppliers continue to develop new specialized non-phthalate plasticizers for niche applications. These include products formulated to work with water-based adhesive applications and fast-fusing solutions to help-speed production times.

Figure 2

vinyl_Graph 2

Plasticizer migration studies show similar performance between phthalate and non-phthalate plasticizers. Image courtesy Eastman Chemical Company

In some cases, based on the application and formulation, non-phthalate plasticizers are seen as more efficient, allowing the manufacturers to use less in their products.

Self-regulation in the industry
The move toward self-regulation by changing raw materials before they are listed has helped the industry stay ahead of regulatory actions such as California’s Proposition 65, which requires labeling of products.

Major retailers are encouraging vendors to reformulate products toward less toxic and more sustainable profiles, ahead of government mandates. Architects and design professionals have also contributed to this trend, frequently specifying new products over traditional ones that may have greater environmental impacts. Recently, a new sustainability standard was released for resilient floorcoverings, including vinyl flooring products. American National Standards Institute/National Sanitation Foundation (ANSI/NSF) 332, Sustainability Assessment for Resilient Floor Coverings, was developed to promote sustainability practices in the manufacture of resilient flooring and also bring more transparency and clarity to manufacturing processes. This standard is now being used by manufacturers to certify the sustainable attributes of resilient flooring.

The standard was developed by NSF, the non-profit, non-governmental organization accredited by ANSI, and is a third-party independent accreditation that can be used to make informed specifying or purchasing decisions.

Flooring manufacturers have also been early adopters of environmental product declarations (EPDs) and lifecycle assessments (LCAs), aiming to show the environmental profiles of their products in a standard form so informed purchasing decisions can be made and specifications can be written.

As United States and European markets for flooring products continue to expand, either through acquisition, current plant expansion, or with the construction of new facilities, numerous companies have increased their U.S. footprint in the last few years. This means designers and specifiers will have numerous options, and can have an opportunity to use locally sourced products.


An alternative to tile, this close-up 
image shows wood-effect vinyl flooring along with medium-density fiberboard (MDF) imitation-pine skirting boards. Photo © BigStockPhoto/Stocksolutions

Supply chain readiness
The trend toward sustainable flooring signals industry growth in the vinyl tile category, as specifiers and designers seek the material’s aesthetics and sustainable materials contributing to improved indoor air quality (IAQ) and occupant safety.

Some flooring manufacturers are taking steps to ensure the ability to capitalize on market growth. For example, by ensuring the switches of plasticizers on the production line are seamless, manufacturers are able to avoid surprises on the line—not all plasticizers are interchangeable. Manufacturers are seeking suppliers employing experienced technical support people with a have background in changing a plasticizer formula without downtime.

As mentioned, some flooring manufacturers have already announced plans to bring their manufacturing capacity back to the United States from Asia. This trend points to anticipated growth in the market. By securing the supply chain and using local suppliers, manufacturers prevent burdensome customs disruptions, tainted product, or shipping expenses.

The advantages of working with companies that can produce large volumes of materials are highly considered. Some companies make their own chemicals and are able to offer a more stable supply of product.

Manufacturers are looking for plasticizer products that enable faster processing. In the coming years, there will be a need to produce more flooring faster. New products can help manufacturers run at profitable production speeds and faster cycles times, as well as provide uniform thickness.

New flooring options such as luxury vinyl tiles and planks can benefit all those in the industry. Consumers can enjoy clean indoor air quality, designers have more flooring choices and options unheard of just a decade ago, and raw materials suppliers have found ways to make products that provide a healthy working environment without sacrificing performance and aesthetics. The combination of these factors creates an optimistic economic outlook for the industry.

Jesus Moralez, PhD, currently serves as market development manager for Eastman Chemical’s Plasticizer Business Unit, where his responsibilities include leading several projects focused on new products and markets. Prior to joining Eastman, Moralez worked for DuPont, and was previously at the National Institute for Nanotechnology in Canada. Moralez is a graduate of Purdue University, where received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a PhD in organic chemistry. He can be contacted by e-mail at jmoralez@eastman.com.

The importance of indoor air quality

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is an important consideration for building owners and design teams. IAQ can easily decrease within elevator cabs and machine rooms. Photos courtesy ThyssenKrupp Elevator

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is an important consideration for building owners and design teams. IAQ can easily decrease within elevator cabs and machine rooms. Photos courtesy ThyssenKrupp Elevator

by Sasha Bailey, LEED AP

Indoor air quality (IAQ) has become increasingly important for building owners and occupants in recent years. With more information available to the public on air quality issues—including the potential negative effects of off-gassing and the evaporation of volatile chemicals and other emissions—it is imperative for building product manufacturers to focus on eliminating issues associated with their products.

To better understand IAQ issues, it is beneficial to have some history on how it relates to buildings and building occupants. Sick building syndrome (SBS) has been studied for the last few decades and is relevant to occupant health. Anyone can be affected by SBS, but those in office buildings are most at risk because they usually do not have control over work environments. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines SBS as:

Situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building.

Common complaints related to indoor air quality and SBS include:
● headaches;
● eye, nose, and throat irritation;
● dizziness;
● nausea;
● fatigue;
● skin problems; and
● difficulty concentrating.

Most cases of SBS occur in offices and common contributing factors include:
● inadequate ventilation;
● chemical contaminants from indoor sources like carpeting or paint;
● chemical contaminants from outdoor sources such as vehicle exhaust or plumbing vents; and
● biological contaminants like mold, bacteria, and viruses.

One of the main culprits in decreased indoor air quality and SBS is volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted as gas from various solid and liquid products. Some examples include paints, carpeting, furnishings, wood products, and adhesives, as well as indoor maintenance agents such as pesticides, cleaning products, office equipment, and even permanent markers. Some of the effects associated with the emission of VOCs mirror those found in SBS cases. It is important to note not all organic chemicals contribute to adverse health effects—it is contingent on the substance’s toxicity level and the concentrations and exposure for humans.

It is no secret Americans spend the majority of their time indoors. Unfortunately, EPA studies have shown several VOC levels are two to five times higher indoors than outdoors. As a result, the agency has developed many resources, such as the Building Air Quality Action Plan, available to building owners who want an easy-to-understand path for transforming their building.

Affected products, in elevators and elsewhere throughout the building, can include paints, coatings, adhesives, and sealants used by the manufacturer, and wood or agrifiber products in the floor, walls, or ceiling.

Affected products, in elevators and elsewhere throughout the building, can include paints, coatings, adhesives, and sealants used by the manufacturer, and wood or agrifiber products in the floor, walls, or ceiling.

As more becomes known about the adverse effects of poor IAQ on tenant health, productivity, and attendance, it is clear a responsibility lies with the construction and leasing industry. Building product manufacturers act as the front line on this issue and are therefore in a unique position to make positive changes. Forward-thinking companies have begun to use tools like lifecycle assessments (LCAs) to help them identify potential issues with their products. Some of those issues include emissions or off-gassing that can continue after a product’s installation. The LCA technique allows companies to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life, from cradle to grave.

In the past, it was acceptable for manufacturers to claim responsibility only for what occurred within their own facilities, but this is no longer the case. Manufacturing companies are now expected to not only be aware of everything happening within their own walls, but to hold their suppliers accountable as well. To this end, quite a few companies/organizations have begun working to identify and create lists of concerning chemicals. To date, there are more than 20 such lists compiled by states, corporations, EPA, and European Union (EU). This data has made it easier for manufacturers to gradually phase-out or replace chemicals of concern. In the past, finding alternative materials or products could be challenging. However, with the growing global emphasis on sustainability and green construction, more companies are now offering healthier products at the same or slightly increased pricing.

Once a manufacturer has found an appropriate replacement product it is necessary to rely on reputable third parties to test and validate any indoor air quality claims. Long-established product-certification services, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), have entered the environmental certification arena. Products can now be submitted to UL for placement within their testing chambers to evaluate emissions, off-gassing, toxicity, IAQ, and other elements.

Environmental claims can vary based on applicable product standards. For instance, the State of California has set strict standards for buildings’ indoor air quality commonly referenced as Section 01350, part of the State’s Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) program. Section 01350 covers public health and environmental considerations for building projects, including indoor air quality goals and procedures. Parts of these goals include limits on VOC levels and procedures for how to test building products for VOC-emission rates. Such standards allow testing and certification bodies like UL to validate and certify against them. This makes it is possible for product manufacturers to provide not only an environmental claim, but also a third-party reviewed and validated label for their claim.

In the case of elevators, indoor air quality can be easily diminished in several places within the cab and the machine room. Affected products can include paints, coatings, adhesives, and sealants used by the manufacturer, and wood or agrifiber products in the floor, walls, or ceiling.

Qualifying questions related to indoor air quality can include:
1. Does the manufacturer use powder-coat processing or traditional solvent-based paints for their cab interiors?
2. Do wood-based products—such as particleboard or plywood—contain added urea-formaldehyde?
3. What kind of sealants and adhesives are used to adhere interiors items?

Programs like the U.S Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system contain details and limit levels for indoor-source contaminants. In particular, the Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) section on low-emitting materials can provide detailed information.

For instance, EQ Credit 4.1, Low-emitting Materials: Adhesives and Sealants, specifically identify the VOC limit in grams per liter less water for various adhesives. Additionally, EQ Credit 4.2, Low-emitting Materials: Paints and Coatings, identify standard VOC limits for paints in various forms. By following strict guidelines established by commonly accepted standards like LEED, EPA or California’s Section 01350, it is easy to ensure optimal IAQ attributes in specified products for all new construction or renovation projects.

When selecting products, specifiers should always ask the manufacturer to provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and attribute information sheets. This documentation can be used to substantiate indoor environmental quality or low-emissions claims beyond what is found in traditional brochures. By including the request for such documentation, the burden of proof relies on the product manufacturer rather than the organization responsible for specifying or purchasing the product.

By working together, building owners, and product manufacturers have the opportunity to make significant changes in buildings. Seeking qualified and educated partners in product decisions means relying on manufacturers who can provide fact-based technical data. It is through educated industry partnerships the health and wellness of building occupants will continue to improve in the coming years.

RS87800_CW_20140410_11427_ppSasha Bailey, LEED AP, is in the strategic communications manager for ThyssenKrupp Elevators Americas’ Business Unit. Prior to moving into her current role, she was the sustainability manager for the company and spent time working on strategy for the internal and external sustainability programs. Bailey holds a bachelor’s degree from University of Texas at Dallas. She can be contacted via e-mail at sasha.bailey@thyssenkrupp.com.

Providence Office Park II Finds Gold with Raised Access Floors

By Scott Alwine, LEED AP

Portland’s 21,925-m2 (236,000-sf) Providence Office Park II development includes a raised access floor system in five of its six floors. Photos courtesy Jon R. Jurgens & Associates

Portland’s 21,925-m2 (236,000-sf) Providence Office Park II development includes a raised access floor system in five of its six floors.
Photos courtesy Jon R. Jurgens & Associates

For its Portland, Oregon, offices, Providence Health & Services—a Catholic healthcare ministry—includes open park space on a tight urban site. However, one of its ‘greenest’ attributes may be its floors. A raised access floor system employed in five of Office Park II’s six floors, is instrumental to the open-plan design, daylighting, and expansive views for employees of owner Providence Health & Services. The facility also boasts a U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification, exceeding the Silver originally sought by the building owner and required by the city.

The 21,925-m2 (236,000-sf) building is home to some of the organization’s Oregon region departments, which provide healthcare, community services, and education to communities.

The six-story building includes one level of below-grade parking and a mixed-use ground level that includes café, conference center, commercial space, and employment center.

Upstairs, offices and meeting rooms surround a structural core including stairways and two elevator shafts. This core provides the entire building’s seismic and lateral bracing.

“The structural core allowed us to eliminate cross-bracing throughout the building and raised access flooring eliminated the need for overhead ductwork,” Tom Wesel, architect at Oregon-based Jon R. Jurgens & Associates Beaverton said. “As a result, when you step out of the core area, you always have access to natural light and an unobstructed view to the outside.”

The raised access floor system consists of an understructure and 609-mm (24-in.) square, welded steel floor panels filled with lightweight cement. The understructure supporting the panels provides positive positioning, lateral retention, and leveling adjustments to ensure the floor is soundly supported on all contact points.

The resulting underfloor pathway created by the raised floor panels provides housing for the building’s wiring, cabling and heating, and HVAC systems. Power-voice-data (PVD) terminations fed through the modular floor panels offer convenient, flexible access to all these services, while air diffusers supply fresh cool air from the underfloor plenum directly into the occupied space.

Along with the ability to distribute air from under the floor, comes improved comfort control in individual work areas, the result of diffusers placed in the floor that deliver conditioned air to the space.

“These diffusers enable employees to adjust the volume and the direction of air entering their work space,” Wesel noted. “Using them helped us to achieve an important goal Providence Health & Services identified early in the planning process—to provide individual control over comfort by eliminating the hot and cold syndrome employees had experienced in other facilities.”

Just as importantly, the underfloor air distribution (UFAD) system provides employees with improved indoor air quality (IAQ). This is because air is delivered directly to the occupied space, typically identified as the space from floor level up to 1.8 m (6 ft). During the process, older, warmer air is carried to the ceiling by natural convection and removed through return outlets, keeping it out of the occupied zone.

The underfloor air distribution (UFAD) system improves the indoor air quality (IAQ) for employees. Air is delivered directly to the occupied space and during the process, older, warmer air is carried to the ceiling by natural convection and removed through return outlets, keeping it out of the occupied zone.

The underfloor air distribution (UFAD) system improves the indoor air quality (IAQ) for employees. Air is delivered directly to the occupied space and during the process, older, warmer air is carried to the ceiling by natural convection and removed through return outlets, keeping it out of the occupied zone.

At the same time, the access floor system supports the flexible floor plan important to the building owner. Occupants are able to reconfigure or relocate work areas without

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having to move walls and rewire offices.

“In addition, the ability to run all the wiring and cables under the floor eliminated the need to purchase powered furniture, which can create another set of issues and challenges with respect to reconfiguring office space,” said Wesel.

Energy costs have also decreased as a result of the access floor system.

“Oregon has a pretty high mandate for energy efficiency, so saving energy was certainly top of mind as we discussed plans for this building,” said Richard Staley, regional director of construction services for the state’s Providence Health & Services.

The facility is Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design (LEED) Gold-certified and employs daylighting, rubber flooring, and motion sensors to control lighting and HVAC.

The facility is Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design (LEED) Gold-certified and employs daylighting, rubber flooring, and motion sensors to control lighting and HVAC.

Additional energy-efficient design elements include:

  • extensive use of daylighting;
  • window glazing and sunshades;
  • a rubber roof that minimizes heat loss and gain; and
  • motion sensors to control lighting and HVAC.

Although Providence Health & Services used UFAD in computer rooms in other facilities, Providence Office Park II represents the first time the organization considered a raised access floor for office space.

“Using the mockup, we were able to demonstrate how the air moves through the space, allowing owner representatives to see and hear it,” explained Adam Carlson, mechanical engineer with Interface Engineering, the firm responsible for the design of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems in the building. “We also presented them with a smoke video that showed airflow patterns and the positive impact a raised floor system has on indoor air quality.”

Once construction began, great care was taken to maintain the integrity of the underfloor plenum. The design team agreed sequencing and maintaining a clean plenum were the two biggest challenges of installing an underfloor air distribution system. There was an extensive walk-through to ensure all the columns went down to the floor, and things were sealed before the floor’s completion. The system was also tested.

Energy savings came in a number of ways, thanks in part to the fact air for an UFAD system can be supplied at temperatures between 16.6 and 18.3 C (62 and 65 F), as opposed to 10 and 12.7 C (50 to 55 F) in an overhead system. In Portland, the outside air temperature frequently allows for use of an economizer, providing cost-effective cooling to the building. This is because the air does not have to first mix with the warmer air at the ceiling level before descending to building occupants. As a result, the underfloor air system is able to provide more economization hours.

Additionally, ventilation air, brought into the building to make the space more comfortable, contributes to the structure’s heating and cooling load.

“The calculation we use to determine how much fresh air to bring into the space takes into consideration how effectively the air is delivered to the occupants. So, in a system that delivers air from the floor directly to the occupied space, the calculation shows less ventilation air is required, resulting in additional energy savings,” explained Carlson.

Only the 1.8-m high occupied space requires cooling, and the UFAD system can supply air at low pressure, paving the way for more energy savings. The static pressure required for UFAD systems is typically 12.5 Pa (.05-inch wg), which is significantly less than the pressure needed to force air through rigid ductwork in an overhead system. As a result, the HVAC system uses less fan energy. In the case of Providence Office Park II, UFAD provides a 30 percent savings in fan energy and a 15 percent savings in system refrigeration energy.

The underfloor system definitely helps, contributing to improved comfort levels, better IAQ, and increased efficiencies.

Scott Alwine, LEED AP, is a marketing manager with Tate Inc. He has more than 10 years of experience in the building products and services industry. Alwine holds a bachelor of science in manufacturing technology and a master of science in business administration from California University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP) and the Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA). Alwine can be contacted at salwine@tateinc.com.

A deeper look at ‘breathable’ curtain walls

Glass-clad buildings are often designed to be airtight for energy efficiency, but some design experts feel new thinking on ventilation could have important benefits for indoor air quality (IAQ). Photo © BigStockPhoto/Oleksiy Mark

Glass-clad buildings are often designed to be airtight for energy efficiency, but some design experts feel new thinking on ventilation could have important benefits for indoor air quality (IAQ).
Photo © BigStockPhoto/Oleksiy Mark

In the August 2013 issue of The Construction Specifier, we included a Horizons column—“Introducing ‘Breathability’ to Curtain Walls—by Raymond Ting, PhD, PE.

As a complement to our more straight-ahead technical features, Horizons examines still-emerging technologies and new ways of assembling buildings. In this particular case, Ting dealt with the issue of glazed assemblies and their impact on both energy efficiency and indoor air quality (IAQ). He acknowledged building codes advocated for airtightness and air barriers, but called for new thinking about how ventilation—a good dose of fresh air, in other words—might be more critical for the occupants living or working inside.

Due to space constraints, a short sidebar article was kept out of the magazine. For a further look into the rationale behind Ting’s call for breathable curtain walls, it is included here. Continue reading