Odours from building products

a young woman takes a smell at one of different glass plungers which are set out in a rowClick to enlarge
Test person conducting an odour assessment in the laboratory
Source: Hermann-Rietschel-Institut der TU Berlin

Refurbishing is fun and it beautifies the home. However, hazardous substances frequently lurk in building products - joint sealants, paints and varnishes. Building products which outgas volatile organic compounds (VOC) and odours can be harmful to the health and well-being of the people who reside inside. Healthy indoor air is therefore a very important issue.

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Building products low in odour

Odours in indoor rooms are easy to detect. Thorough airing can help in the short term, for example after refurbishment. However, some odours cannot be eliminated so easily and the nose does not smell many other emissions. Building products which are low in odour improve the hygiene of indoor air and help to save energy. The Blue Angel provides orientation for the purchase of low-emission products.
Helpful information and advice on working with paints, varnishes and other refurbishment products and insight into the Blue Angel ecolabel is in the Gesund und umweltfreundlich renovieren brochure. Choosing the right products can reduce potential health risks and environmental impact to a minimum. Building products which are low in odour have already become one of the criteria in modern building certification systems such as the Assessment System for Sustainable Building (Nachhaltiges Bauen für Bundesgebäude).


Evaluation Scheme of the Committee for Health-related Evaluation of Building Products

The Evaluation Scheme of the Committee for Health-related Evaluation of Building Products (AgBB Scheme) has proven effective in Germany to evaluate the ⁠VOC⁠ emissions from building products. The evaluation scheme considers a sensory test and evaluation mandatory but it has not been enforced since there has been no standardised measuring method available up to now.

Two UBA projects by the Hermann Rietschel Institute (HRI) of the Technical University Berlin, the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) and the RWTH Aachen University developed measurement methods and evaluation benchmarks which are suitable for the sensory-based evaluation of building products.
The new DIN ISO 16000-28 standard (indoor air pollution) has been an internationally recognised measurement method since 2011.

Field trial: AgBB Scheme and Blue Angel

Methods of measurement and evaluation of odour emissions are needed in various contexts, for example for manufacturers' internal quality control, for the Blue Angel and for the evaluation of building products.

The new method of measurement is currently being applied to floor coverings, adhesives and wood-based materials. The Committee for Health-related Evaluation of Building Product (AgBB) and building product manufacturers are trialling the sensory-based evaluation of building products in a pilot phase up to 2014. The first Blue Angel ecolabel for low-emission building products with sensory evaluation are in preparation. Building products low in odour and low in emissions are absolutely essential in energy-efficient buildings in particular.

Builders and building contractors can use products which bear the voluntary Blue Angel labelling for low-emission building products with confidence. The ecolabel is awarded to products which have been tested according to the AgBB scheme by approved laboratories. The emissions standards are stringent.


Results of 2011 research project and expert workshop in 2010

At an expert conference held in March 2010 the UBA, HRI, BAM and RWTH Aachen University presented the key results of the research project Sensory-based evaluation of building product emissions – Integration into the Blue Angel award criteria and assessment scheme of the Committee for Health Evaluation of Building Products. The research report by the same name was published in 2011.

The research team developed evaluation standards based on extensive measurements of odour and volatile organic compound (⁠VOC⁠) emissions from building products. The standards are suitable for a sensory-based evaluation of building products.


Research project and expert conference in 2006

In an earlier research project entitled Requirements to construction products on environment and health – Identification and evaluation of ⁠VOC⁠ emissions and odour exposure, the BAM and HRI cooperated to test 50 building products. The researchers determined the emissions from sealing compounds, paints, wall paints, wood-based materials, synthetic resin-based plasters, levelling screed, plaster boards, adhesives and wall coverings and then applied the AgBB Evaluation Scheme.

The objective of the project was to gain information about the emission behaviour of building products and to test and extend national and international test methods of VOC measurement in order to appraise building products according to the Evaluation Scheme of the Committee for Health-related Evaluation of Building Products (AgBB). One of the focus areas was the development of a method to assess odour emissions.

The results point out very clearly that the health-related aspects of building products have greatly improved as compared to just a few years ago, but there is need for action. Fourteen products – mainly sealing compounds and synthetic resin premixed plasters – failed to meet the requirements of the AgBB.
The emission behaviour of the various product groups was determined in this 2006 research project and is adequately described. An appropriate measuring method is also now available for sensory-based evaluation of building products. In a follow-up project in 2010, the Federal Environment Agency commissioned the HRI and BAM to carry out comprehensive testing of selected product groups in order to determine the requirements of odour assessment.

The measuring method and other results of testing were presented at an expert conference held in September 2006 in Berlin. The slides of the presentation can be downloaded from the website of the Hermann Rietschel Institute.

A detailed brochure has been written based on the results of the research projects. It contains information for prospective building and refurbishment projects and in-depth advice on what to keep in mind when purchasing materials. The brochure also has information about building product emissions and is aimed at do-it-yourselfers, architects, civil engineers as well as public health and environmental authorities and building supervisory boards.