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Emissions from materials and bad smells

Emissions from building materials

Building, surface and indoor materials as well as furniture, furnishings and home decoration items can cause emissions to indoor air. These emissions comprise remnant solvents and raw materials, substances produced in manufacturing processes, and additives. Building conditions have a major impact on the concentrations, quality and duration of emissions.

Moisture in structures is one of the main factors contributing to emissions. New construction and building renovation projects should make sure that structures are dry enough before they are coated.  

Some materials fail to fulfill the requirements for material behaviour in damp and/or alkaline conditions. The result can be chemical decomposition of materials and the release of high concentrations of such compounds to indoor air that are not released under normal conditions. Such chemical compounds include ammonia and 2-ethyl-1-hexanol. The latter of the compounds is associated with plastic carpeting and carpet glues.

If moisture control has been carried out appropriately during construction and the materials used are low emission M 1 class products, the emissions of new materials are reduced to the normal level within 6 to 12 months from the completion of the building.

To ensure high indoor air quality, it is recommended to ventilate the space efficiently during the first few months after moving into a new home.

Volatile organic compounds

Volatile organic compounds in indoor air are mainly derived from outdoor air, from building and interior decoration materials and from residents. High concentrations may cause health hazards, but there are no official limit values for specific compounds.

Concentrations of chemical compounds in indoor air are usually indicated with readings of total volatile organic compounds (TVOC). According to instructions issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, indoor TVOC concentrations are exceptionally high when they exceed 400 µg/m3.

Bad odours

Indoor air can have various odours transported from outdoors, through building structures, through ventilation ducts or from sewers. Odours are always related to ventilation in one way or another.

Odours can move from one housing unit to another through poorly functioning ventilation ducts. Excessive pressure differences between units can cause odours to be transported through structures.

Tobacco smoke

The odour detection threshold of tobacco smoke is very low and, as a result, very low concentrations of tobacco smoke in air can be detected. If tobacco smoke is detected in a smoke-free housing unit, the property owner (housing company) may be required to investigate the cause of the problem and take measures to reduce/remove the health hazard. However, the property can only be obligated to take action if the smell is transferred to the apartment through the structures between apartments, the staircase or ventilation ducts.

The hazard is assessed when windows and balcony doors are closed and the ventilation is operating normally. A smoking ban should be based on adequate evidence on a health hazard, assessed by the strength and frequency of tobacco smoke in the unit.

Sewer-like odours

Modest sewer-like odours can be detected in most spaces from time to time due to, for example, the drying out of water seals during long usage breaks. A bad odour is a health hazard if it occurs frequently and it is strong.

The causes of sewer-like odours include poor or poorly functioning sewers and pressure variations caused by ventilation. Sewer ventilation pipes on roofs can be blocked by ice in winter, preventing normal sewer operation.

Other odours

Dwellings and other spaces for human activity can receive bad odours and noxious fumes from garages (exhaust gases or from burning or combustion fuels) and from work spaces that generate hazardous emissions. Moisture and mold damage to structures and various emissions from materials may also cause bad odours.

06.12.2019 18:27