Certified Low-Emission Composite Wood Products

Scope

In all living spaces, utilize third-party certified low-emission composite wood materials that are designed to reduce human exposure indoors to individual VOCs. The How to Find Indoor airPLUS Compliant Low Emission Products document provides guidance on identifying compliant products including industry databases and examples of product labeling.

These specifications apply to:

  • Structural Plywood and oriented strand board
  • Hardwood plywood
  • Particleboard and MDF products
  • Cabinetry

See the Compliance Tab for related codes and standards requirements, and criteria to meet national programs such as DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, and Indoor airPLUS.

The How to Find Indoor airPLUS Compliant Low Emission Products document provides guidance on identifying compliant products including industry databases and examples of product labeling. The guide also includes more detailed descriptions of the compliant third-party standards and certifications applicable to low-formaldehyde composite wood. Utilize this guide when outlining detailed product certifications to be included in the project specifications and/or subcontractor bid package.

Description

Formaldehyde is traditionally used as part of the adhesive, or “binding agent,” in composite wood products such as particleboard, plywood, medium density fiberboard (MDF), and oriented strand board (OSB). Elevated levels of formaldehyde, which becomes a gas at room temperature, can cause burning sensations in the eye, nose, and throat; nausea; difficulty breathing. It can also trigger attacks in people with asthma. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers.

The rate of release of formaldehyde from products such as pressed wood or textiles can vary. Emission levels of newer pressed wood products are generally higher than that of older products and can increase with high indoor temperatures or humidity.

On July 7, 2010, President Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act into law. This legislation, which adds a Title VI to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), establishes limits for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products: hardwood plywood, medium density fiberboard, and particleboard. The national emission standards in the Act mirror standards previously established by the California Air Resources Board for products sold, offered for sale, supplied, used, or manufactured for sale in California. Learn more.

Using certified products lowers occupants’ risk of exposure to high levels of formaldehyde from construction materials. These Indoor airPLUS specifications can be implemented by requiring documentation of material certification for each material submittal package from sub-contractors. Any submittal requirements, such as manufacturer documentation of product certifications, should be clearly outlined in the project specifications and/or subcontractor bid package. Information for each third party certification and emissions standard required by Indoor airPLUS can be found in the How to Find Indoor airPLUS Compliant Low-Emission Products document.

Ensuring Success

To ensure Indoor airPLUS Item 6.1 requirements are met, incorporate the requirements for product certification into the project’s specifications and/or bid package. Require documentation of product compliance for each product submittal from sub-contractors and suppliers.

Climate

No climate specific information applies.

Training

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Compliance

The Compliance tab contains both program and code information. Code language is excerpted and summarized below. For exact code language, refer to the applicable code, which may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

DOE Zero Energy Ready Home

Zero Energy Ready Home (Rev. 03) Exhibit 1, Item 6  “Indoor Air Quality” requires that builders meet the EPA Indoor airPLUS Verification Checklist and Construction Specifications.

EPA Indoor airPLUS

The Indoor airPLUS Verification Checklist (Version 1 Rev. 03) states:

6.1: Composite Wood

Structural plywood and oriented strand board (OSB): Use only products certified compliant with:

  • PS1 or PS2, as appropriate, and made with moisture-resistant adhesives as indicated by “Exposure 1” or “Exterior” on the American Plywood Association (APA) trademark.

Hardwood plywood: Use only products certified compliant with:

Particleboard and MDF products: Use only products certified compliant with:

Cabinetry: Made with component materials (plywood, particleboard, MDF) that are certified to comply with:

Note:  “No added formaldehyde” (NAF) or “Ultra-low emitting formaldehyde” (ULEF) products that are specifically exempted from the California ATCM to Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products are compliant with Indoor airPLUS.

The How to Find Indoor airPLUS Compliant Low Emission Products document provides guidance on identifying compliant products including industry databases and examples of product labeling.

This Retrofit tab provides information that helps installers apply this “new home” guide to improvement projects for existing homes. This tab is organized with headings that mirror the new home tabs, such as “Scope,” “Description,” “Success,” etc. If there is no retrofit-specific information for a section, that heading is not included.

SCOPE

Guidance for the measures described in this guide is applicable to both new and existing homes.

Follow safe work practices as described in the Global Worker Safety section of the Standard Work Specifications.

More Info.

Access to some references may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

Case Studies

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References and Resources*

  1. Author(s): U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
    Organization(s): U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
    Publication Date: January, 2013
    Updated detailed information about Formaldehyde.
  2. Author(s): DOE
    Organization(s): DOE
    Publication Date: April, 2017

    Standard requirements for DOE's Zero Energy Ready Home national program certification.

  3. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: October, 2014
    Detailed information about Formaldehyde including health effects and strategies to reduce exposure.
  4. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: October, 2015
    Companion document to the Indoor airPLUS Construction Specifications, providing guidance on identifying compliant products, including industry databases and examples of product labeling.
  5. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: October, 2015
    Document outlining specifications that were developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize new homes equipped with a comprehensive set of indoor air quality (IAQ) features.
  6. Author(s): Composite Panel Association
    Organization(s): Composite Panel Association
    Publication Date: January, 2001
    Document addressing multiple surfacing options for composite wood panels with regards to their abilities to act as emission barriers.
  7. Author(s): Composite Panel Association
    Organization(s): Composite Panel Association
    Publication Date: January, 2003
    Technical bulletin addressing surfacing options in regards to composite wood panels and their emission barrier capabilities.
  8. Author(s): National Institute of Standards and Technology
    Organization(s): National Institute of Standards and Technology
    Publication Date: December, 2004
    Standards for requirements, performance, construction, workmanship and others for structural-use panels.
  9. Author(s): American Plywood Association
    Organization(s): American Plywood Association
    Publication Date: May, 2010
    Standard that provides expanded and updated requirements for producing, marketing, and specifying plywood for construction and industrial uses.

Contributors to this Guide

The following authors and organizations contributed to the content in this Guide.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Indoor airPlus program and PNNL.

Last Updated: 06/16/2017

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