Interior design using paints low in VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).
Eco-friendly paint is a hot topic, and it’s a good idea to learn more about it before you start your color selection process. “Green” paints are not only better for your health, they’re also better for the environment.
Most indoor commercial paints produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that are released into the environment as they dry – we recognize them as that “new paint smell”. This process is also referred to as “off gassing” and can continue for some time after the paint dries (some manufacturers use an odor-masking agent to hide these chemical smells).
VOCs are made up of hazardous and potentially carcinogenic ingredients like formaldehyde, polyvinyl acetates, mineral spirits, and acetone. Environmentally, VOCs harm the ozone layer and cause smog and pollution; personally, they can cause dizziness, headaches, watery eyes, and asthmatic symptoms.
There are no federal guidelines for VOCs in paints, but some states such as California and Illinois have passed laws that all paints sold there must contain less than 50 grams of VOCs per liter, which translates to less than 200 grams per gallon of paint. This is considered by non-profit environmental groups like GreenGuard and Green Seal as the VOC safety limit for paints. California is now working toward passing a law requiring their paints to contain zero VOCs, which has already been achieved by Mythic Paint creator Rocky Prior. A chemist in the paint business for twenty years, Prior claims that his paints have zero VOCs, zero toxins, and are non-carcinogenic. Consumer Reports tested several mainline paints and found Benjamin Moore Aura, True Value Easy Care and Glidden Evermore paints to be low in VOCs.
Sometimes colorants are the VOC culprits. If you’re having paint custom-blended to match a piece of fabric, the base paint you choose may be low in VOCs, but the colorants being added are usually high in VOCs. Ask your paint dealer about the VOC level in these colorants, and insist on paints containing low or no VOCs.
There are some disadvantages to using paints low in VOCs. Eco-friendly paints can be more expensive than other paints; usually they cost about $3 per gallon more, but some “green” paints that contain special ingredients like milk protein or bamboo fiber can cost up to $69 per gallon. There are also some performance issues, which include duller colors, inconsistent texture, and difficulty holding up to scuffs and stains. Manufacturers are making improvements in these areas, so for the time being, we need to make some compromises for our health, our family’s health, and the good of the environment.
Watch for my next blog entry, which will cover the misleading practice of “green washed” paint labels....a tricky practice that every green-minded person needs to watch out for!