Choosing To Use LOW VOC Options

Posted by NIEL MORLEY on

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a type of polymer that belongs to the family of plastics. It is formed by the reaction of a polyol (an alcohol with multiple hydroxyl groups) and a diisocyanate (a compound with two isocyanate functional groups). Polyurethane can be produced in various forms, including flexible foam, rigid foam, coatings, adhesives, sealants, and elastomers.

it's time to move away from High VOC products.  At VCS Solid Timber Floors we have many low VOC options.

Why is it Popular?

Polyurethane is known for its versatility and can exhibit a wide range of properties, including flexibility, durability, hardness, and resistance to abrasion, chemicals, and weathering. Due to these characteristics, it is commonly used in a variety of applications such as furniture, mattresses, automotive parts, insulation, footwear, and coatings for floors and surfaces. When you think of traditional solvent base polyurethane this has been the finish used on timber flooring for many years in Australia. Now the industry is in general moving away from high VOC products although there is a price difference between low VOC products and old-fashioned urethane’s that is still causing a number of flooring companies to continue to use the cheaper coatings and accept the exposure to high VOC contents.

Australia Still Uses Floor Coating High in VOC

it's time to move away from High VOC products.  At VCS Solid Timber Floors we have many low VOC options.

In a price driven market, solvents are still widely used as solvent-based urethane is cheaper to produce than waterborne materials. This is true in Australia. However, a more discerning public is moving away from VOC use. VOCs are released into the atmosphere as the polyurethane cures and can be harmful to both the environment and human health. Waterborne polyurethane generally has less VOCs and is regarded as much safer for both the environment and your health. When choosing a polyurethane product always look for one that is low in VOCs.

What is VOC?

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. These are a group of chemicals that can easily evaporate at room temperature and contribute to air pollution. VOCs are released from various sources, including paints, solvents, adhesives, cleaning products, and fuels.

it's time to move away from High VOC products.  At VCS Solid Timber Floors we have many low VOC options.

VOCs can have detrimental effects on both human health and the environment. Short-term exposure to high levels of VOCs can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Long-term exposure to certain VOCs has been associated with respiratory problems, allergic reactions, and even cancer.

To mitigate the impact of VOCs, regulations and standards have been established in many countries to limit the allowable VOC content in consumer products, particularly in paints, coatings, and adhesives. Low-VOC or zero-VOC formulations are becoming more prevalent in the market as a result of these regulations. In price driven market such as Australia some of these regulations are difficult. Downward pressure on pricing has meant that there has continued to be a huge requirement for products with a much higher VOC level than would be available in other countries.

Polyurethane is a Tough Product

Polyurethane is a versatile plastic that is used in everything from spray foam insulation to hardwood floors. Polyurethane is strong and durable making it ideal for a wide range of applications. It is resistant to chemicals and moisture making it a popular choice for everything from flooring to furniture. When you think of plastics used in your vehicle these are generally polyurethane. When you think of floor coatings or plastic coatings these are often simply polyurethane. Polyurethane itself is a useful tough product but it’s delivery to the market in solvents is what creates the problem. We need to avoid solvents if we are going to reduce the VOC levels. It’s not possible to completely get rid of solvents given how many products can be classified as solvent. But we can reduce the harmful content significantly.

Polyurethane is not the be all and end all as far as coatings are concerned. It is still a plastic. You can take a very big step towards reducing VOCs by using a polyurethane coating suspended in water when applied or you can take a step away from plastic completely by looking at a heavy duty Hardwax oils such as Osmo Polyx. Both of these options are considered below.

We use Osmo Polyx on our showroom which we feel is the best possible coating to use and we love its durability and look. At the same time, you may want a shinier finish which can only be given if you use a polyurethane.

it's time to move away from High VOC products.  At VCS Solid Timber Floors we have many low VOC options.

What Options Do We Have?

Generally polyurethane has been associated with solvents because it has been supplied as a solvent-based product, today there is a move away from using lots of solvents. Though it is still widely available there is a huge move towards waterborne material and the heavier duty hard wax oil products.

Polyurethane can be supplied as a water-based polyurethane. The main advantages of polyurethanes are maintained but that same time the solution is a low VOC product based in a water-based medium. Polyurethanes based on these formulas can be tailor-made to meet the needs of any given application. They can be made to be hard or soft, rigid or flexible, transparent or opaque, and they can be made to feel like leather rubber or even metal.

In simple terms, the polyurethane is suspended in a medium based on water as opposed to being suspended in a medium based on solvent. When you apply a solvent-based coating the polyurethane is left behind, but the medium that it was supported in in the container evaporates. What evaporates in a solvent-based urethane includes the harmful VOC. When you apply a waterborne polyurethane, the polyurethane is suspended in water and therefore what evaporates is the water and a tiny amount of solvent that is required in the water. There is a significant difference, in reality a huge difference that cannot be overstated when it comes to the advantages of waterborne polyurethane.

it's time to move away from High VOC products.  At VCS Solid Timber Floors we have many low VOC options.

So, what do you use on your floor?

It’s an excellent question because many products are hybrid in nature and continue to contain a significant amount of solvent despite the fact that they could be marketed as waterborne products. In fact some solutions are in themselves based on products that are in the future likely to create huge problems such as the overuse of ceramics et cetera.

it's time to move away from High VOC products.  At VCS Solid Timber Floors we have many low VOC options.

There are two potential approaches that can have a huge benefit in terms of timber floor coating.

First of these is to use a heavy duty hard wax oil product. Osmo oil is a low VOC product based on renewable resources. Osmo oil is an incredibly tough, hard wearing and durable penetrating coating that is easy to apply and easy to maintain. It provides a specific look and richens the colour of the timber and also provides a surface that is easy to maintain.

it's time to move away from High VOC products.  At VCS Solid Timber Floors we have many low VOC options.

It is important to note that since Osmo invented hard wax oil other companies have got on board and not all of the formulations that are marketed in Australia are heavy duty. Osmo continues to be the high solid product and produces a superb durable coating. A few people who have tried inferior products of had a bad experience and you may hear about one or two bad experiences from time to time. However, if you are checking this out you realize very quickly that Osmo is a remarkable product and there are thousands of positive stories of people who have used the product and wouldn’t use anything else. It just works. It is the best performing and most durable hard wax oil product on the market. Easily comparable in performance to the leading polyurethane products.

The second approach two using low VOC products is to look at waterborne coatings.

In flooring there are some excellent waterborne urethane products available and at VCS we are very happy to supply to specific products that are classified the world over as being excellent performers while at the same time waterborne urethane. They aren’t sold out of the back of a van or a garage [as some are] but backed by a chain of distribution with decades of work in the industry. Good quality coatings are well represented and backed by genuine technical support and guarantees. They perform really well, are both low in VOC and offer excellent wear resistance.

The one that everyone recognizes straightaway here in Australia because it’s been around so long that it’s become the benchmark in timber floor coatings is the Bona product from Sweden. Bona Traffic is quite simply the benchmark that other companies try to emulate. Bona Traffic is durable and hard wearing & has the advantage of being a low VOC product with primers specifically tailored to suit both imported and Australian species of wood.

it's time to move away from High VOC products.  At VCS Solid Timber Floors we have many low VOC options.

The second range that is becoming more popular here in Australia is from Germany and is the Pallmann range of coatings. Pallmann 2K X98 is a remarkable product that offers exceptional wear resistance and durability. Both of these families a product will give you low VOC products while at the same time offering the benefits of polyurethane.

it's time to move away from High VOC products.  At VCS Solid Timber Floors we have many low VOC options.

Over the years at VCS, we have looked at a lot of products. We’ve also seen the return of certain coatings from the past. Australia is an interesting market because of the fact that solvents are still widely used. In the final analysis we have to consider using low VOC products and future recoat and maintenance. Coatings need to be able to be maintained and re-coated in the future. This is certainly not the case with everything that is available on the market and there are coatings of greater or lesser durability to think about.

We are confident that with the various coatings that we supply here at VCS we are bringing the very best of what is commercially available to the market. We encourage you to visit and see what we do and if you’ve got questions, we can explain to you why we recommend specific products.

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