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Blog/Opinion: Formaldehyde Testing?

By HHI Staff

Testing for VOCs can be costly, because there are so many different VOCs that could possibly be in the indoor air. It wouldn’t be unusual to spend between several hundred and a few thousand dollars to do a complete analysis of the air in a house. Because of the care John Bower (HHI's founder) took in building the Model Healthy House, he was confident that VOC levels would be quite low indoors; therefore, he couldn’t justify the cost of all-out testing to verify what he already knew. At the same time, he was aware that many people would be curious as to what kind of findings an independent testing laboratory would come up with.

 

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Rather than test for all possible VOCs, Bower decided to test for one of the most common—formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is one of the few pollutants that is said to be ubiquitous, meaning that it is everywhere. Even in an unpolluted area outdoors, it is possible to measure some formaldehyde in the air.

 

The easiest way to test for formaldehyde is to use a passive monitor. The type Bower selected looks like a small badge with a clip on it. These monitors are designed to be worn by people to measure the average level of pollutants that they come in contact with during the course of their day’s activities. Like radon test kits, these are exposed to the air for a certain time period, usually 24-48 hours, then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Passive monitors can be obtained for a variety of different VOCs. The cost depends on the particular pollutant being tested, but it can be as much as $200 per test. A passive monitor for measuring formaldehyde costs about $80.

 

Bower placed formaldehyde monitors in the kitchen and in the master bedroom. He also decided to place one outdoors so I could see how it compared to the indoor level. The results indicated that the outdoor air contained 0.01 parts per million (ppm) of formaldehyde. Both indoor tests were also 0.01 ppm, indicating that there is nothing indoors that is releasing formaldehyde. Since formaldehyde is ubiquitous, it can’t be avoided completely, but 0.01 ppm is actually extremely low. One Formaldehyde expert has recommended that levels need to be below 0.03 ppm for people sensitive to formaldehyde, but he also says that it is often difficult to reach a concentration that low. At 0.01 ppm of formaldehyde, the Model Healthy House successfully avoided an indoor formaldehyde problem.

Adapted from Healthy House Building for the New Millennium: A Design & Construction Guide (by John Bower, and published by HHI).

 

 

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Formaldehyde Testing?:  Created on February 10th, 2012.  Last Modified on February 10th, 2012

 

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