EU law for construction products

The European Union combines free trade with safe products. Producers have to test their products only once per characteristic. The EU member states may keep their variably strict levels of protection and limit values. European harmonisation of test methods disburdens manufacturers and allows for a competition with the product performance.

European aims

One of the essential aims of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is to remove barriers to trade within Europe (Article 26). Construction products – from masonry to wall coverings    are also meant to be traded freely. In this regard, the Regulation (EU) No 305/2011 laying down harmonised conditions for the marketing of construction products (Construction Products Regulation, CPR) provides for harmonisation of the internal market. The CPR has replaced the until 2013 valid Construction Products Directive (CPD, 89/106/EEC).

The regulation itself merely lays out the basic framework; the technical details are elaborated in harmonised European standards and European assessment documents. Precondition for CE marking and for the free marketing and use connected with it is that the manufacturer declares the performance of the construction product according to the rules of the regulation. Each member state may require that the declared performances satisfy its requirements for the intended use of the construction product.

Restrictions on free trade are permitted by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Article 36) if this is required for the protection of the environment, public health or safety. The CPR takes this into account in its seven basic requirements for construction works, which include "hygiene, health and the environment". The regulation leaves the right of the member states to fix requirements, they consider necessary, to protect the environment and health as well as workers using construction products intact.

The European Commission offers an informative Database “CP-DS: Legislation on substances in construction products” which standard developers and manufacturers may consult for information on the regulations in different member states which their products must comply with if placed on the market there.

Interim solution on national level

In cases where the standards do not cover the required characteristics, an additional technical documentation may be used to bridge the gap and ensure that the existing levels of protection are maintained until the harmonisation process is complete. After the reform of the German building law in 2016 the current requirements valid in Germany can be found in the “Administrative Rules ─ Technical Building Regulations” (abbreviated MVV TB in German). The material requirements regarding protection of health and the environment are covered by part A3 and the indications to their documentation by part D3. The internet service „safe use of construction products (in German)“ explains where gaps prevail today and how users can resolve them when tendering and choosing products.

Milestones towards European Harmonisation

The first and second generation of harmonised standards and technical approvals has defined environmental and health requirements in terms of only a few basic elements. The reasons for this are the differing requirements or those lacking any detailed definition in the member states, the lack of experience in dealing with environmental and health requirements in the relevant standardisation committees, and the lack of harmonised test and assessment methods.

For the next generations of standards and technical approvals the missing test and assessment methods are available. The European Commission issued in April 2005 a mandate for CEN to develop the required methods. In April 2006 CEN established a new Technical Committee, CEN/TC 351 “Construction Products: Assessment of the release of dangerous substances” to carry out the mandated tasks as described in its work programme.

Altogether over 600 harmonised product standards and 1500 testing standards are planned in the context of the CPR. Many of these concern product groups having potentially critical effects on indoor air and on soil and groundwater. These include wood-based panels, floor coverings, wall and ceiling finishes, adhesives, screeds, plasters and mortars, bricks, sealants, cements, aggregates and thermal insulation products.

By 2015 CEN/TC 351 should make available appropriate testing procedures for all building products. The first of these test standards, CEN/TS 16516 “Construction products - Assessment of release of dangerous substances - Determination of emissions into indoor air”, was published at the end of 2013. The technical committees for building products at CEN can and should start adopting the CEN/TC 351 test standards into their harmonized product standards as soon as these are on hand. A standard test and declaration according to the rules of CEN/TS 16516 belongs from now on to the state-of-the-art for all construction products that show relevant emissions.

Next steps

The European Commission determines if a revision of product standards for specific construction products is necessary by means of amendments to the product mandates (standardisation request issued by the European Commission). The substances to be addressed are specified in these mandate amendments. Up to 2010 the European Commission mandated CEN to include requirements relevant to hygiene, health and environmental protection in three concrete product groups, thermal insulation products, floor coverings and aggregates. By the end of 2012 seven further mandate amendments were issued: gypsum, timber, wood-based panels, masonry, wall and ceiling finishes, roof coverings and glass.

Each Technical Committee responsible for product standards covered by a mandate amendment is asked to tackle the mandated requirements in a work programme. From 2015 the work was expected to result in information on emissions and content of hazardous substances in the CE marking and its attached documents. This implementation has not been successful yet, although the mandated test methods have become available. The UBA sees here an urgent need for action for all involved in standardisation. An overview of the substances and parameters that are considered relevant is given by the Indicative list of regulated dangerous substances possibly associated with construction products under the CPD. With the help of this list also product committees that have not received a mandate amendment are able to check, whether action is needed concerning their products.

Information on VOC emissions in the CE marking

The harmonised European test standard EN 16516 for the determination of construction product emissions into indoor air became available in October 2017. It is the basis for information on health relevant VOC emissions in the CE marking of construction products for use in indoor spaces. The implementation of EN 16516 in product standards is mandated to start by the beginning of 2019, at the latest. This concerns products with a standardisation request including VOC.

First product technical committees have updated some product standards to include a VOC test according to EN 16516 during 2018. Nevertheless information on VOC in the CE marking seems to be further delayed. The titles of the relevant product standards have not yet been published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). First after a clearance by the European Commission in the OJEU are manufacturers allowed to start CE marking of their products on the basis of an updated standard. The approval procedure for standard titles to be published in the Official Journal is currently an unexpected bottleneck. The exact timing of the chance to go forward with CE marking including performance data on VOC is therefore not yet predictable.

As long as CE marking with VOC information doesn’t exist the UBA recommends all users to request a voluntary VOC verification confirming that the criteria of the AgBB evaluation scheme and / or of the MVV TB are met. For construction products covered by the rules of the MVV TB (in German) an appropriate technical documentation is for example a DIBt evaluation, a still valid Technical Approval (abZ) or a European Technical Assessment (see also https://www.sichere-bauprodukte.de/). For further construction products for indoor spaces not yet falling under the MVV TB a suitable verification is e.g. an ecolabel like the Blue Angel or a product specific Environmental Product Declaration (see also model tender for low pollutant building and renovation (in German).