Improving the quality of life from an indoor perspective

By Colin Stanyard, Technical Manager at Mapei UK

There are many different schemes for assessing the environmental impact of buildings and their components such as BREEAM, a leading sustainability assessment method by the BRE (Building Research Establishment), LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and DlBt in Germany for example.

A key focus of BREEAM is the impact that a building has on the health and wellbeing of its occupants, visitors, neighbours and those involved in its procurement and construction. Since the first scheme was launched to address the design and construction of offices in 1990, improving indoor environmental quality and occupant health has been one of their main objectives. The original BREEAM scheme was split into three parts, with an ‘Indoor effects’ section focussing on the impact a building can have on the health, safety and wellbeing of occupants, recognising that people spend the majority of their time inside buildings. Over the years, BREEAM has expanded in scope to cover multiple building types, lifecycle stages, and scales of development. Whilst the breadth of issues covered has grown, the assessment of health and wellbeing remains a key focus.

To reinforce the commitment of these bodies in the goals to improve well-being, product manufacturers, Architects, Designers and Specifiers have a responsibility to ensure that materials selected for a project do benefit the environment and are not merely products offering empty promises. Their impact on the environment and those living within it is of such paramount importance to the sustainability of the planet that an ill-informed approach to selection must be avoided.

Key factors influencing the health and wellbeing of occupants are:

  1. Indoor air quality. Poor air quality will have a detrimental effect on health and may also contribute to sick building syndrome.
  2. Acoustic influences. In addition to causing general disruption, noise can impair hearing, disturb rest and increase anxiety and stress.
  3. Thermal comfort: extremes of temperature can also impair performance whilst high levels of humidity may lead to the formation of mould.
  4. Visual comfort: lighting and design.

These are very important factors considering that the average person spends 85-90 % of their time indoors whether at school, work or pursuing leisure activities.

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Indoor air quality
The quality of indoor air can change or become polluted from many different sources such as  outdoor pollution, animal hair and bacteria, chemicals from building materials or cleaning products.

As a manufacturer of building chemicals and products for construction Mapei can help reduce the impact on indoor air quality by reducing the pollution from such products. Formulating products with a low environmental impact is of paramount importance and a crucial path in the prevention of indoor pollution is to develop these products with low Volatile Organic Compounds; volatile organic substances that change from a liquid to a gaseous state at room temperature and normal pressure.

The source of VOCs emitted into the air within a building is varied, for example processed timber products, textiles, and even scented candles all contribute, therefore there will always be a background level of VOC in any building.

At Mapei we try to avoid a temporary increase in these levels resultant from the application of levelling compounds, membranes, adhesives and grouts. Perhaps more significantly we avoid the emission of materials harmful to health into the air. Mapei has always been strongly focused on the development of safe yet functional products for the construction industry. Echoing the stringent global environmental focus within Mapei’s own philosophy and company ethic, Mapei currently directs approximately two-thirds of its Research and Development investment towards research into healthier products.

Sustainability is firmly embedded within Mapei’s culture and green values can be traced back to the early 1970s, when a range of water-based products focusing on low solvent content qualities was introduced in to the market.

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VOC evaluation
There are two different definitions and methods to evaluate VOCs and there is unfortunately no correlation between the two methods.

VOC content, favoured by LEED, is expressed as grams of VOC contained in one litre of product (g/l). Mapei also has many products certified under LEED – an internationally recognised green building certification system with a focus on the USA extending to other countries outside the European Community. The test method (SCAQMD Rule 1168) is a very simple one: dry content, water titration and evaluation of density.

VOC emissions is expressed as micrograms of VOC emitted by the applied product in a cubic metre of air (µg/m3). In Europe, we use VOC emissions (EMICODE for example). BREEAM considers VOC emissions, according to BS EN 13999 and ISO 16000 (the same as for EMICODE).

From October 2016 a new version of LEED was released by US GBC: LEED V4 (Green Building Council). This protocol will be applied all over the world, and one of the changes concerning construction products is that not only the VOC content is requested (as in the past), but finally also VOC emission measurement has been introduced.

VOC content is a measurement of the ‘In-can’ amount of VOC whereas VOC emissions measures the actual VOC within the air, which would directly influence the health of installers and the occupants of the building once work has been completed.

VOC content measurements only assess the potential of a material’s impact on health and in addition, they do not distinguish between toxic, carcinogenic or odourous materials. The measurement of VOC emissions, not only differentiates between the types of VOC but also measures actual emissions and therefore better simulates the reality of the situation in the building, in Mapei’s opinion.

This more searching and comprehensive testing method can guarantee good indoor air quality and consequently benefit the occupants.

These internationally recognised certificates are readily available and can be used by Specifiers and Designers to correctly establish a material’s ecological credentials and to select products with a positive effect on indoor air quality.

VOC emissions evaluation
Highly-sensitive laboratory equipment and analytical techniques permit the detection of even trace quantities of VOCs in the air. Specially designed chambers are used to trap the VOCs ready for evaluation at specified time periods. Individual VOC concentrations are added together to give a TVOC (Total VOC) expressed in mg/m³ or µg/m³.

EMICODE® is the name of a classification system protected by trademark, which is used to classify flooring installation products, adhesives and construction products into three classes dependent on their emission characteristics:

– EMICODE® EC 1Plus / Plus R
– EMICODE® EC 1 / R
– EMICODE® EC 2 / R

The EMICODE® classification system is based on analytically determined data and classification criteria obtained using a defined testing method. Since the term “low emission” has neither been standardized nor clearly defined, EMICODE® provides a binding basis to assess and select installation materials. Note R (regulated) was introduced for products that have very low emission levels but still require protective measures during application (e.g. gloves) such as with cement-based materials but still qualify for EMICODE® classification.

GEV EMICODE currently defines testing methods and classification criteria for e.g. tile adhesives, primers, grouts and joint sealing compounds.  Many Mapei products have been granted EC1 (R) certification – extremely low levels of Volatile organic compounds (VOC) issued by the German Association for controlling VOC emissions of installation products (GEV – Gemeinschaft Emissionskontrollierte Verlegewerkstoff, Klebstoffe und Bauprodukte e.V.). This certification is backed by all leading European manufacturers.

In order for a product to be labelled with an EMICODE®, it has to fulfill a series of important basic requirements. Adhesives, for example, must be free of solvents with a boiling point <200°C. The emission of certain C-substances (carcinogenic) may not exceed a defined limit after 72 hours in the test chamber and there must be a corresponding EU safety data sheet. Classification is determined by total emissions (TVOC). The EMICODE certification is based on VOC emissions, according to ISO 16000 parts 3, 6 and 9 and CEN/TS 16516.

Carcinogenic (C) substances are divided into three categories.

1) C 1A: substances, which are known to have a carcinogenic effect on humans.
2) C 1B: substances, which so far have only proved to be carcinogenic in tests on animals.
3) C 2: substances with a justified suspicion of having a carcinogenic effect, although there is insufficient evidence currently.

The search for the presence of C-substances emitted from the test material is carried out after 3 days and 28 days. The method to evaluate VOC emissions is time consuming: the sample (adhesive, primer, self-levelling compound, screed) is applied on glass, transferred into environmental chambers at a controlled temperature and humidity, and after 3 and 28 days the air inside the chamber is sampled on tubes which can retain all VOCs emitted by the product. The tubes are then analyzed by GC/MS (Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry). The VOC emissions are expressed as µg/m³ : µg of volatile organic compounds emitted by the product in one cubic metre of air.

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Acoustic influences
Modern buildings are designed to meet the  requirements of current building regulations using products designed to improve acoustic performance. Mapei’s Mapesilent and Mapesonic range of soundproofing products are used underneath ceramic, stone and wooden flooring installations and are ideal for renovation and improvement projects.

Thermal comfort
Tiled floors are the ideal companion to an energy efficient underfloor or undertile heating system, which can be regulated to give controlled as well as uniform heat distribution. Some systems even offer cooling functions. Energy efficient screed systems such as those incorporating Mapei’s Topcem work well as part of an overall eco-planned installation. In addition, Mapei offers Ultracolor Plus and Kerapoxy CQ grout ranges to resist mould growth in areas of high humidity such as showers and  wet rooms.

Visual comfort
Careful selection of tile or stone surfaces together with the appropriate design and coloured grout can greatly influence the mood within the indoor environment.

Mapei: A Green Manufacturing focus
There is more to a “greener” company that the manufacture of products that emit very low levels of VOC. Therefore, when Architects are working on a project or Construction companies and contractors are choosing a supplier of materials for the installation of stone or ceramic tiles on an environmentally conscious structure there are several other factors they must take into consideration.

Mapei has always been strongly focussed on the development of safe and environmentally friendly, functional products for the construction industry.  Mapei’s continued drive to incorporate sustainable practices extends to the sourcing, supply chain, work force and offices that contribute to the successful delivery of product to market. Energy saving lighting is installed throughout Mapei’s head office and warehouse, suppliers are evaluated to ensure their ethos and environmental commitment supports the company’s goals and objectives in relation to quality and the environment.

2014 saw the implementation of solar photovoltaic (PV) roof panels, estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 189 tonnes per year. According to the Department of Energy & Climate Change, the installation was in the top 20 largest commercial roof top mounted systems in the UK.  Mapei has invested considerably to ensure systems are in place to responsibly source raw materials and to run an energy efficient production unit, through energy saving and recycling. Mapei has been granted ISO 14001 for the entire factory including the production processes, warehousing and offices.

Mapei firmly believes in ‘sustainable’ construction and consequently the saving of natural resources, water, energy and non-renewable materials along with a reduction in emissions and waste materials, in fact, residues from product production are used in the following batch, generating no waste streams. Where a bi-product is unavoidable, every effort is made to recycle through  a proactive recycling programme which ensures very little material is sent to landfill. Mapei invests 5% of annual turnover and 12% of the workforce in Research and Development activities with a total of 70% of this channelled into the development of Eco products.

Mapei’s  culture of sustainable environmental awareness is encouraged and supported by a well-established Integrated Management System (IMS), which guarantees that high standards are set and maintained throughout the company. The IMS System encompasses ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2004, OHSAS 18001:2007, ISO 9004:2009, LEED, SA8000 and GEV EMICODE.

Actively following an Environmental Management System, results in a reduction of the amount of waste created through production processes and subsequent recycling of the vast majority of waste. Mapei minimises the company’s carbon footprint by recycling plastic and cardboard which is re-utilised locally in the West Midlands. A method to recycle other production related waste is  currently running at recycling 95% of waste streams with only 5% to landfill.

In addition to low VOC emitting products, the Research and Development team at Mapei has developed products with other environmental benefits such as Low Dust adhesives, providing a cleaner working area and the consequential health benefits offered when mixing. The development of Ultralite Lightweight adhesives reduces transportation costs and improves manual handling.

Mapei is committed to protecting the earth, using energy and resources sustainably; minimising waste and developing and supplying products with end-user safety in mind. Our commitment to research and our support of internationally recognised certification systems defines the integrity, honesty and sincerity of a truly caring company.