Hardwood floors have become a popular design element in both new and pre-owned homes. Including hardwood floors in newly constructed homes adds quality and value, while older homes with hardwood floors are seen as having a timeless character.
The growing popularity of hardwood flooring coincides with increasing demand for products that are more environmentally friendly, especially those used in refinishing. Consumers are no longer ignoring their health concerns and, fortunately, neither are contractors and installers.
Indoor air quality has quickly become a top priority for environmental groups, consumers and manufacturers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air quality is one of the top five environmental threats to human health. Immediate effects of poor indoor air quality may include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness, allergies and fatigue. Indoor air pollutants may also trigger symptoms of some diseases, including asthma, reproductive and developmental problems and cancer.
Recently, organizations dedicated to environmental responsibility and human health have stepped into the realm of builders and contractors. One such organization is the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI). The GEI is committed to helping contractors, designers, architects and building professionals, as well as consumers, create and maintain clean indoor air.
“Goals of the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute include striving to improve public health and quality of life by helping manufacturers build better and safer products,” said Ron Peden, president and CEO of BonaKemi USA, whose line of sanding, finishing and maintenance products recently received GREENGUARD certification. “Having this certification is important as GEI only certifies those products that will not pollute the air with harmful levels of dangerous chemicals or particulates.”
One step in the floor finishing process – sanding – has always created an enormous amount of airborne wood dust which, of course, significantly degrades indoor air quality. Wood dust generated by floor sanding is a known toxin and carcinogen*. While the level of toxicity varies considerably according to the species of wood, it is still highly recommended that every precautionary measure be taken to avoid breathing such dust, especially for the hardwood flooring professional that faces frequent or long-term exposure.
Eye irritation, nasal dryness and obstruction, prolonged colds and frequent headaches, all can be consequences of long-term exposure to the dust from sanding and airborne wood particles. Smokers or workers with sinus or respiratory conditions may risk even worse health problems. Wood dust on the floor also can cause slipping, and the ability to see your work can be impaired by dust generated during sanding operations.
But, the potential health hazards don’t end there. Infiltration and permeation of dust into vents and air conditioning units also creates the potential for poor air quality as it is circulated throughout a house or business, escalating the dangers of the occupant breathing it in and the nightmare of cleaning it up.
The responsibility of recognizing personal and workplace health and safety hazards rests in the hands of the hardwood floor professional.
“Dust from sanding a hardwood floor can do more damage than many people think,” said Peden. “There are ways to contain dust which are now easier and more efficient, providing healthier working conditions, while dramatically increasing the speed and profitability of each job.”
The best way to control dust inhalation is through properly designed and maintained dust containment or extraction systems. There are trailer- and truck-mounted systems, the latest advancements in dust containment technology, which provide complete evacuation of dust from the entire floor sanding process.
Several other sanding systems are available to protect hardwood flooring professionals from frequent and lengthy sanding exposure and are specifically designed to virtually eliminate the amount of airborne dust and actual exposure time. These dust containment systems use portable vacuums to capture and remove the dust before the contractor is exposed to it.
Dust containment systems can help the contractor in other ways. The reduction of airborne dust exposure results in a much cleaner work area during and after sanding. For workers, the clean environment allows them to see their work better, is more comfortable, and less irritating to eyes, nose and throat. Other cost savings will result from an environment that reduces dust and significantly reduces cleanup time on occupied job sites.
“Dust containment systems have become the most valuable tool for protecting health and the environment through indoor air quality,” said Peden. “They also constitute a competitive advantage for savvy installers who want to emphasize a clear point of difference.”
By using dust containment systems, contractors can provide healthier working conditions for themselves and their employees and a cleaner environment for homeowners. Not only do these systems facilitate a better working environment, they also allow contractors to start and finish jobs faster, limit clean up time and ultimately, charge more for quality results. Higher quality finish results are achieved with the elimination of airborne dust that could settle and contaminate the finish as finishing coats dry. Dust containment has become a competitive advantage for contractors and soon will be essential to a contractor’s ability to compete at all.
Hardwood floor finishing companies embracing the extreme regard for contractor and homeowner health are becoming an ever-present trend. One company at the forefront of this revolution is BonaKemi. OSHA regulations limit the amount of particulates that are safe to breathe. Without the use of a dust containment system the wood dust particle count is more than 20 times higher than the OSHA limit! Bona’s Environmental Choice System includes products and systems for each step of the hardwood floor finishing process, including the Atomic DCS, a powerful vacuum attached to sanding equipment that captures and contains these carcinogenic dust particles.
Organizations like OSHA and the EPA recognize the hazards of poor indoor air quality and have established guidelines to address the issue head-on. With that in mind, why wouldn’t today’s contractors want to protect their health by taking simple precautionary steps, such as using environmentally friendly finishes and dust containment systems to protect indoor air quality and health without sacrificing quality?