EMICODE: Quality label for a healthy living environment

We spend between 80 and 90 per cent of our work and leisure time in sealed, indoor environments. That’s an average of almost 21 hours a day for adults, 15 of which are spent at home. Our children spend 14 to 19 hours at home – mostly in their bedrooms. We breathe between ten and 20 cubic metres of air every day. So we should be able to have peace of mind that the indoor air we breathe is also of good quality.

The materials used in a room play no small part in the quality of indoor air. Low-emission interior products are therefore in high demand to ensure a healthy living environment. But the market for construction materials is complex. You cannot tell by looking at a product what it contains – or when its contents might be emitted into a room once the product is installed. By providing guidance in this respect, the EMICODE quality mark helps manufacturers, users and consumers to get a clear view.

The German VOC Regulation: Tames volatile compounds Emissions are everywhere. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are significant when it comes to the quality of indoor air. At room temperature, these compounds change their form from liquid to gas and get into the air that we breathe. They find their way into the home as ingredients in solvents and other chemical construction products such as paints, varnishes and adhesives. Formaldehyde is perhaps the best known of these compounds. While not all VOCs are harmful to health, only a very few are actually beneficial to the living environment.

In the 1980s, measurements taken in living rooms in the Netherlands found concentrations of harmful organic substances to be 14 times higher on average than in the local outdoor environment. Since then, much progress has been made. To take account of the health risks posed by breathing in harmful substances over extended periods of time, an EU Directive limiting the emissions of volatile organic compounds was passed in 1999. This Directive was transposed into German law as the VOC Regulation in 2001, and imposes limits on total emissions permitted from solvents.

 

Wanted: Low-emission products without compromised functionality

The industry recognised the need to act at an early stage and rushed on ahead of the legislation. In 1997, renowned German manufacturers in the flooring adhesives sector came together to form the Association for Emission-controlled Installation Materials e.V. or GEV, in order to develop materials that are as low in emissions as possible. They introduced EMICODE as a neutral classification system. The aim was to provide consumers, users and planners with guidance concerning products and technologies available on the market. Adhesives and construction products have also been tested and included in the EMICODE labelling scheme since 2007.

The approach adopted here is not that lower emission values are automatically better: What counts is the highest level of health protection without compromising product quality. A solvent-free adhesive, for example, which cannot reliably hold floor boards in their intended place, will not be recognised under the EMICODE scheme.

Quality label to provide guidance for planners, architects and consumers

The EMICODE quality mark is available for all key product groups used in flooring, parquet and tiling work. The GEV is continually enhancing the testing methods and classification criteria to include an even wider range of products and applications in the EMICODE scheme. The aim is to provide guidance in the complex construction materials market with a view to ensuring that, holistically speaking, interior fittings are low-emission – something that everyone involved can benefit from.

  • Consumers have the peace of mind that they are surrounded in their own four walls by materials that pose no risk to health.
  • Tradespeople can use products with a clear conscience, knowing that their customers and they themselves are not being exposed to any harmful substances.
  • Architects are in a position to give more targeted advice and to better realise the wish of many clients for a healthy living environment.
  • The industry is motivated to continue manufacturing their products at a high quality level and to go on improving them.

EMICODE: Quality label with three classes

There are three categories of the EMICODE label:

  • The premium category, EMICODE® EC 1PLUS*, guarantees the strictest emission limits on the market and provides users and consumers with the highest possible level of safety with regard to harmful emissions.
  • The second highest category, EMICODE® EC 1*, denotes materials that are ‘very low in emissions’.
  • EMICODE® EC 2* denotes that products are ‘low in emissions’.

All three categories of the EMICODE label can be awarded in ‘regulated’ form. Labels with a grey ‘R’ in the background indicate that a product is not harmful to health in terms of emissions, but that special safety measures are required during processing. Materials that contain cement and reaction resin products, where the skin and eyes must be protected during processing, would be such an example.

Cutting-edge analysis for differentiated quality marks

Each EMICODE category lays down limit values for the compounds being tested. The emission characteristics of a material are tested in special test chambers. Tests are conducted on characteristic samples manufactured according to product type. During the test procedure, samples of the air are taken and analysed after three and 28 days. Using cutting-edge laboratory analysis, even the smallest concentrations of VOCs can be detected in the air.

The testing procedure is very complex. The sum of the individual concentrations gives the TVOC value (Total Volatile Organic Compound) – the total emissions that determine a product’s categorisation under the EMICODE scheme. Because products differ in their consistency, different coating quantities are also applied to the specimens. This, in turn, leads to different emission characteristics and differentiated limit values for the different product types. Blanket statements about the specific material properties that the three EMICODE labels denote in a product cannot therefore be made.

Progress towards a healthy living environment

Quality marks in the construction sector are only effective if everyone involved is on the same page when it comes to their use. This means in no small part that manufacturers have to commit to product quality, giving the industry an incentive to invest in the development of new basic materials that are optimised in terms of emissions. Quality labels like EMICODE can then foster progress towards a healthy living environment and everyone benefits: large companies, small businesses, tradespeople – and above all the end consumer.

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