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Home Construction & Renovation

Fast Facts

  • Chemicals in carpets, paints, stains, cabinets and paneling can trigger asthma attacks and other health problems.


  • Volatile organic compounds, or “VOCs” off-gas for weeks or even months after installation.


  • Children are especially vulnerable to these potential effects, and women who are pregnant should avoid any exposure.

Everyone wants a healthy home. Unfortunately, many products typically used in the construction and renovation of homes and apartments contain chemicals that can be harmful. Carpeting, paints and stains, cabinets, paneling and treated wood can all pose a potential threat to the health of your family.



Everyone knows the smell of new carpeting. That's because the chemicals used in the production and installation of commercial and residential carpeting are "volatile organic compounds," or “VOCs.”  Some VOCs commonly found in carpets, carpet backing and adhesives include benzene, styrene, toluene, xylene, and formaldehyde. Long-term exposure to these chemicals has been linked to certain types of cancer, endocrine disruption and birth defects.

Paints & Stains:


Most commercial paints and stains also contain VOCs. Propane sulfone, for example, is a powerful known carcinogen and is widely used in paints. Inhalation and skin absorption are the most common routes for exposure.

Cabinets and Paneling:


Kitchen cabinets and wood paneling can be a major source of harmful VOCs, due to the fact that they are often manufactured from engineered wood products such as plywood, particleboard, and medium density fiberboard (MDF). These materials use resins containing urea formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.


Treated Wood:


Processed or pressure-treated wood is frequently used as a construction material for playgrounds and outdoor furniture or decking. To prevent pest infestation and rotting, the wood is impregnated with chemicals. Until 2002, the chemical most widely used for this purpose was chromated copper arsenate, or “CCA.” If you have an older wood deck or other outdoor construction that cannot be removed or replaced, it should be sealed annually with several coats of water-based latex paint or oil-based sealant to slow the rate of leaching.

Things you can do

Use area rugs rather than wall-to-wall carpeting, and open windows to allow carpets to outgas before sleeping in areas where new carpets have been installed. Specify low-VOC or no-VOC paints and stains when redecorating; most national brands now manufacture a line of safe products. Do not allow children to sleep or play in newly painted rooms until the smell has completely dissipated

Allow kitchen cabinets to outgas prior to installation, and keep windows and doors open whenever possible to allow gases to dissipate. Purchase cabinets and furniture made from solid wood rather than particle board. Used furniture is often free from these chemicals.  Do not use treated wood in vegetable gardens or in playground areas.


If you must use construction materials containing toxic chemicals, do so only in well-ventilated areas and avoid prolonged exposure.

Home Construction and Renovation Resources
Web Resources 
  • Wood Preservatives – This article by Beyond Pesticides identifies the heavy-duty wood preservatives, specifically the inorganic arsenicals, that are considered some of the most deadly chemicals on the market.

Related Websites
  • How Green Is My Town? - This online program, which addresses the three inextricably linked issues of sustainability, climate change and environmental health, provides a blueprint for 50 discreet issues, and contains the resources, templates, science and other essential tools to help every town achieve its environmental priorities.

Products We Like!


Earthweave –Makes a line of organic carpets and offers non-toxic backing and adhesive materials.

Natural Home Products – Offers eco-friendly wool carpet, naturally dyed area rugs, bamboo, natural cork and sustainable hardwood flooring.

Paints and Stains

Milk Paint – Apart from being a wonderful tool for making reproductions and/or striving for authentic and beautiful interior design, Milk Paint contains only ingredients that are all-natural and will not harm the environment. Available from many online suppliers.

Benjamin Moore Natura Paint - Virtually odorless, quick-drying, zero-VOC paint provides a durable finish and comes in an unlimited number of colors.

BioShield Paint – The first company to introduce environmentally safe paints in the U.S. Products include wall finishes and paint, natural oils, interior and exterior wood stains, waxes and finishes for floors, furniture, cleaners, and maintenance products.

Eco-Wise – A leader in non-toxic eco-products–interiors, lawn and garden, baby products, toys, gifts, clothing and accessories–as well as products for “green building,” including paints, stains, flooring, sealants and insulation.

Weather-Bos – A revolutionary, environmentally safe paint and finish product that can be used on anything from children’s toys to commercial buildings, made with only natural, easy to apply ingredients.

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