Meets LEED requirements for IAQ (Indoor Air Quality)
Breathe Easy with LV
The Living Vehicle lineup meets U.S. Green Building Council LEED requirements for acceptable indoor air quality.
Creating the most sustainable and healthy living spaces is a top priority of Living Vehicle and an area of design we are laser-focused on. As living, breathing creatures, we are highly concerned with the air quality inside the spaces we create. Protecting the air from harmful chemicals and dust particles is no easy feat and requires careful attention to design concepts, material specifications, and the products used to assemble every LV.
The RV industry could be better when it comes to indoor air quality, high VOCs, and unhealthy living spaces. We set out to do something different and challenge convention in designing mobile living spaces that so many people and families call home.
Living Vehicle is LEED AP
Living Vehicle takes the mantra, Experts Recommend, to a new level with their commitment to excellence and quality building practices.
As a licensed architect in the State of CA and a LEED Accredited Professional, CEO, and lead Designer, Matthew Hofmann, has decades of experience with professional coursework and on-the-ground training, and he's not the only LEED Accredited Professional on the team. Hofmann's specialty is in environmental design, with a passion for creating sustainable homes, businesses, and earth-friendly buildings for the world. This commitment is a lifelong pursuit of understanding what it takes to build a quality and healthy product. It is our goal to share with you the thinking behind what it takes to create a highly sustainable and healthy travel trailer.
Testing and Certifications
Living Vehicle hired an independent consulting firm to perform Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) tests in our trailer units and to test for various harmful materials and chemicals. The extensive testing revealed that the concentrations and levels of all potentially dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) inside the Living Vehicles were extremely low and well within acceptable exposure limits. Accordingly, it was determined Living Vehicle meets the most stringent indoor air quality requirements of all government agencies like OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, Living Vehicle meets the standards set by independent sustainability organizations like the USGBC.
Living Vehicle is proud to meet USGBC LEED criteria for healthy indoor air quality, as certified by world-renowned environmental consulting firm JS Held, holding the nationally recognized Certified Industrial Hygienist credential. The Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) credential is the global standard for certification in protecting the health and safety of workers and the public by anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling chemical, physical, ergonomic, or biological hazards, including COVID-19.
What is Indoor Air Quality?
According to the EPA, indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially concerning the health and comfort of building occupants. Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can help reduce the risk of indoor health concerns.
Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems. Inadequate ventilation allows indoor pollutants to accumulate and increase to unacceptable levels by not removing air pollutants emitted by those sources. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some contaminants. These considerations are especially true in small, air-tight living spaces. The sustainability movement has brought attention to the health and well-being of building occupants. While mitigation measures are available to lower indoor air pollutants in existing buildings and living spaces, there is tremendous opportunity in the focused design of new areas. A healthy living space starts at the beginning planning stages as a fundamental part of the design process.
As architects, builders, and creators of habitable spaces, we are responsible for creating healthy environments where humans can thrive. At Living Vehicle, it is our utmost goal to design areas that contribute to a holistic, healthy lifestyle environment, and the quality of the indoor air is a major contributing factor to that environment. You have probably heard some buzzwords when it comes to indoor air quality such as Mold, VOCs, and other industry jargon. In this three-part series, we aim to shed some light on what contributes to healthy living spaces and what Living Vehicle is doing to ensure its trailers meet the highest industry standards for air quality.
What are VOCs?
VOCs are organic chemicals with high vapor pressure at room temperature. High vapor pressure correlates with a low boiling point, which relates to the number of the sample's molecules in the surrounding air, a trait known as volatility. Volatility is defined as the tendency of a compound to vaporize as the molecules escape from its surface and become airborne. When VOCs vaporize inside enclosed environments, these molecules mix with the air we breathe.
The green movement has brought newfound attention to VOCs, mainly in a negative context; however, not all VOCs are harmful. After all, flowers emit VOCs. Bees and other insects are attracted to the VOC scent emitted from flowers. Without these naturally occurring VOCs, flowers would not be pollinated and would cease to exist.
VOCs are also responsible for the sweet-smelling odor found in perfumes. Whenever you get the scent of someone wearing perfume or cologne, you're breathing VOCs. Of course, some people love this, and others, well, not so much. But the pure existence of scent molecules is not inherently wrong and certainly not a health hazard. Because of this, we must consider the nature of specific VOCs and why they matter to humans.
Sources of VOCs
Are VOCs harmful to humans?
The chemicals that become airborne mix with the air we breathe. Breathing certain VOCs in potent doses can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, cause difficulty breathing and nausea, and damage the central nervous system and other organs. Some VOCs may even cause cancer.
Some more familiar potentially harmful VOCs include benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene. For example, IAQ testing of Living Vehicle's trailers found no detectable amounts of formaldehyde using the most sensitive methods. Low levels of other chemicals, contaminants, irritants, and VOCs were all found to be well within acceptable safe limits. Living Vehicle's trailers have been professionally tested and found to meet the US Green Building Council's stringent requirements for acceptable indoor air quality.
VOCs Commonly Found in Home Products
Household products widely use organic chemicals that can contribute to adverse reactions in humans. For example, VOCs are commonly found in high concentrations in:
· paints, solvents,
· cleansers, degreasers, disinfecting supplies,
· cosmetic products, nail polish, hair sprays,
· glues and hobby products,
· standard fuels like gas, gasoline, propane, and butane.
These products contain organic chemicals, which are considered VOCs. All these products can release organic compounds when used and, to some degree, when stored. Our homes contain most of these products, but not all are inherently bad or unhealthy. If you tested your home for VOCs right now, you would find VOCs in the air from the many cleaning chemicals you have stored inside the house. The presence of VOCs does not automatically mean toxicity or harmfulness -- the operative question is always potency and exposure duration. Even the most harmful VOCs are innocuous in small enough doses.
The green movement has brought to light the importance of air quality and its impacts on our health. This awareness expands beyond the products we bring into our life and, even more importantly, includes the health impacts of the spaces we call home.
The History of Buildings
Thousands of years ago, homes and commercial structures were constructed from basic materials – primarily plants, wood, and stone. These materials were deployed from the context of the site surrounding the building – available natural materials derived from the earth. Like the great forests that covered urban centers, cities were built from the world as a natural manifestation of the existing landscape.
As history progressed into the industrial age, iron, steel, and other natural metals became prevalent. These materials advanced the sophistication and complexity of the buildings that occupied our growing cities. Skyscrapers rose to new heights in all the world’s metropolitan centers. Suspension bridges defied gravity, and countless examples of incredible engineering feats harnessed the power of the natural world. Metals transformed the possibilities of architecture. At the turn of the century, the technological age emerged, and its groundbreaking new artificial and manufactured materials revolutionized the building industry. An entire industry of never-before-seen materials emerged and wholly changed the built world around us.
The invention of plastics challenged how we thought about architecture, and an entire material science industry evolved. Laminates, glues, and solvents enabled artificial materials to become so realistic that they embodied the natural look and feel of wood, stone, or metal and offered many previously impossible advantages, including cost savings. Over time, the proliferation of these products started to impact the health of the humans occupying spaces built with plastics, adhesives, and cultured veneers.
Sick Building Syndrome
All of this can contribute to what we call “Sick Building Syndrome,” a condition that affects the habitants of buildings, typically marked by headaches and other respiratory problems attributed to unhealthy indoor air quality.
Living Vehicle Air Quality Design
As practicing architects and LEED-accredited professionals, we are highly concerned with the indoor air quality of Living Vehicles to promote a healthy lifestyle. Here are some fundamental concepts we consider as a sieve that all our sustainable design concepts must first pass through as we strive to design the most environmentally-friendly Living Vehicle possible.
VOCs and formaldehyde are found in the glues from which carpet products are assembled. Living Vehicle doesn’t use any.
Anti-Mold, By Design
The Living Vehicle has been designed to prevent mold growth by using and incorporating nonporous materials where mold cannot grow, such as glass, metal, and ceramics. In order to grow and proliferate, mold needs moisture, spores, and a food source (the thing it grows on) under the right conditions. Mold can only grow on materials that were once alive and are now dead, such as cotton, wood, or leather, which contain sufficient nutrients for mold when exposed to the elements, such as water. But mold cannot grow on materials such as glass, metal, and ceramics that do not have the nutritional value to support mold germination.
Air ventilation in the interior living space is a critical component. Maintaining humidity at a low value is especially difficult for a small area where condensation may quickly form. This is primarily where mold starts. A small leak or condensation buildup overtime can cause significant issues. Living Vehicle uses a wall cavity with air circulation by design and fills the gaps with a closed-cell foam board. The basement has full-time air circulation, so there is clean, dry air throughout.
Limit the Use of Adhesives and Solvents
Take a closer look at the exterior and interior of the Living Vehicle, and you will notice a total absence of caulking. This is by design and the result of countless hours engineering the tiny details where materials meet – the way materials come together, so we do not need to rely on caulking. This also makes things much cleaner, modern, and quite elegant.
Specialty materials selected for manufacturing of the trailer, specifically for environmentally friendly conditions.
· Do not produce environmentally harmful conditions.
· Do not emit harmful levels of VOCs.
Low and No VOC Building Materials
The following list represents the vast majority of building materials that go into creating a Living Vehicle.
Aluminum – we love it! Aluminum is found throughout a Living Vehicle, in the chassis, frame, floor, interior, exterior panels, etc. A natural material, aluminum is wholly recyclable, lightweight, and completely VOC free. As an odorless and impermeable material, aluminum is the gold standard for healthy building practices — no place for mold to hide here. Aluminum may also be welded or riveted to itself using (you guessed it) more aluminum! This eliminates the need for glues, adhesives, or other VOC-emitting assembling materials.
3M VHB Tape
Instead of gluing our interior components or exterior seams, we typically use a combination of rivets and tape. Now, this isn’t your ordinary everyday Scotch brand household tape. Very High Bond (VHB)tape is created and patented by 3M and is designed to adhere two common materials to one another. Think of VHB as super tape. VHB tape is not considered a hazardous material and a tremendous replacement for the unsustainable alternative – glue! This product eliminates harmful chemicals in the production facility and provides a healthier long-term alternative to the off-gassing caused by glues and solvents.
Rigid Closed cell foam insulation
Living Vehicle is entirely fiberglass free and uses the most advanced insulation available. The product we use is Intertek Clean Air Gold certified and is low-VOC. This insulation’s closed-cell nature means mold has no place to hide or grow. And best of all, this conforms to LEED and WELL standards for low-emitting materials. A layer of aluminum on each side of the foam assists with adhesion to the structure and reflects heat, which keeps the interior of the Living Vehicle very comfortable.
Powder-coated Aluminum Cabinetry
Nearly all Living Vehicle cabinetry is built from aluminum and finished in an ultra-durable powder-coated finish. The process of powder coating results in a product with virtually Zero VOCs. Moreover, using a powder-coated finish reduces the carbon footprint compared to wet coatings by up to 60%, which is better for the environment. Additionally, there is less than 1% waste during manufacturing as the application process is very efficient. Of course, this is all done in a highly regulated factory with the highest standards. We love our cabinets and so will you!
We discerningly use wood products for accent features and high-value interior shelving elements. We use only natural wood products. Most of our design is built from black walnut and finished with natural oil. This species is naturally mildew and rot-resistant. We use hardwood beech and oak plywood containing No Added Urea Formaldehyde (NAUF) and Ultra-Low Emitting Formaldehyde (ULEF).
Heat Treated Paint
All interior walls on the Living Vehicle are built from aluminum and covered with a beautiful and ultra-durable paint finish. While paints are typically high VOC emitting, the industrial heat-treating process we use completely changes that for the better! Paint is baked onto the aluminum panel in a massive oven during manufacturing, and the VOCs from the applied color are baked off the panel. The VOCs emitted during the manufacturing process are released back into the ovens and reused for fuel – we call this thermal recycling. Cool stuff.
The topcoat for all our woodwork uses a Conversion Varnish. Ultra-durable, elastic, and easy to clean, this is one of the best (if not the best) finishes applied to wood. Like the heat-treated paint technique described above, the wood undergoes a chemical curing process while at the woodworking factory that causes the controlled release of VOCs. Because of this technique, the amount of harmful chemicals released over time is significantly less compared to lower-quality, traditional air-cured lacquers that cure slowly after installed inside the home. Of course, our woodworking finish meets all applicable NESHAPS (National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants) requirements.
Waterproof and exceptionally durable, this flooring is applied using water-based glue directly over a 1/8 sheet aluminum subfloor. Our flooring is Floor Score-certified and contributes to Low Emitting Material credits for the USGBC LEED rating system.
What is NOT in Living Vehicle
The RV industry is notorious for building junk trailers and motorhomes that are made from
· laminate cabinetry
· OSB, plywood subfloors, or other engineered wood products
· wood structural elements
· fiberglass insulation
These are just a few of the biggest offenders when it comes to indoor air quality and indoor environmental health. As you can see, there are many factors and circumstances that contribute to indoor air quality, which is why professional testing is the one tried and true method of evaluating indoor health concerns and determining compliance with air quality standards and exposure limits. Living Vehicle has tested the product lineup using Certified Industrial Hygienist, Robert Leighton at JS Held. The report summary may be downloaded here. The full testing report may be downloaded here.
Professionally Tested for IAQ
After reading this article, I highly encourage you to test your home for indoor air quality (IAQ) to understand the real-world performance of your living space and determine how your home “scores” against the known VOC spectrum. This way, you will accurately understand how your home is performing and contributing to your and your family’s health. There are countless IAQ tests available with a quick search on the internet; however, not all tests or testing firms are equal, and how you test matters.
Types of IAQ Testing
Here are some of the most important considerations when testing your home for Indoor Air Quality:
It may go without saying but selecting the right person for the job is critical. After all, the data collected and interpretation of that data may have a massive impact on lifestyle decisions that could change where or how you live.
Factors relating to your health are not the time to order an online, do-it-yourself test kit. Partner with a licensed environmental scientist. Nowadays, the “greenwashing” of sustainability has resulted in myriad of “get certified online” type testing companies. And many so-called “certified” individuals received a certificate of completion after sitting in a two or3-day training class which provided them with the answers to a 20-question exam during a review session immediately before taking the exam. Stick with a professional with years of experience.
"Online" Air Quality Testing Companies
Inexperienced individuals claiming to be Certified IAQ Experts need to gain more understanding of the different testing methods available and how to interpret the test results they receive from a laboratory. Unfortunately, sub-par testing companies sometimes provide misleading or utterly inaccurate analyses to customers. Regardless of the title IAQ testers may give themselves , including industrial hygienist, environmental scientist, IAQ specialist, etc., many still need more training and experience.
Certified Industrial Hygienist
The Gold Standard in the IAQ industry, and the professional title accepted by the courts in IAQ legal cases, is the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). This title cannot be used unless one meets the rigid eligibility requirements of the American Board of Industrial Hygiene, now called the Board for Global EHS Credentialing or BGC and has passed a rigorous all-day written examination on a broad range of scientific, environmental health science subject matters.
LV Invests in Professionals
At Living Vehicle, we use one of the nation’s foremost environmental CIH scientist firms, J.S. Held. While you may not need to go to this level, we recommend you begin with a pro. Steer clear from anyone who got certified online or did not attend a legitimate college for environmental science. Indoor air quality is a highly scientific specialty with potentially massive health impacts for you and your family. After all, would you trust your family healthcare to a mail-order doctor who received their degree online in one week? Hardly.
Living Vehicle has been tested by Certified Industrial Hygienist, Robert Leighton at JS Held and determined Living Vehicle meets the indoor air quality set by LEED standards. This report may be found here.
Test Your Occupied Home First
Chances are you’re already living in the home you want to be tested. However, if you have not yet moved into a new home, consider yourself lucky! The best time to get a baseline on the house is without your stuff, furniture, and personal belongings. If you can’t remove your items, leave everything the way it is to get a good understanding of the quality of the air you are breathing on a day-to-day basis, which is affected by everything that currently exists inside your home.
Products Affect IAQ Results
The products in your life will undoubtedly be a long list of everything that surrounds you daily – including furniture, rugs, cleaning supplies, cosmetic products, fixtures, pets, and even the home itself. The list goes on and on. It’s essential to note that a test on an occupied home is NOT testing for the house itself. Don’t get me wrong; you will ALSO be evaluating the air quality impacts of the home. But because indoor air quality testing means assessing the air inside your home, there is no way to initially determine the source of any detected VOCs or contaminants. Because some areas of your home are better ventilated than others, testing should be performed in several spaces throughout the home to get the overall big picture. In a small living space like a Living Vehicle, which is a mere 220 square feet, even a single bottle of nail polish or cleaning supplies can register on the testing equipment. Whatever the case, this is a great place to start and will establish a great baseline.
Standards for Testing
If you are working with a professional, as I recommended, this part is easy! Your selected Indoor Air Quality partner will walk you through what is needed to prepare the space for testing. This is one of the benefits of working with a pro! Not only do you get a great experience, but you also get essential, accurate data! If you don’t follow applicable testing standards, then your data will not be accurate, leading you to make incorrect conclusions. Not good.
Here are just a few standards that your Air Quality Professional should discuss with you:
· Temperature and humidity. Your home must be at the proper temperature when testing. If too hot or cold, this may skew results. Similarly, the humidity must be in the correct range to obtain accurate data.
· HVAC systems must be running. The airflow from heating and air conditioning equipment allows for proper air circulation inside the space while testing.
· Outdoor air quality must be tested too. Guess where the air came from that’s inside your home? Outdoors! When testing indoor air quality, you need to establish a baseline for any pre-existing VOCs in the air around your home. Not all atmosphere is created equal. If you live in an area with hazardous air or nearby pollutants, this will have an impact on your indoor air quality and should be considered when analyzing the results.
· Check for on-site disruptions. Ideally, you have a space to properly test your home that is not “molested” by a one-time condition that will skew your testing. Is there something happening today that doesn’t usually occur? Are moving trucks coming to visit your home that are idling and emitting exhaust? There are so many things that could completely ruin your testing data. This is even more important when testing mobile living spaces like Living Vehicle. For example, the worst thing you could do is to perform a test at an RV park. These places are tightly packed with many RVs emitting smells and chemicals. An R.V. next door could have propane tanks that are off-gassing, methane emitting from sewer connections, and even a new R.V. next door will impact your testing.
· Ventilate before testing. All homes emit some degree of VOCs. A house sitting for an extended period without natural airflow will accumulate VOCs and result in dramatically higher readings. Your testing professional will instruct you on best practices for how to test your home. This is even more important for small spaces like Living Vehicle, where the total indoor air volume is small.
This is just a short list intended to help you as a general guide. Always follow the recommendations and directions of your selected air quality testing professional.
Living Vehicle invested in a full report of multiple trailers to ensure we achieved the best indoor air quality. This full report may be downloaded here.
Analyze the Results
Now that you have completed the testing phase, here are a few key points to ensure you receive a proper analysis.
Obtain an Independent Interpretation of the Lab Results
When you receive the results from the testing lab, ensure they are interpreted by a separate independent party (likely your hired CIH or IAQ professional) with the knowledge and experience to interpret IAQ results and who is familiar with your situation, circumstances, and home environment. One major downside to many testing companies is that they rely too heavily on the laboratory to interpret the test results without adequate consideration of your home environment. Unlike medical labs, which receive millions of human samples annually that statistically appear in the normal ranges and have been long-established, environmental labs receive much fewer samples from a wide variety of environments. The lab results can significantly affect the test, so normal ranges from other lab customers can be misleading and inappropriate. Instead, comparisons of lab results to regulatory limits or professional guidelines are usually more helpful.
VOC Levels from Different VOCs are not Cumulative
When you receive results, you must scrutinize the results to determine if there is an issue. Not all VOCs are created equal and should not be added together since a high “total VOC” number is not indicative of a potential problem. This is a significant issue with internet-based testing agencies, where they add up everything and provide a single “shock and awe” cumulative number. Each detected VOC and contaminant level needs to be analyzed independently in comparison it accepted industry standards as the practice of simply adding everything up to present a “total” number is not helpful and does little to identify whether an issues exists.
Stick to the Standards
Well-established government agencies and professional environmental organizations have empirically-based thresholds for acceptable levels of specific VOCs or contaminants in your home. These agencies include OSHA, the ACGIH,USGBC, EPA, and NIOSH.
Unless compared against these types of official criteria, your results are evaluated based on an arbitrary opinion of a private company, which is not recommended.
With your testing results, you now have data to work through! If you hire a CIH with at least ten years of IAQ experience, you will be in good hands, and will get accurate recommendations. If everything looks good, you have the validation that your home is in good shape, and no further action is required. However, you may be surprised to find specific VOC concentrations at elevated levels requiring additional evaluation. Only your professional environmental testing agency can provide you with the best course of action.
Root Cause of VOCs
When analyzing elevated results, the primary issue that you need to know is the origin of these high VOCs. Since the test was performed in an occupied state, the VOCs may be from products placed inside the home, the home itself, or both! Now comes the hard part of determining how you need to act.
I equate this stage of testing to a medical differential diagnosis. This is when a doctor has a problem with a patient displaying an illness, and they work through the evaluation of that patient to determine the cause of the presented symptoms. The disease (or cause) is not yet known!
Ideally, Test Your Home Empty
This is when the benefit of selecting a trained professional yields excellent value. You know there is a problem but don’t know where to start looking. The only way to understand and identify the root cause of the problem is to remove every personal item from your home and perform another test. One of the items stored in your home is likely causing elevated VOC levels. Once you clear everything from your home and provide fresh air ventilation to remove any VOCs from those items, you can identify potential issues and add things back to your life one by one until the root cause is identified.
Of course, there is the genuine possibility that your home’s structure or building materials are the root cause of the issue. Even after you remove all your personal belongings, you may still have a problem; so, where do you go from there? Ask the pro - this is precisely why you hired them in the first place. The years of practice and professional experience will assist you with identifying where the issue is coming from and what you can do about it.
I wish you all the best in your indoor air quality journey. For me, this has been a lifelong journey and a holistic awareness built on years and years of practice, study, and professional experience. Living Vehicle manifests our collective understanding and the highest effort to create the best travel trailer in the industry.
Living Vehicle – breathe easy.
1. United States Environmental Protection Agency, December 2022, EPA Website, United States Government, Accessed 2022, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/introduction-indoor-air-quality
2. Volatile Organic Compound, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Edited October 26, 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volatile_organic_compound
3. Healthy Air Campaign | American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/policy-advocacy/healthy-air-campaign
4. The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality | US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality