Definition of Off-gas

Man Caulking on Stairway
David Papazian / Getty Images

It doesn't sound particularly pleasant, and it's not-off-gassing can be very dangerous to your health. What does it mean to "off-gas"? Well, many building materials contain chemicals you've probably heard of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, and after they've been installed in your house, these chemicals slowly begin to evaporate. They contaminate and compromise the interior air quality of your home, and the side effects can last for years.

These include allergy issues, and symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Not fun, or healthy.

Building Materials that Off-gas

In many cases, the off-gassing culprits are materials you don't even see, such as substrates that contain glue, caulks, sealants and insulation. However, some finish materials also have the potential to off-gas. These are the offending parties:

  • Paints and stains
  • Paint strippers
  • Varnish
  • Plywood
  • Particleboard
  • Fiberglass insulation
  • Carpet and other flooring
  • Cabinets and countertops

How to Avoid Off-gassing

We live in a chemical world, but there are a few ways to ensure that you breathe easier:

  • Look at labels and avoid products containing formaldehyde or other chemicals that are hard to pronounce. Other phrases to look for: low-VOC and no-VOC.
  • Allow new materials to "breathe" for a few days or weeks outside or in the garage before you bring them into your home.
  • Ventilate your home during and after your renovation project, and keep humidity levels down.