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guide to healthy and safe sealants and adhesives

Adhesives & Sealants for a Healthy Home

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Aug 20, 2020

When you think about the materials used to build your home, images of 2x4s, plywood, brick façade, perhaps some cinder blocks, and roofing tiles all come to mind. However, one of the most abundantly used (though unseen) home construction materials is the variety of sealants and adhesives. A wide range of adhesives and sealants come in products ranging from carpet, tile, concrete, countertop, and drywall lamination to wall coverings, roofing, joint cement, pre-finished panels more. Much of the wood used to build homes is essentially glued together with strong adhesives as well. However, the adverse health and environmental consequences that often come with these useful building materials have brought them into the spotlight. 

Health and Environmental Problems Associated with Sealants and Adhesives

“What’s wrong with a little bit of glue?” you might be wondering. The countless number of chemicals that go into construction-grade sealants and adhesives make many of these products complex and potentially dangerous. 

One of the most significant health issues related to sealants and adhesives used in homes is that they are considered volatile organic compounds or VOCsThe EPA, among several other organizations, has found that high levels of VOCs in homes can lead to many serious health issues. These problems can include headaches, eye, nose, throat irritation, and even long-term damage to your liver and kidneys. 

However, what is less known about VOCs is that they also cause problematic damage to the environment. Many VOCs create photochemical reactions in the atmosphere, increasing smog and other air pollution problems. 

Many homeowners have begun to understand the potential dangers of VOCs from paints, adhesives, and sealants. But, SVOCs (semi-volatile organic compounds) are another issue. In most paint types, the VOCs are usually emitted or “off-gassed” during the first hours or days after installation or application. In contrast, the volatile compounds in many adhesives and sealants are often considered semi-volatile organic compounds. This semi-volatile state means that the harmful chemicals are released more slowly, over an extended period. Many dangerous substances present in many adhesives and sealants can thus seep into your home over many months or years.

Epoxy resin is one of the main ingredients that you find in numerous types of adhesives. This resin is a mixture of several different types of chemicals. Unfortunately, most epoxy resin manufacturers don’t reveal the nature of the various chemical blends that go into epoxy resin. Studies have shown that epoxy resin uses bisphenol A (BPA) during the manufacturing process and most likely has trace amounts of this chemical in the finished product. BPA is known to affect the endocrine system and other hormones in the body. Other studies show that extended exposure to BPA can lead to male impotence and heart problems as well. 

Window Caulking Home Depot
Window Caulking. Photo Credit: Home Depot

What to Look for in Healthy Adhesives and Sealants

The thought of exposing your family to VOCs, SVOCs, and other hard-to-pronounce chemicals that might cause adverse health and environmental effects is a scary one. You’ll be happy to know there are many healthy and ecologically friendly adhesive and sealant products on the market. And, new, updated, healthier formulations are becoming available each year.  

Below, we offer a quick list of what to look for in the most sustainable adhesives and sealants.

AFM-Safecoat MultiPurpose Caulk Green Building Supply
AFM-Safecoat MultiPurpose Caulk. Photo Credit: Green Building Supply

Less Off-Gassing

Look for sealants, caulks, and adhesives advertised as “no-VOC” or “low-VOC.” Several companies, like Green Building Supply and Eco-Building Resource, specialize in these types of products. If the product is identified as an SVOC, avoid purchasing it. As mentioned above, it will leach harmful chemicals into your home and the atmosphere for extended periods.

Non-Toxic Labelling

Unless you have a Ph.D. in chemistry, it can be near impossible to try and understand all of the thousands of different chemicals printed on the ingredient list of the adhesives and sealants you use. Options that brand themselves as non-toxic are usually better. They willingly use chemicals that are less damaging to the environment and your health.

AFM Safecoat 3 in 1 Adhesive Green Building Supply
AFM Safecoat 3 in 1 Adhesive. Photo Credit: Green Building Supply

Water-Based Options

When using caulks, sealants, and adhesives, opt for water-based or water-soluble products for indoor use. These formulations are usually better than oil-based options because the chemicals in these products are less potent and generally off-gas less. 

California Proposition 65 Standards

The State of California is usually at the forefront of consumer and environmental protection. In 1986, California Proposition 65 was a voter initiative law that was passed to protect consumers from numerous toxic substances. The chemicals banned under this law are updated annually. This law is usually considered one of the most comprehensive legislation to protect consumers and the environment from toxic substances. If a company claims to adhere to the California Prop 65 standards, you can be sure that it is one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly products on the market. 

Product Meets LEED Standards

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has a credit for Low-Emitting Materials. The newest version now judges adhesives and sealants' health using a VOC Emissions Evaluation and a VOC Content Evaluation. The content evaluation, specifically, requires that the product adhere to the SCAQMD Rule 1168, or the

Canadian VOC Concentration Limits for Architectural Coatings. If a product states that it “meets LEED Standards,” you can assume that it will not cause adverse indoor air quality issues. If a product purports to be “LEED Certified,” read the label carefully to ensure it meets LEED standards, as LEED does not certify products. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-01-21T21:55:38+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.