From Dean Dowd on December 10, 2008 in Green Remodeling
Ah the smell of fresh paint. For years most homeowners brushed it off like the odor of a new car or new carpet. But the fact is that rather pungent odor was actually volatile organic compounds (VOCs) evaporating into the indoor air. VOCs are solvents or other additives that were used in paint to enhance a certain feature of that paint say, for example, improved binding, consistency, etc.
Unfortunately these VOCs do not themselves bind with the paint. They do, however, evaporate at low temperatures, hence what is called off-gassing, which can result in health problems both short- and long-term. VOC paints are especially harmful to children and pregnant women due to the accelerated harm which they can wreak on an underdeveloped immune system.
Fortunately, some homeowners and paint manufacturers have been aware of this problem for years. For the better part of 50 of those years low-VOC paints have been available. Zero-VOC paints have finally become widely available within the last few years, completing the trifecta of healthy paint options.
Natural paints are made from raw natural ingredients such as milk, soybeans, citrus peels, corn, beeswax, clay, essential oils, and more. They may be water- or oil-based. Water-based paints will typically have little or no odor. Oil-based natural paints tend to take on the odor of the citrus or essential oil it is based upon. The texture and consistency of natural paints will depend on their base. For instance, milk paints will come in powder form to be mixed with water before use because the milk protein spoils quickly in liquid form. Natural wood stains and finishes are also available.
Low-VOC paint typically has no more than five percent VOCs. They use water rather than petroleum-based solvents as a base. They are subsequently much less harmful than petroleum based paint products. The amount of VOCs will vary with different brands of paint. They typically do retain an odor until they dry. The actual amount of VOCs in a can of paint will be listed on the can. In order to be considered low-VOC the paint must have no higher than 200 grams per liter concentration (300g/L for varnishes).
Also called Zero-VOC, these paints have little or no VOC solvents. I say ‘little’ because even zero-VOC paints have traces of the compounds. The EPA says that a no-VOC paint must have less than 5 grams per liter VOCs.
All three are viable paint options for today’s remodeler. Most of these paints are manufactured in small batches and can be quite expensive (roughly $40 per gallon). The benefits are great, however.
Indoor air quality is notoriously poor in the modern home, much of this due to VOCs, which are not exclusive to paints.
Natural paints are probably the healthiest for you. They are made purely from a combination of raw natural ingredients that manufacturers make more colorful and durable every year. Here is a list of seven all-natural paints. Painting is at least as old as the ancient pigments found on cave and rock walls around the world. So, in a way, these three healthy paint options are simply getting back to the basics: using natural ingredients to create paints that will last 10,000 years or more. Sounds good (and good for ya!)
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photo credit: YOLO Colorhouse