Indoor Air Quality - Low VOC Paint

Struve's Paint - www.struvespaint.com

This educational article is brought to you by
Rochester Area Builders, Inc. with the support of Struve's Paint.

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When referring to paints, "Going Green" means reducing or eliminating the solvents that are released into the air when applying the product and as it dries. The acronym given to these noxious byproducts is VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds. The release of solvent fumes is called "off gassing," which is very noticeable during the painting process. Bruce Struve, owner of Struve's Paint states that "VOCs are what evaporates after the paint film has dried." And just as with second-hand smoke, the residual effect of painted walls in our homes, offices, hospitals, and schools has recently raised concerns. What we know is VOCs in paints not only color our walls, but also our environment, and not in a good way.

How Dangerous are VOCs?

In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rated paint as one of the top five environmental hazards. Air quality studies have found that, while paint is drying, indoor VOC levels can reach 1,000 times that of levels outdoors. However, it is difficult to directly attribute VOC exposure to specific ailments. The reason for this is that, although concentrations may seem to be below levels that would affect health, VOCs easily combine and accumulate. High concentrations can act as a central nervous system depressant, irritate the skin or eyes, cause headaches, drowsiness, respiratory or sinus problems, nausea, muscle weakness, and even liver or lung cancer. Children, seniors, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly sensitive to the VOC vapors released by paints. This is quite a list of potential health problems, and nothing that should be taken lightly, especially when all you want to do is paint your home!

Moving in the Right Direction

Realizing the harmful nature of VOCs, beginning in the 1990s, gradual steps have been taken to reduce and eventually eliminate them from paint products. The road has been long and winding, with a hodge-podge of rules and regulations, depending on geographic area. Some large paint suppliers have had the ability to meet product requirements within any given region, but many have not. The best solution is a single set of regulations that would apply equally across the country. As of this date, the EPA has set no standards for VOC use in non-industrial settings. However, various regulating groups and the paint industry itself are moving in the direction of paint products containing very low, or zero VOCs. Already, several companies offer zero-VOC paints within their product lines.

Levels of VOCs

Setting aside conventional paint, there are four categories of VOC paint: low-VOC, zero-VOC, natural, and recycled. Low-VOC must contain less than 50 grams of VOCs per liter, and zero-VOC must contain less than 5 grams per liter. Natural paint contains no petroleum products and is made from renewable or abundantly occurring natural materials, including clay, lime, linseed oil, citrus oil, or the milk protein-powdered casein. By its very "nature," natural paint is devoid of VOCs. Recycled paint is made from used latex (now referred to as "water-borne" ) paint that is more environmentally friendly than conventional paint, but does not necessarily fall into the low-VOC category.

Performance and Cost

As with any shifts in technology, many questions remain regarding the viability of low or zero VOC paints. And of course, as Mr. Struve notes, "Many consumers emphasize cost just as much, or even more so, than concerns for the environment. Important factors to weigh when considering low or zero VOC paints include lack of odor, drying time, spreadability, color quality, and durability." Other considerations include cleanup and disposal. As production has grown, costs have dropped to the point where the price difference is negligible or even non-existent in certain cases.

The Wave of the Future

The driving force behind low or zero VOC paints is not only increasingly stringent mandated standards, but also the common sense understanding that they are better for the environment. Because they have become price-competitive, offer many environmental and health benefits, and work as well or better than conventional paints, low and zero VOC paints are here to stay. There are many paint manufacturers who produce these new paints in a wide variety of colors and with varying features. Improvements are constantly being made and the performance of low or zero VOC paints will quickly become the quality benchmark for all paint products.

What's Right for Me?

Whether you have health concerns, concerns about colors, durability or the various aspects of applying the paint, those questions can be easily answered by consulting with your local paint store professional. He or she is thoroughly trained and up-to-date on the advancements being made and will assist you in making the proper selection for your specific situation.


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