So, you are thinking about adding a splash of color, maybe you are getting a room ready for a new child or repairing some old walls. Being the mindful person you are, you’re probably considering one of the many Low/No VOC paints we see on the market today. I’m here to help you weed through the labels and find the truth regarding these paint options.
Typical household paint may contain upwards of 300 known toxic chemicals (half of which have been linked to cancer) and a total of more than 10,000 total chemicals. Yikes. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are the worst offenders in the paint chemical category. VOCs continue to seep out into the air we breathe for many years after being placed on a surface. How’s that for “new nursery smell”? (Image by Napalm Filled Tires on Flickr under CreativeCommons.)
Tidbit to remember: If you purchase a low/no VOC paint, you lose all bonus points once the paint is tinted using a standard colorant. So, generally speaking, low/no VOC paint is only good if you keep it white. Ask your paint counter employee for more information. I’ve found they are generally knowledgeable and will give it to you straight!
Well, now you are thinking that ruins your green minded remodeling plans doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to. I’ve been researching paint for some time, we are moving into a new to us home (built 40 years ago versus new construction because reuse is more environmentally friendly). This home is OUTDATED and we need to paint every wall, replace every floor, update kitchens and baths. That’s a lot of work! I certainly don’t want my (excessively large) family breathing in VOCs and other toxins.
Here are some “green”, “No VOC”, “Green Seal Certified” paints on the market and the interesting facts about the finished product to help you make a green-informed decision.
Earth Friendly Paint #1- Olympic “Green Seal Certified” Paints. Claim: “Our Olympic Premium Interior paint products combine an outstanding quality Zero VOC formula that is better for the environment and dries with no lingering odor…”. Well, that would lead any (not fully informed) individual to grab a can of Olympic and head to the paint counter with their color swatch. Perhaps they should add a disclaimer on their site about colorants and VOCs. The current wording is HIGHLY misleading. I looked at this paint while at a home improvement store last night. The store (like most) only carries standard colorant and the paint employee was happy to discuss the VOCs in the colorant with me. This paint (at least at the stores I’ve found) isn’t low or no VOC once colorant is added. (Even if the store carries VOC Free Colorant for another product line, they can’t use it in a paint other than the intended product line.)
Earth Friendly Paint #2- Natura by Benjamin Moore. This one is truly VOC FREE even in colors! I can hear the Angels singing (in my head, hey, this is a big deal!). This paint uses a VOC Free base and VOC Free colorant. Currently, this paint product is available in WA, OR (yay!), CA & TX, however it is set to be available nationwide this Spring. I called around to some local paint retailers and many don’t carry this paint yet since it is a new product. However, I was able to locate a paint store within 20 miles of my home that carries the paint base, confirmed they also carry the VOC Free colorant for the base and advised that the sheens are Eggshell, Satin and Semi-Gloss. One gallon will cost you about $45. (Well worth not developing paint toxin related cancer.)
Earth Friendly Paint #3- Mythic Paint. This one is also completely VOC Free. Mythic paints can be purchased online directly from the company if there is not a retailer within 15 miles of your zip code. Otherwise, they require the retailers to use a VOC Free colorant in the paint. I called our local stores to verify and was advised of the process (a Mythic Paint Representative travels to the store location to set up the special colorant system, which is separate from the standard colorants and Free of VOCs). This paint starts around $40 a gallon in stores, online a gallon of eggshell will run $50.99 (with free shipping).
Earth Friendly Paint #4- The FreshAire Choice (Home Depot). This paint and colorant are 100% VOC Free. There are 65 colors and 3 sheens available. The prices start around $33 per gallon at our local Home Depot store. This is the least expensive of the VOC Free Paint Base and Colorants I have found.
The nitty gritty. If the colorant is not VOC Free (and most aren’t) then your final paint will not be VOC Free. That means, you will still be breathing in all those nasty cancer causing toxins and polluting the environment. You will pay more for a quality VOC Free paint, but we are used to paying more for quality. Fresh food costs more than packaged food filled with colors and other artificial nasties. Plastic furniture is cheaper than quality natural fiber furniture. In the end, as with most things, you get what you pay for.
Ask your retailer about their colorant process before making any paint purchase. As with the Olympic paint, you might end up with something other than what you think. Most paint counter associates are informed and helpful with the process and are happy to discuss colorants and VOCs with you (at least in my experience).
As for the rest of our renovation plans, we are keeping it green by using reclaimed flooring, refinishing cabinets (vs. replacing), using natural (long lasting) materials and other resources like Habit for Humanities ReStore. Our “new” furniture purchases will (like always) be through sources such as Craigslist. Not only does this save us money, it also allows us to get high quality furniture without using virgin resources.
There are also many ways you can improve your indoor air quality for free removing existing VOCs.