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Varathane stain — any way to “seal” the VOCs?

mctabish1 | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

I saw a very similar question at:, but not quite the same.


I am trying to get LEED for HOMES (Platinum level) certified. My contractor (not real familiar with LEED, I have been supplying material specs) used Varathane Stain, 266267. The VOCs are extremely strong!

These are ceiling planks, (non penetrating) enclosed in the living airspace (roof is above with foam insulation. This ceiling is to mimic existing ceiling (used as sheathing) but in the rooms concerned, the
wood planking is on drywall and is not sheathing.

Will these off gas in a short period of time?
Can I use some no VOC sealer to seal the stain?

Thank in advanced!

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Once this type of finish has been applied, the way to get rid of the VOCs is to let them evaporate. The evaporation can be accelerated by warm temperatures (turning up the thermostat) and the use of a fan. Leave a few windows open.

    Don't hang out in this house if you are susceptible to this type of fumes. Eventually the smell will go away.

  2. Expert Member

    At the risk of sounding cynical, if the only reason you are worried about the VOCs is your Leed certification, just tell them you used something else.

  3. Irishjake | | #3


    You often have very articulate and prudent comments, but with all due respect, that comment you made on September 21, 2015 @ 10:53 AM isn't cynical that is BS!

    Your statement about falsifying LEED criteria (or any other "green" certification for that matter) strikes such a strong nerve. It infuriates me to "hear" or read that people make suggestions like that. I would hope that the type of person spending any time at all on this website would find that approach abhorable.

    The thought that you can so easily obtain a certification by falsifying the performance criteria, completely diminishes the credibility of a program, which is why it is so vital and hard to obtain certain certifications. It is hard work, takes lots of human effort.

    Progressing and improving the built environment to be more healthy and environmentally friendly is the inherent mission of this site, and should be the mission of the contributors, any contributor, period. That is such the culture these days, to cheat our way to the top, falsify information, look out for only ourselves, screw everyone else. I mean Malcom, REALLY?!!!!! Just lie????!!!!!WTF!!!!!

    When you buy a building that "meets" a certain standard, it meets that standard because people have had to make choices, that in this case make the building healthier to live in. God forbid someone with extreme environmental sensitivity were to buy a property based on such a certification, and find out that the products they "thought" weren't used, actually were used. Imagine the lawsuit, the detrimental health effects, the loss of credibility?

    Did you know you can't buy credibility??????????

    GBA - Are you REALLY reviewing this stuff, and allowing folks to post that kind of trash, that Malcolm speaks of? If so please refund my money and cancel my subscription ASAP!!!!!!!

  4. Expert Member

    Take a deep breath and look at the point I was trying to make. There have been queries here from posters asking how to find the nearby community amenities necessary to get Leed points for their building. That is, making no changes to the design or location of the project, just looking for post-justification for its "green credentials". There have been queries here about how to make up for the illogical and oversized house designs they want to meet Passive House standards. Not caring that the embodied energy and cost of the necessary materials makes mockery of any energy saved. In this case the OP frames the problem as one of getting Leed For Homes, not whether the VOCs are a problem in themselves.

    If the only reason you are doing anything is to gain accreditation then why bother? Be true to the principles you believe are important. don't chase paper or public approval.

    Now I may have been too harsh on the OP. And you may still disagree with me. I'd be happy to continue this discussion, but you need to change your tone a bit first.

  5. mctabish1 | | #5

    Malcolm, I was also biting my tongue. LEED, is not a "needed" or required option, but it is a guideline that I feel is a very good standard. There are several reasons I have spent tens of thousands (probably closer to 60-80K -we don't have any gas, so heavy use of solar, heatpumps and radiant heating) to bring my house to the (hopefully Platinum) level. I have sever allergies and breathing issues, as do several other members in our family. VOC are not that "big" of an issue both the over all air quality is of a major concern. I don't need the LEED, but I felt (and still do!) that there are a lot of positives, and it is a spec that I can put in front of my contractor and say, Comply with this. Otherwise, I would need to say all of my own specs (made sure you reuse all short peices of wood and cut wood use down by x percent, NO VOCs HEPA filters etc. This is already set up.
    My house may be one of the " illogical and oversized house designs" BUT I have been VERY involved in the designing the GREEN aspect. I have a LARGE wood working shop, 400AMP circuit, But, I have FULL rain water capture, gray water reuse, "lawn" is virtually native except some fruit trees.
    I don't need the accreditation (I don't think ANY LEED 4 Homes NEED the accreditation) and you are correct, the main thing is the heart and soul of the program and does NOT need to be "to the letter" But it was a goal I spec'ed out when I first met my contractor and my architect and so I want to meet it.
    It would be GREAT if you got x% tax savings for the additional steps needed for LEED over just going "green", but there is NO incentive.

    Leed is just a very robust and I feel very inclusive package of goals to acheive. I covers the standard stuff people THINK of when they hear LEED (power savings and thinks of that nature. But it also works on durability, pest reduction good sound building skills.
    I have really worked HARD to make my home the way I want it AND meet the goals! Heck, I even have a WOOD BURNING FIREPLACE! But I had do to major research to find one that is EPA certified and meet all of the codes! But, I will be able to ENJOY our home, and be satisfied that I did all I could do to keep this place up and running hopefully very efficiently!

    Now.... Back to the original issue, The VOCs are 0 after the finish dries, and there fore, it won't hurt.
    I have verified this with the manufacturer.

    Cheers and I really DO appreciate the input. I saw it and though about it, it just was not the route I wanted to go.


  6. Expert Member

    if I mis-characterized your position I apologize. I never intended that you take my advice at face value, and am a bit disturbed anyone thought I was suggesting it as a serious option. Your question did seem to me to highlight one of the weaknesses of allowing accreditation to dictate your decision making. If a builder finds they have inadvertently used a high VOC product, I would hope their only concern would be the possible negative health outcomes for the future occupants. Thinking about how it might affect the Leed status shouldn't even enter into it.
    If Leed helped you towards a more efficient and ecologically appropriate house that's great. As a check-list of goals to work towards it can be valuable. Beyond that is where I find it becomes problematic and can cause a conflict in values I was attempting to highlight.

  7. charlie_sullivan | | #7

    LEED aside, there is an interesting general question when of what to do when a contractor uses a more environmentally harmful product than what was specified. In general, when something is done wrong, the contractor is responsible for fixing it or redoing it. And if the potential harm is to the occupants of the building, that makes sense. But if the concern is VOC emissions' contribution to urban smog, or global warming emissions from foam blowing agents, redoing the work can't undo the harm, and can do more harm.

    For example, we specified EPS, but XPS got substituted in one section. The contractor was quick to offer to pull it out and use it on another job, or to put it in the dumpster. To me, those both miss the point. We agreed to keep it in place, but they didn't charge for the cost of the material. In the future, I think I would want to put a provision in the contract to have the contractor also buy carbon offsets to compensate.

  8. Irishjake | | #8


    I am also happy to discuss the issue further, but I will also not change my tone. You struck a serious nerve. I attempted to be articulate and respectful in my response, but adequately express my infuriation with the comment. I also called it what it is - That suggestion, in my opinion does not belong here. It's up to you - it's your credibility, it's the webmaster's credibility for allowing it. It's all of our credibility, and on a site that has blahblahblah"advisor" in it's title that kind of speak doesn't belong here.

    Folks are reading these posts, and then going out there with hammer and nail, trying to improve the built, lived in environment - the environment they live their lives in. It's utterly fantastic, but scary as hell too! It goes without saying to cross reference your information. Seriously until I had kids, I had no idea what effect simple statements can make on those around me. It is profound. It's an amazing responsibility. I think you and I stand aligned - I truthfully do. Follow your principles, or why do it just for accreditation - of course! You've got to own the fact though, that throwing a statement like that out there, is like the ripple in the pond from a stone - it goes alot further than your throw ever will, and you can certainly touch many more people via the ripple effect.

    Did I know the finish would dry - yes. Do I know that at some point the Varathane vapor won't be an issue - yup. I'm a hazmat technician, a firefighter, a builder - I get it on multiple levels. Time, distance and shielding. Half-life of a chemical, solution, vapor, gas pressure, temperature, RH, wind speed, material characteristic, cloud path, wind direction, blah, blah, blah.......None of that is the point. It's the issue that if you are building a house that is free of blah, blah, blah it is actually free of all that.

    Certification is the only way to buy credibility. I'm pretty sure it's the only credibility one can actually buy. I mean all of our data is based on some standard or certification. It's our litmus paper. Obviously anyone looking for any kind of better built certification isn't doing it for just accreditation though. There are soooo many deeper levels and layers. Health, psychology, financial, economic, retail, etc., etc., etc.

    In regards to the silly Varathane VOC's, or any other VOC. VOC's are in natural wood, it's everywhere in varying amounts. Bruce - Did you check the VOC at a parts per billion (ppb) level or parts per million (ppm)? You know three weeks after a fire my gear is still off gassing dangerous levels of VOCs? That is the stuff burning in your houses folks, three weeks later still sitting on my gear. Shame on me for not cleaning it sooner aye?

    Bruce - Are you certain it doesn't violate your LEED certification?

    I'm finally building my own palace (a farmhouse actually) now, after a couple decades of building and designing for others. It is not grotesquely large, but not tight (I'll have someplace to go when my kids are rapping on a coffee can and I need a break from the tinnitus!). I've got a HERS index of 2 (modeled with PV, or 36 without PV) . I'm also getting the DOE/Energy Star - Zero Energy Ready Home Certification. It includes meeting certain indoor air quality criteria included in the IndoorAir Plus program and it's a good, basic certification - as much as I can tell - it is supposedly a credible standard.

    Check it out -

    Thoughts? It's not perfect - but pretty good.....right??????????

    It is definitely a good idea to get it in writing and spell it out very clearly........that works for both the contractor and the owner.

  9. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #9

    GBA readers,
    Dialogue is good. It's fine for readers to ask Malcolm for a clarification of his point. It's fine for Malcolm to provide that clarification.

    Let's not read too much into a single quip, though, however ill-advised. Clarification has been provided.

    GBA strives to provide a platform for discussing green building and technical issues related to green building. Mostly, the site succeeds. Our default assumption is to limit censorship and allow robust debate.

    That said, I'd like to re-focus our discussion on technical issues like dissipation of VOCs after application of liquid finishing products, or even on the LEED point system. Let's not use up a lot of GBA space discussing the personalities of forum participants.

    Thanks to all contributors.

  10. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #10

    Another aspect of my response was deficient. There are two reasons that people (and accreditation programmes) try and limit the use of high VOC products. The first is the potential off-gassing into the building interior. But potentially just as important is that manufacturing them may be environmentally harmful. Using even fast off-gassing finishes with high VOCs may not be something green builders want to do.
    Brad's comments about the potential for certain building materials to contaminate homes in the event of even a small fire is an interesting topic, and probably merits a discussion of its own. We have just completed costly renovations to our firehall in part to add washing facilities for our gear to keep these toxins from contaminating the building.

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