Monday, June 18, 2012

How To: Find Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) Paints

You know that paint is the easiest thing to change in home décor. Except for maybe throw pillows… but did you know traditional paint is also a major cause of air pollution? 

The chemical compounds that, historically, have made paint fast drying, easy to spread, offer better coverage and hiding, just to name a few characteristics, are highly toxic and contribute approximately 10 percent of all the greenhouse gasses generated in the United States.

See our article, “Building a Healthy Home,” about a low-toxin home built for the couple who wanted the least possible toxins in their house as possible. (Click here for that article.) The wife is a cancer survivor, and they both wanted the healthiest home possible for themselves and now, their young family.

VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds are nothing you’d buy at the farmers’ market. They are “organic” because they contain carbon (look up “organic chemistry” for much more detailed information!) and make up toxic and potentially carcinogenic chemicals that are common in household paint. VOCs evaporate quickly into the air.

If you set a pan of gasoline, lighter fluid, paint thinner or other solvents out in the open air, the pan will be empty in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, because they are VOCs. Do NOT try this at home, it’s not a good science project idea. Well, OK, it is a cool idea, but use rubbing alcohol instead... it’s a far less toxic chemical. Those chemicals don’t just disappear, they escape into the air--the atmosphere we breathe--and further diminish our precious ozone layer that makes this planet livable.

You don’t want any of those nasty chemicals inside your house, where the air quality can be as much as 2 to 5 times as polluted as the air outside! Stay away from air fresheners and frequent off-gassing offenders such as new carpet or furniture, too, though that will be another article for another day.

There are regulations developing which require lower use of VOCs in paints, particularly in California and especially in and around Los Angeles, where paint fumes add to the levels of smog. A traditional paint may have as much as 350 grams per liter (g/L) or more, an average paint is approximately 150 g/L. “No VOC” paints are considered less than 5 g/L, which is not technically “no” VOC. If you are highly sensitive, read labels and information carefully. Many paint bases are low VOC but the tints they use have more VOCs. And, beware: paints with 50-150 g/L can be considered “low-VOC!”

Fortunately there are many good quality super low- and truly no-VOC paints available for you to make that easy décor change and make it much harder for yourself, your family and your pets sick. Mythic Paint, Olympic Premium (Lowes), Sherwin Williams Harmony and Freshaire Choice by Home Depot are no-VOC paints compare well enough in Consumer Reports 2009 tests of many paints. Yolo Colorhouse and many other regional brands are good resources but are not mentioned in the CR report. Websites for Mythic Paint and Yolo Colorhouse are very informative too.

The decision is yours. Low and no-VOC paints may be more expensive and you may need more coats. But the air in your home may be better. Regardless of the paint you choose, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions, ventilate well, clean up properly and talk with your paint suppliers or contractors for more recommendations and information.

Until next time!
Elaine Bothe


Photos courtesy of Mythic Paint and Yolo Colorhouse.

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posted by Jennifer Adams Design Group Blog @ 12:01 AM 


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