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Community and Q&A

Will 4 mil plastic keep out VOCs?

jasmine311 | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

Hello! I had my builder friend come over to my house (which is semi-detached) to see if there was a way to keep out my neighbor’s VOC’s from leaking into my house. He said I should caulk around the baseboards and since most VOC’s seemed to be coming from the kitchen, he said to put up a plastic construction barrier with a zipper over the open entrance way from the kitchen into the rest of the house. Then if that worked, we would know the problem is definitely coming from the kitchen and could plan on addressing that.

My problem is that all these zipper doors are made from 4 mil plastic and I’m not sure if that is thick enough to keep out VOCs. Should I get a thicker plastic and just buy the zippers and make one myself? Thanks! I appreciate your help.

Brenda Koehler

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  1. user-2310254 | | #1

    As long as you seal the perimeter and don't tear the material, the four mil should work fine. It also will be easier to hang than heavier plastic. Are you planning to seal all of one side of the wall separating the kitchen and living areas? Do you HVAC returns in the kitchen that might recirculate air into the rest of the house?

  2. jasmine311 | | #2

    Thank you very much for your helpful response. I don't think I need to seal the wall, only caulk the places where the baseboard meets the wall and floor. I think the drywall should keep the VOCs out, although I do have some pictures hung on that wall. I might have to take them down and fill in the holes--I don't know. I do have an HVAC return in the kitchen but that's not an issue now in the summer because I don't have central AC. I was thinking of getting a small air purifier and keeping it in the kitchen. I had one from Foust that I returned because I reacted to it, but it cleaned the air really well and I wouldn't be spending that much time in the kitchen. Or I could just close the kitchen vent off and put an electric heater in there. It's a very small space. Thanks again.

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    If you have a return-air grille in your kitchen, it means that the air in your kitchen is connected with air elsewhere in your house. For example, if you turn on the exhaust fan in your range hood (assuming that you have one), it can easily pull air into the kitchen through your return air duct -- even if you have 4-mil polyethylene at the kitchen doorway, and even if your furnace is not operating.

    I'm not saying that your exercise won't yield useful information. It might. I'm just reminding you that homes have lots of hidden air pathways.

  4. jasmine311 | | #4

    Thanks Martin. That's good to know.

  5. user-2310254 | | #5
  6. jasmine311 | | #6

    Wow, you can really see the air coming through the outlet in that video! I'm hoping that just blocking the doorway will keep out MOST of the vapors. I know that it worked one time when the problem was mold. Putting a tarp over the door of a room with a moldy carpet room kept the mold inside the one room, whereas before it had penetrated through the whole apartment. But it's good to know that you can caulk around the electrical boxes if they present a problem. Thank you, Steve.

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