What type of carpet or manufacturer of carpet produces the least VOCs?

Question

What type of carpet or manufacturer of carpet produces the least VOCs?

Asked by Colleen Baxter

We would like to put wall-to-wall carpet in our newly refinished basement and must consider the fact that I am extremely sensitive to even low levels of VOC's. What type of carpet or carpet manufacturers would you suggest?

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Answers

Cynthia Phakos's picture

Before we discuss what carpet you should use we should first touch on the Carpet and RugInstitute's (CRI) program for selecting and installing carpet.

  • Their Green Label Plus (GLP) IndoorAir Quality (IAQ) program first launched in 1992, has become the standard for emissions ofVOC's in carpet, cushions and adhesives.
  • The maximum allowed VOC emission from new carpetin this test program over a 24 hour and 14 day period, is 0.5 milligrams per meter square, whichif very low.
  • Tests done for carpet emissions demonstrate that with proper ventilation, emissionswill dissipate within in 48 to 72 hours (www.nps.gov/sustain/spop/carpet.htm).
  • On the CRIwebsite you will find a list of Carpets, Adhesives and Cleaners that meet their Green Label Plusstandards.
  • The Carpet and Rug Institute also provides installation guidelinesfor your carpet as well.

Installation

Moisture in basements. Installing the carpet on a basement concrete subfloor can be a risky proposition given moisturerelated problems in a place not built for habitation.

  • A waterproofing or foundation specialist canassess your situation prior to installing carpet, if this hasn't been done yet.
  • Moisture under carpetcan cause mold and mildew which can contribute or cause health problems.
  • Basement waterproblems are solvable, and you definitely want to do this right. As I grew up in the northeast,where we all had basements I know first hand the problems that can arise, installing a carpet inbasement.

Carpet installation. Installing broadloom (wall to wall) carpet on a concrete subfloor typically requires a glue-downinstallation. I have seen carpet installed with the tack-less strip method on a plywood subfloor onsleepers but this requires additional height and is more costly.

  • Adhesives are one of the biggestcauses of VOC emissions and as the basement probably doesn't have great ventilation, you willwant to select a 0 VOC adhesive.
  • Performance Broadloom Adhesive 2100 manufactured by XLBrands, is one that we use and the Material Safety Data Sheet lists the VOC content as "zero"grams per liter.
  • Before installation, the concrete substrate must be tested for moisture andalkalinity. A good carpet installer can do this for you.

Ventilation.The Carpet and Rug Institute requires the supplier to unroll and air-out carpets in the warehousebefore bringing them to your home, to minimize on the off-gassing.

  • As you are installing thecarpet in the basement where there may not be adequate ventilation you should check and see ifthe installers could air it out for the 48 - 72 hours in the warehouse, or if you have the space youcould do the same.
  • Also, carpet can act as a sink for VOC's emitted from other materials, so you should select lowVOC paints, sealers and furnishings. Carpet traps dust, pet dander and other particulates thatmight contribute to your sensitivity.Carpet companies and the CRI promote carpet as reducingairborne particulates as they are essentially trapped in the rug.
  • However you want to look at it,you will want to select a carpet that is easily cleaned. And again you will need to select a non-VOC cleaner. Wool carpets soil the least but may not be appropriate for a basement space.

Carpet Selection

Carpet is made up of 3 components:

  • the face fiber,
  • the carpet backing, and
  • the adhesive.

Face fibers. A natural wool, cotton or grass (sisal) will give you the most chemicalfree carpet, especially if it is not dyed.

  • Earthweave, Nature's Choice and Hibernia are all goodchoices.
  • Carpet made from synthetic face fibers are mostly nylon 6, nylon 6.6, polyester, andpolypropylene (PP).
  • There are some newer materials such as Mohawk's Smartstrand whichis partially produced from corn sugars that would be worth considering if you are going for asynthetic fiber.
  • Check this Q&A by David Rodriguez and this one by William Janhonen for other carpet types.

Adhesive and backing. This is where VOC's are most frequently found. Most backings are apolypropylene fabric and latex, or poly-vinyl.

A cushion-backed carpet works best on concrete as it adds some cushioning to the floor (moreoften this would be a commercial carpet). The CRI has published a Standard forInstallation of Residential Carpet which you can read here.

Recommendation

Given the moisture, ventilation and VOC issues, if you are going to install carpet, a carpet tilemakes the most sense.

A great carpet tile manufacturer is FLOR, a division of Interface, a pioneerin the sustainable carpet world and have the lowest VOC's in the industry.

  • The backing is madeof a vinyl compound rubber which is pre-coated with Intercept, an anti microbial finish whichprevents mold or mildew.
  • The face fiber is woven (or punched) into the backing so there are noadhesives.

When installing the carpet tiles, you should start with a water based concrete sealer. You couldthen use Moisture Guard 2.0, which is a sheet good used to further protect against moisture and ispart of their commercial line. FLOR's carpet tiles can be installed with their TacTiles connectors,which are glue-free adhesive squares that adhere the tile to one another and create a floating floor,which means that no glues are required.

Carpet tiles can be used in playful color patterns, or be a monochromatic whichever suits yourstyle. The look would be appropriate for a refinished basement. Also, should there be anymoisture problems you can easily remove a tile.

The carpet tiles can be installed after off-gassingmore easily than broadloom due to their size. I believe that when you open the box you will findthat there are no odors.

Should you desire an alternate flooring choice, after this discussion, I would recommendWicander's Cork floating floor system which requires no adhesives. The cork panels come in1'x3' panels and can be prefinished. Their heavy wear finish is warrantied for 25 years and all oftheir products are Green Guard Certified for Indoor Air Quality.

For more information:

Check the green flooringtopic of GreenHomeGuide's Know How section for tips and further explanation about carpet.