Friday, July 18, 2008

Green Health: Low VOC Wall Paints

Color consulting clients often have questions about low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints. VOCs in paints are usually chemicals including formaldehyde or benzene, etc. On a planetary level these types of chemicals are linked to ozone depletion and water pollution. On a personal level, these chemicals are linked to asthma attacks, headaches, irritation to the eyes, nose or throat, cancer, nervous system disorders and more.

Sounds scary -- and it can be, which is the reason low-VOC paints are popular and no-VOC paints are now getting more interest. Clients are usually all for the idea of no-VOC paints until they see the difference in price between low and no-VOC. Here's what I usually tell them.
  • Most of the VOC's are released as the paint dries (cures) and are gone within days. Paint has a curing time which can be from a few days to as long as a week depending upon atmospheric conditions such as humidity.
  • The highest amount of VOC's are in the colorant. A light color in most brands will have the lowest of VOC's.
  • One brand, Benjamin Moore Aura paint has acrylicized colorants (they own the patented process). What that means to you is that the darkest colors have no VOC, and that the paint is very durable and covers in one to two coats for even the darkest color. You can order any of the over 3,500 Benjamin Moore colors in the Aura paint, so color choices are not a problem.
I do still hand paint the walls of my home so that I can personally test a paint. As a fine artist, my standards for a paint are high. My current favorite for coverage, durability, ease of application (feel when wet), color choices and no VOC's is the Benjamin Moore Aura line. It's also expensive, but I think a good investment (especially factoring in coverage coats for dark colors).

I'm not saying that Aura is the only paint to use, just that when I personally paint a wall, I love it. I do still use and specify other lines including Sherwin Williams and Pittsburgh. Smaller or more regional lines of paint such as Yolo Colorhouse and Divine are also very good paints.

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