Product management - using low-pollutant and low-emission building materials

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This is one CESBA tool criterion/indicator that applies both to new buildings and the refurbishment of existing buildings

Category: Process and planning quality

Points: 60 points


professional background, relevance, customer value, climate-policy value:

  • Largely avoiding environmentally hazardous building materials and substances
  • Largely avoiding health hazardous building materials and substances
  • Improving employment protection by managing construction chemicals
  • Improving the ambient air quality during the usage phase
  • Reduction of further efforts for dismantling and disposal

The objective of these criteria is to avoid an increased concentration of pollutants in the building and especially in the ambient air. This objective shall be achieved by introducing product management.

The most significant pollutants in the air regarding their occurrence and impacts are volatile organic compounds (VOC). Construction products are important sources for VOC in the ambient air.

An increased indoor concentration of VOC is said to be responsible for various health problems and disease patterns. The symptoms include irritations in the eye, nose, throat, dry mucosa and skin, a sniffing nose, watery eyes, neurotoxic symptoms like tiredness, headache, a lower memory and concentration capacity, higher risk of infections of the respiratory tracts, unpleasant olfactory and taste perception. Some of the organic compounds which can be found indoors are suspected to be cancer-causing.

The range of VOC is heterogeneous and manifold, there is no uniform definition. The following shows the definition of a working group of WHO (1989) which were also adopted in basics that are important for product management. These are for example reference values of the Decopaint Directive 2004/42/EG:

  • Highly volatile organic compounds (VVOC): Boiling point between 0 °C and 50-100 °C
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC6-16): retention range from C6 to C16 (equates to a boiling point of 50-100 °C to 240-260 °C).
  • Semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOC): retention range from C16 to C22 (equates to a boiling point of 240-260 °C to 380-400 °C).
  • Organic compounds associated with particulate matters (POM, e.g. PAK): boiling point > 380 °C

Formaldehyde is a highly volatile hydrocarbon and one of the best known pollutants. In Austria its use is controlled by law in the frame of the formaldehyde regulation which also contains own measure methods for formaldehyde. Formaldehyde can irritate the mucosa and leads to indisposition, breathing difficulties and headache. According to the list of MAC values formaldehyde is classified as a pollutant with cancer-causing potential. Formaldehyde is part of the binding agent for the production of wooden composites.

In Austria, wooden composites are just allowed to be used in the traffic sector if they have a maximum steady-state concentration of 0.1 ppm formaldehyde in the air of a tested area after 28 days under the given conditions (E1). If E1-wooden composites are laid widely, if there is high humidity and low circulation the reference value of 0.1 ppm in real indoor rooms cannot always be fulfilled. Consumer organizations and eco labelling programs criticize the reference value of the formaldehyde regulation for being too high as the odour threshold lies between 0.05 and 0.1 ppm and neurophysiologic effects like headache, visual disorders and dizziness can already appear starting from 0.05 ppm. Other building products that are bound with formaldehyde are mineral wool insulates. They should be analysed on formaldehyde emissions like wooden composites. Formaldehyde is also used as a preservative in construction chemicals.

Besides the avoiding of products that cause VOC or formaldehyde emissions, construction chemicals shall not be used which contain heavy metals, are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction. Carcinogenic are substances and preparations which, if they are inhaled, ingested or if they penetrate the skin, may cause cancer or increase the incidence of cancer. Mutagenic are substances and preparations which, if they are inhaled, ingested or if they penetrate the skin, may induce heritable genetic defects or increase their incidence. Substances and preparations which, if they are inhaled, ingested or if they penetrate the skin, may produce, or increase the incidence of, non-heritable adverse effects in the progeny and/or an impairment of male and female reproductive functions or capacity congenital malformations or increase their incidence are categorized as toxic for reproduction. Some heavy metals can also be toxic in low concentrations (e.g. lead, cadmium, mercury). Heavy metals are not degradable and can accumulate in the food chain (e.g. mercury in fish, cadmium in root vegetables and offal).

Copper in the waste of garbage incineration plants fosters, as a catalyst, the development of polychlorinated dioxins and furans.


The building is our third skin. We spend more than 90% of our life in buildings. Therefore, the quality of the building itself and the ambient air are significantly influencing our quality of life. Besides the user the ambient air quality is especially determined by the building materials and the chemicals contained. VOC, formaldehyde or pesticides can be emitted into the ambient air through the building materials. There, they can negatively affect health conditions for weeks, months or years. The pollutant content in buildings materials and therefore the ambient air can be reduced by 50 to 95% by considering technical requirements.

Specified planning (e.g. constructive protection before chemical protection, constructions that are easy to maintain and clean, a suitable choice of materials) as well as a tendering aiming to reduce pollutants are demonstrably leading to a better working quality at the construction site and to a better indoor climate during the use.

Product management means to carefully chose and control building materials and chemicals to avoid ambient air pollutants. It is implemented by an independent third party (intern or extern) and includes the establishment of ecological criteria in the tendering and the procurement, the approval of building products before their usage on the construction site as well as a continuous quality assurance on the construction site. The successful implementation is documented in a short written form by a professional consultant and has to be additionally validated by measuring the ambient air.

The following table gives an overview over all relevant product groups that can potentially emit pollutants to a relevant extent:

Wood and wooden composites
Wood based panels
Solid wood, coated
Solid wood, natural
Floor coverings
Elastic floorings
Textile floorings
Building chemicals
Wall paint
Other coatings
Adhesives, especially flooring products
Sealing materials
Other extensive building chemicals

Within the product management the following building products out of these product groups have to be considered:

  • All building chemicals that are used on peripheral spatial surfaces (inside and outside) or
  • All building materials that are used inside the room (airtight layer and all building materials in front of it)

The degree of relevance is certainly dependent on the used amount and the local boundary parameters and the size of the rooms.

The ecological criteria for the product management become integrated in the standardized description of performance. The ecological minimum standards which are already defined in the tendering have to be determined in written form in the contract afterwards (e.g. responsibility for authorization, reports). Catalogues of criteria that can be implemented in the frame of building product management are provided especially in the two following programs:

Ecologically building and procurement in the Lake Constance region [Eco-Manual “Ökoleitfaden” 2007] “Ökokauf Wien“ working group 08 interior design [Ökokauf Wien]

"Ökokauf Wien" working group 08 interior design [Ökokauf Wien]

These catalogues of criteria contain further ecological criteria that are not object to the present criteria in the frame of klima:aktiv service buildings. If none of the two catalogues of criteria is applied there is a selection of the tendering criteria relevant for ambient air is provided on the baubook klima:aktiv haus-Plattform für Kriterien und Produkte (house platform for criteria and products) (based on the oeg criteria catalogue).

The list contains the following product groups and requirements:

  • Interior space
  • Low-emission elastic floor coverings
  • Low-emission textile floor coverings
  • Low-emission flooring products
  • Avoiding emissions from insulation in the ambient air
  • Avoiding emissions of formaldehyde from wooden composites
  • Avoiding emissions of VOC and SVOC from wooden composites

Choice of building material

  • Low-emission bituminous preparations
  • Substances, free from CMR
  • Preparations, free from heavy metals
  • Preparations, free from SVOC
  • Avoiding free formaldehyde
  • Avoiding acid-hardening coatings
  • Preparations, free from aromatic hydrocarbon
  • Preparations with low VOC
  • Low-emission sealing compound

Together with the executing companies a building product list („ agreed building products“) is set up before the working starts. Therefore, the executing companies provide a complete list of all intended building products and all evidence needed to ensure an ecological minimum quality at least two weeks before the working starts. All used building products have to be controlled and approved by an extern consultant or an independent intern professional specialist. Besides the obligatory control of the construction management there have to be at least three unannounced controls on the construction site. On the construction site only those building products are allowed to be stored and used that are on that list. The agreed building products are only accepted on the construction site if they are original packed. In the end of the project the contractor receives a final report about the implemented measures as documentation.

Background information, reference

[ÖkoKauf-Wien] [catalogues of criteria for interior design]
[Ökoleitfaden 2007] [Ecological procurement and building in municipalities at lake Constance - planning guide and tendering criteria for the selection of building material]
[baubook] [[1]]

Evidence/ Documentation building owner/contractor

Intern or extern product management: tendering with ecological service description, list of all approved building products on the construction site, final report about the quality assurance on the construction site.

Criteria Points (high score 60)
'Is the ecological optimization of building components within the frame of the schematic design, building application and detail planning documented? 10
Have all trades been tendered considering aspects (criteria about the pollutant content, boundary values for the pollutant content, definition of evidence e.g. -
 ::100 % of all trials are considering ecological aspects 20
 ::90 % of all trials are considering ecological aspects 15
 ::70 % of all trials are considering ecological aspects 10
Have all products of all trials been listed (documentation)? -
 ::100 % of all trials have been listed 30
 ::90 % of all trials have been listed 20
 ::70 % of all trials have been listed 10
Is there an ecological building inspection?Have there been regular controls of the use of materials and have those been documented? -
The whole construction process is documented 20
The construction process is partly documented 10