A major source of indoor air pollution may be at your feet. That’s why carpet for LEED buildings is an issue not to be overlooked.

Carpet materials can release a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. Volatile organic compounds – also found in glues, household cleaning supplies, paints and a wide range of products – may have adverse health effects, including headaches, eye irritation, nose and throat discomfort and dizziness. Some VOCs are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

Although VOC emissions from new carpet typically fall to very low levels within a few days of installation, the choice of carpet material can play a role in attaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED rating system takes into account several factors: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and LEED innovation credits. A project can earn a total of 69 points. A score of 33 points earns LEED Silver status. A score of 39 points scores LEED Gold and a score of 52 points or higher earns LEED Platinum.

Using carpet systems that meet or exceed the standards set by the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus programs contribute one credit in the indoor environmental quality category. The Carpet and Rug Institute – a trade association – in 1992 launched the Green Label testing and approval program setting limits for the level of VOC emissions from carpet, adhesives and cushion. An independent laboratory tests carpet products to determine the emission levels for 13 chemicals, including benzene, naphthalene and formaldehyde. The carpet is tested to determine the emission levels within 24 hours, after 14 days, quarterly and annually.

The choice of carpet can also play a part – albeit a small one – in earning LEED credits in other categories. A project can earn LEED credits by using salvaged materials and refurbished, reused or recycled carpet may be part of that equation. A project can also earn LEED credits by using carpet containing recycled content materials.

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