Performance and price point used to be the most important factors in deciding which adhesive, caulk, or sealant to use for any given application. But now, contractors in many states also have to consider product formulations to ensure they comply with spreading regulations.
A decade ago, California implemented air-quality regulations that restrict the sale of products containing high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This required manufacturers to reduce the VOC content in their adhesives, caulks, and sealants. More recently, 13 Northeastern states followed suit, and five Midwestern states will soon join the trend. Industry experts all predict that more states will implement similar VOC regulatory programs in the next several years, and that VOC limits will tighten, requiring further product changes.
In response, companies such as Bostik, Macco Adhesives, Franklin International, Mapei, Henkel Adhesives, Powers Fasteners, DAP, DriTac, Dow Building & Construction, ITW, GE Sealants & Adhesives, Bond & Fill, and others have either reformulated solvent-based products to reduce VOC content or have developed low-VOC water-based latex and acrylic products, or polyurethane or silicone products.
At first, performance of low-VOC products was an issue and contractors had to adapt to the different characteristics and application limitations, particularly of water-based products. But over the years, manufacturers improved formulations to provide the performance required for each application, although water-based products still will not cure in extremely cold conditions.
Solvent-based products will be eliminated eventually, because it will be increasingly difficult for manufacturers to meet VOC limits with them, according to Bill Longo, senior category manager/marketing for Henkel. As harmful solvents go away, manufacturers will focus on further evolving water-based formulations, which is the dominant low-VOC technology.
Use of polyurethanes will gradually increase, according to Mark Stypczynski, manager/technical development for Macco, because they offer key benefits over water-based products that could balance out their higher cost, including being a bit more forgiving and more weather-resistant, he says.
As the industry evolves, contractors and builders may have difficulties keeping up with regulatory changes. “Keeping the end-user updated on all the new low-VOC products available in the marketplace will be critical to ensuring that the correct products are specified in an application,” says Jay Osgood, marketing communications manager for GE Sealants & Adhesives.
Manufacturers offer educational information, including technical assistance phone lines, material safety data sheets, brochures, and signage. Dealers also will need to make sure they're up on the latest regulations in their areas. “[Dealers] need to be able to distinguish between a compliant product and a non-compliant product,” advises Heidi McAuliffe, counsel for government affairs for the National Paint & Coatings Association. “It's not only illegal to make them, it's illegal to sell them.”
It's possible for restricted products to be distributed mistakenly to regulated states, and in some municipalities, regulation enforcement has the potential to impact every link in the chain, including the end user.