CompAIR: HBN Launches New Tool For Comparing VOCs

Bill Walsh | November 10, 2015 | Tools

This blog post, originally shared in the Pharos Signal, includes information about parts of Pharos that are no longer available. Please use it for historical reference and for the other useful information it contains.

Next week at the Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Washington DC (November 18-19), HBN will launch CompAIR, a new feature in the Pharos Project that provides the most accurate and reliable comparisons of the chemicals offgassing from paints, coatings and similar products. By providing the weight of all volatile substances that are released into the air during the application and curing of a product, HBN's CompAIR calculator is the best measure of human health impacts available.

The green building community has long relied upon volatile organic compound (VOC) measurements as a de facto equivalent to indoor air quality. For many years, the Healthy Building Network (HBN) and our allies have pointed out a glaring weakness in this measure: not all harmful volatile ingredients known to be released into the built environment are covered by the regulatory definition of VOCs. For various historical reasons, substances are defined as VOCs in the indoor environment only if they play a role in smog formation outdoors.

Many volatile substances released from the curing of wet applied products may not cause smog to form, but can pollute indoor air and harm human health in many ways. [3]

CompAIR's results are also more relevant than the "in the can" measurements traditionally reported for wet applied products like paint. What ultimately matters is how many volatiles will be released into the built environment, not what's in a single can of paint. Different paints can have different coverage rates and require different numbers of coats. These differences can mean that paint with lower volatile content can ultimately introduce more volatiles into a building if it has a lower coverage or requires more coats. CompAIR accounts for all of these factors, and provides useful differentiation even among certified "low-emitting" products. By using CompAIR, building product specifiers and purchasers can find the best product to meet their needs with the lowest chemical emissions.

Our new calculator is easy to use and provides clear guidance: all you need are a few commonly available data points for wet-applied products, like the percentage of the product that is solid, and the coverage area per unit. Enter data for multiple products and CompAIR will show how the products stack up, side by side.


HBN will demonstrate CompAIR at Booth #2622 at the Greenbuild Expo in Washington DC, all day, November 18 and 19. All of HBN's staff will be at the Expo and in the conference to discuss this and other exciting initiatives underway, including:

The Healthy Affordable Materials Project, a collaborative project of the Healthy Building Network, the Green Science Policy Institute, the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC) and the Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons School of Design. This initiative seeks to ensure that the lessons we learn about healthier materials are applied to affordable housing as well as more affluent communities. Visit Booth #2561 to learn more.

The Quartz Project. This open data initiative for understanding the health and life cycle impacts of common products has generated a lot of buzz since it launched last month. Find out why at Booth #3712.

The Material Health Harmonization Task Group. This group will report on the latest developments in this effort to map the similarities and differences between popular material evaluation tools, including our Pharos Project. On Tuesday, November 17 (2:00 p.m., Room 145A), HBN Policy Director Tom Lent will join leaders from Cradle-to-Cradle, Clean Production Action, the HPDC, and Herman Miller, at the Materials Health Summit in a panel discussion, "Singing in Harmony: Lessons Learned, Next Steps."

Optimizing Recycling. Our collaboration with StopWaste and the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFE) has delivered three groundbreaking reports so far this year. HBN Operations Manager Melissa Coffin, Barry Hooper of SFE, and Wes Sullens of StopWaste will discuss the results in "Recycling in the Age of Product Transparency," on Thursday, November 19 (4:30 p.m., Room 204ABC).

Last but not least, HBN is celebrating our 15th anniversary with a reception on Tuesday night, November 17 (6:00 p.m.) For tickets, please visit our Eventbrite invitation.

CompAIR and our other initiatives support green building practitioners with clear pathways for choosing the healthiest materials. We look forward to meeting you and sharing these developments at Greenbuild.

HBN's core CompAIR development team includes chemist Michel Dedeo, Ph.D., technologist Sarah Gilberg, and researcher Sarah Lott.

Don't have tickets but still want to visit us at the Greenbuild Expo? HBN has complimentary passes to the Expo hall for both days (November 18 and 19), available first-come-first-served. Please send requests to An interactive floor plan for the Greenbuild Expo is here.


[1] United States Environmental Protection Agency. Technical Overview of Volatile Organic Compounds.

[2] Both IARC 2a Carcinogens, and present on over 10 government carcinogen lists. (Healthy Building Network, [127-18-4] Tetrachloroethylene,; Healthy Building Network, [75-09-2] Dichloromethane,

[3] Acetone is a developmental and reproductive toxicant listed by the MAK commission of Germany  and GHS classifications for the government of Japan, respectively. (Healthy Building Network, [67-64-1] Acetone,