What You Should Know About Formaldehyde Exposure in Home

When it comes to formaldehyde exposure in your home, there are two very important points to remember:

  1. There are many possible sources of formaldehyde besides laminate flooring: cleaning products, natural wood materials, combustion gas from gas stoves, cabinets, carpeting, pads and other furniture containing composite wood, etc. Elevated formaldehyde exposure concentrations are not necessarily caused by laminate flooring. Note: IET has been testing formaldehyde concentrations in Florida homes for more than 20 years. Prior to the recent issue of laminate flooring, 4 out of 5 of the homes we tested found no detectable concentrations of formaldehyde.
  2. The concentration of formaldehyde exposure reached in a home is the result of the interaction of two factors: the amount emitted from all sources, and the amount of ventilation air (natural, mechanical or both) continuously diluting it.  Well-ventilated homes are much less likely to allow concentrations to build up to levels above those recommended.  However, many homes built in recent years, especially those built to be highly energy-efficient, often have inadequate natural ventilation. To obtain proper ventilation rates, these homes should have ventilation provided mechanically.

Formaldehyde exposure emission rates and thus concentration in the home’s air are also affected by moisture content of the composite wood material.  This is relevant because excessive moisture (in the form of water vapor) sometimes comes through the concrete slab floors common in Florida and builds up in the composite wood center of the laminate flooring.  IET sees this fairly frequently in homes we inspect.  This can lead not only to possibly excessive formaldehyde exposure but also to mold growth in or below the flooring.  We highly recommend having moisture testing of the slab done prior to the installation of laminate flooringany flooring material, especially those containing wood or other moisture-sensitive materials.

Note:  Most “wood flooring” sold today is actually “engineered wood,” often made using similar materials to those used in making laminate flooring.  The major difference may be only that the top layer is a hardwood veneer rather than printed plastic.  While it would be possible for engineered wood flooring to be made with composite wood materials that are mislabeled as CARB2 compliant when they are not, we are unaware that any such accusations have been made.

Next article: Formaldehyde Screening and Testing Methods Used

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