Hardwood Floor Care Tips and Recommendations

VOC Trends Across the United States

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Aug 11, 2022

The wood floor industry is quite familiar with volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are commonly used in wood floor sealer, finish, and/or stain to assist with application and drying time. These carbon-containing substances become vapors or gases when emitted into the air as soon as a product is opened, applied, and while the product is drying.

VOCs have been on the EPA’s radar since 1998 when the first VOC regulation was published under the Clean Air Act because it was found that VOCs contribute to air pollution when combined with other pollutants. They form smog and create environmental problems that can lead to health problems.

VOC regulations are getting stricter across the United States, with the current trend pointing towards lowering VOCs in wood coating products. Most recently, New York enforced an updated regulation regarding VOC content limits for wood floor coatings manufactured on or after July 1 from 350 grams per liter to 275 grams per liter. This update conforms to the Ozone Transport Commission Phase II (OTC II) regulations, which New York is a part of.

Map of the United States


The Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) is a multi-state organization created under the Clean Air Act. OTC is responsible for advising the EPA on transport issues and for developing and implementing regional solutions to the ground-level ozone problem in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The organization provides an air pollution assessment, technical support, and a forum for states to work on their pollution reduction strategies. There are 2 model rules: Model Rule 2002 (Phase I) and Model Rule 2009 (Phase II). Model Rule 2002 has a VOC limit of 350 g/l, and Model Rule 2009 has a VOC limit of 275 g/l. Each participating state independently elects to adopt a model rule to comply with regarding VOC regulations.

OTC categorized several sectors that are sources of air pollution, including Architectural and Industrial Maintenance (AIM) Coatings as one of the major VOC emitters. AIM applies to any person who supplies, sells, offers sale, or manufactures any architectural coatings. Wood coatings are included under AIM and must be in accordance with the VOC regulations for that sector.

Several counties in Utah adopted OTC Phase II VOC content limit guidelines in 2017. In 2018, Maryland and Connecticut changed their VOC content limits to lower existing categories as an attempt to achieve their Clean Air Act air quality obligations. Additionally, Colorado also lowered VOC content limits for AIM coatings in 2020. Colorado and Michigan, who is currently following the EPA’s VOC content limit restrictions, are looking to adopt new rules for AIM coatings to tighten VOC limits.


The Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (LADCO) was established in 1990 to provide technical assessments for and assistance to its member states on air quality problems and to provide a forum to discuss air quality issues. Their major pollution concerns are ozone, fine particles, and regional haze.

Update: On April 18, 2023, Michigan adopted Phase IV of the OTC Model Rule (aka Model Rule 2012) to replace its current VOC regulations that are premised on Phase II of the OTC Model Rule.

Although Ohio is part of LADCO, it was announced in 2021 that the Ohio EPA has plans to follow the lead of several northeastern states in moving from OTC Phase I to OTC Phase II which would result in new or lower VOC content limits for a variety of product categories, including AIM.


A select few states have VOC regulations that vary from county to county or region to region that are dependent on many factors. These regulations are usually stricter than what the EPA advises, but the EPA recommends that states comply with the Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT), which is the lowest level of emissions that can be achieved when taking into account technical and economic considerations. A State will propose its VOC regulations and the EPA will review and ensure the rules meet RACT and will achieve the emissions reductions that are projected. Once it has been adopted and approved in the State’s State Implementation Plan, the VOC rule is federally enforceable. Check the local regulations of each county for more details.


In the United States, the EPA regulates the emissions of VOCs at a federal level to prevent the formation of ground-level ozone, which can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and aggravate asthma and other lung diseases. These regulations, listed under 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 59, protect humankind and the environment from the adverse effects of VOCs. Federal regulations require the product with VOCs to meet the set VOC content limits, which vary depending on the product and product type. The general VOC content limit set by the EPA is 450 g/l.

Wood floor coatings are covered in 40 CFR 59 Subpart D under Architectural Coatings and are defined as “a coating recommended for field application to stationary structures and their appurtenances, to portable buildings, to pavements, or to curbs” (40 CFR 59.401). This includes lacquers, sanding sealer, and varnish categories, all of which have a VOC content limit that varies depending on the product. This Federal Regulation is also known as the EPA National Rule.

"Basic Coatings line of wood coatings meet or exceed the EPA National Rule and State Regulations, meaning every sealer and finish is compliant everywhere. "

Basic Coatings® Low VOC Products

Basic Coatings® line of wood coatings meet or exceed the EPA National Rule and State Regulations, meaning every sealer and finish is compliant everywhere. Our products take away the burden of ensuring that each sealer and finish comply with VOC content limits within a specific state or region. It helps simplify which wood coatings products can be used on a floor so customers can focus on other things.

By switching to waterbased products from oil-based products, the number of VOCs released into the air are significantly lowered because water is being used as the solvent as opposed to oil. As a result, waterbased wood coatings are safer for the environment and safer for human health by reducing odor, harmful fumes, flammability, and pollution.

Basic Coatings is committed to improving the environment one floor at a time. Several Basic Coatings products recently earned the MAS Certified Green® accreditation for a healthier indoor environment. Click here to review the Basic Coatings sustainability promise and for more information about MAS Certified Green. If you have questions about VOCs or how to make the switch to waterbased products, click here to fill out an online form and your Basic Coatings Regional Manager will reach out to you.