Smart consumers know there's more to green paint than color. Smart consumers want paint that doesn't smell or give off chemicals. They know they need to buy products with data (ingredients) to support their claims of being green. The good news is consumers are doing more research before they buy, to insure they're getting green products that protect their home, family and the environment.
Not only do you want to make sure you're getting what you want in a product, you also want to know that the product is safe and healthy for you and your family. For years, paints have contained what are known as VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds. VOCs emit fumes into the air which you breath and potentially lead to asthmatic or allergic symptoms, headaches and/or general immune system suppression. Get tips on buying healthy, green paint for a green home.
Why Are There VOCs in Paint?
First let's look at what VOCs and why do they exist in paint. VOCs are found in paint solvents. Solvents are the liquid part of paint that holds the pigment and resins or paint binder, allowing the paint to flow from a paint brush or roller to the walls of our homes. Once the paint is exposed to the air, the solvent evaporates and leaves a film behind with the pigment. Paint solvents are either water for latex paints or mineral spirits for oil based paints. Higher quality paints have less solvent and provide better coverage because there's more pigment.
There are also paint additives like fungicides and mildecides that make paint more resistant to known problems like mold, but they introduce more VOCs. You should also understand that tints added to the base paint, i.e. what they mix into your paint to produce the desired color, also introduces VOCs which are not included in the VOC testing of paints. For more information, you can read the EPA's Introduction to Indoor Air Quality.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with controlling outdoor air quality, i.e. why there are standards for car finishes. The focus on indoor air quality is just beginning and so today, many chemicals that are not regulated for outdoor air pollution, may have a significant affect on indoor air pollution in our homes. There is also no direct correlation between the VOC content in a product … and the VOC emissions that product gives off inside our homes. In addition to paint, many other home products give off VOCs including flooring with a finish or coating, adhesives, cleaning supplies, and some home furnishings like mattresses.
Verifying Claims of Low or No VOC Paint
Remember when many foods in the grocery store added “Healthy” to their packaging and some started using green to reinforce that image. Claims of Low VOC and No VOC don't necessarily mean anything as they're not being enforced. What manufacturers are legally required to disclose is the actual VOC concentration in their base paint, i.e. before a tint is added.
Different VOC standards are set by several groups from the EPA to stiffer California state requirements. Green Seal, a non-profit group established in 1989 also provides maximum VOC levels to obtain certification for paint products.
|Maximum VOC levels in grams per liter (g/l)||Green Seal Certification|
|Paint Finish||EPA Standards||CA Standards||Interior Standards||Exterior Standards|
|Flat finish||250 g/l||100 g/l||50 g/l||100 g/l|
|*Non-flat finish||380 g/l||150 g/l||150 g/l||200 g/l|
Consumer Reports Helps with Comprehensive Research
You can spend quite a bit of time researching paint manufacturers and often, several different paint products until you find the best green paint for your project. While the web makes this research easier, you'll save time by investing in a subscription to Consumer Reports so you can get the best paint for a green home that's healthy for you and the environment. You can get detailed analysis of paint for not only the VOC content, but test results for hiding, surface smoothness, staining, scrubbing, gloss change, sticking, mildew and fading.
- Benjamin Moore (Natura Eggshell and Natura Flat)
- Dutch Boy (Refresh Satin)
- Freshaire (Eggshell, Flat and Semi-Gloss)
- Mythic (Eggshell Enamel, Flat and Semi-Gloss)
- Olympic (Premium Satin, Premium Flat and Semi-Gloss)
- Pittsburgh Paints (Pure Performance Eggshell, Pure Performance Flat and Semi-Gloss)