Finding a low-VOC paint

Published on Thu, Mar 24, 2011
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Conventional indoor paints can release potentially toxic chemicals during and shortly after application; though once paint is dry the majority of the offending substances, collectively known as “volatile organic compounds” or “VOCs,” tend to stay sealed up. As such, most people will not be affected once the telltale new paint smell has faded away.

If someone is suffering adverse health effects from exposure to fresh paint it should not be taken lightly. “Off-gassing” VOCs can cause serious respiratory tract irritation as well as visual impairment, headaches, dizziness and memory loss. Additionally, many VOCs have been shown to cause cancer in animals, and some are suspected of being carcinogenic to humans.
Health effects vary greatly depending on the particular chemicals involved and the amount of exposure and individual sensitivity of those living with them.

Besides paints, a wide range of other home products––including building materials, carpets, furniture, cleaning supplies and bug sprays––can emit VOCs.

If someone is suffering from respiratory problems or other symptoms upon moving into a freshly painted residence, or remaining sensitive long after a paint job, there are many paints now on the market that can help decrease the amount of VOCs emitted into the air. 

There are essentially three general categories of non-toxic (or low-toxic) paints: zero-VOC, low-VOC and so-called “natural.” Keep in mind, however, that the term “non-toxic” is used in its broadest sense. Even “zero-VOC” formulations, such as those made by AFM Safecoat, Yolo Colorhouse and Ecos, for example, can contain trace amounts (up to five grams per liter or less) of toxic ingredients.

Chuck Handy, owner of Pacific Paint & Decorating in Ferndale, said even some low- and zero-VOC paints contain VOCs after color is added to the paint base. Handy said Benjamin Moore’s “Natura” line is one paint line that does not contain VOCs in their base paint or color.

“A lot of the base paints are already a low-VOC product,” he said. “And a lot of paint stores will tell you they have low-VOC paint, what they don’t tell you is when they add color, they add VOC.”

Handy said Miller and Devine also carry a zero-VOC paint line but his store does not carry it at this time. He said this is partly because the demand for such products is still small in Washington state.

“The VOC levels are a big concern in other states like California, but most people don’t value the VOC idea in Washington yet, although it is growing,”  he said. “At this point, it’s still about ‘how much does the paint cost.’ Low-VOC paints you’re looking at about $45 a gallon, whereas normal paints your looking at about $35 per gallon.”

Handy, however, added while an average $10-per gallon price premium can add a substantial difference, depending on the size of the project, such paints tend to be of higher quality and often require fewer coats because of their coverage. This also translates into fewer labor hours, which can also save a homeowner money.

Some leading low-VOC paints can be obtained from manufacturers such as Cloverdale, Vista and Miller, to name a few. Industry leaders Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams also offer their own low-VOC lines.

“Natural” paints and finishes, from manufacturers such as Livos, Alglaia and BioShield, are made from raw ingredients such as water, plant oils, clay and milk protein, and as such usually contain minimal amounts of VOCs.

Consumers can also track down such healthier paints at retailers like the Environmental Home Center and, and even at some of the larger home repair chains such as Home Depot.

Pacific Building Center in Blaine also sells a variety of low-VOC TrueValue paint products.

Pacific Bulding Center is located at 2677 Bell Road in Blaine and can be reached by calling 332-5335.

Jeff Hoke, a paint specialist with Ace Hardware in Blaine, said they also carry low-VOC paint products. Ace Hardware is located at 1733 H Street, suite 700 and can be reached by calling 933-1594.

Precautions should be taken during the application of any paint. Only buy exactly what is needed and apply it with adequate ventilation. Remember to always keep paints out of the reach of children and pets, and safely dispose of all unused product.

If ventilation is not sufficient, wear a respirator with a filter that will capture and prevent the inhalation of VOCs.

Low- and No-VOC Paints

The following is a list of low- and no-VOC paint manufacturers: AFM (American Formulating and Manufacturing); Benjamin Moore & Co. (Pristine and Eco-Spec lines); BioShield Paints; Devoe Paint; Duron Paints and Wallcoverings (Genesis Odor-Free products); Home Depot; ICI Dulux Paints; Kelly Moore; Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company; Sherwin-Williams (HealthSpec paints).

When to use a mini roller

Premium applicators come in a number of shapes and sizes; however one of today's most popular choices is the mini roller. Purdy has a variety of innovative mini roller choices that are versatile, lightweight, can quickly and easily deliver a perfect finish with smooth rolling action and have the ability to reach tight spaces.

These combined features make them the ideal applicator for an endless number of projects, from painting walls, doors and cabinets, to freshening up tables, chairs and even bedroom furniture.

When to use a brush

Even with all the advantages the mini roller offers, a paint brush is still the hero for most projects, especially when trim work is needed. A quality brush is a must when a professional-looking appearance is desired.

Most consumers might not know it's also important to use a brush that’s the appropriate size for your painting project. So, be certain to keep these tips in mind:

• Use 1- and 2-inch brushes for trim work, touch-ups and smaller projects such as window frames and moldings. Angular 1- and 2-inch brushes are great for painting around windows.

• Choose brushes measuring 2 1/2 and 3 inches for medium-size surfaces such as cabinets, baseboards, doors or steps.
• Paint larger surfaces, like walls, ceilings, and floors with brushes ranging in size from 3 1/2 inches to 6 inches.

Painting trends

Blaine painter Tim Duncan, owner of The Edge Painting & Design, said he’s noticed more black or dark colors and natural wood tones used to accent light-colored homes in recent years.

“The darks and blacks and natural tone wood such as cedar looks really, really good,” he said. “You want to avoid that washed-out look you get with too many muted colors.”

Duncan, however, said one should be careful not to go “too far,” adding he was recently contracted to repaint a bright yellow house with blue trim.

“That’s not to say as long as you like it, who cares, but if you’re trying to sell it, you’ve basically narrowed your market down to 10 percent who want a lemon with blue trim,” he said.

Pacific Paint & Decorating also features an in-house color and interior design specialist who provides free consultations. Pacific Paint & Decorating is located at 5060 Pacific Highway, suite 111 in Ferndale and can be reached by calling 360/393-4797.