Since the Clean Air Act became law in 1970, it has been used to regulate the content of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in a variety of products. Today, the popular focus for reducing VOCs in the built environment has turned inside, including the impact of house paints and other coatings on indoor air quality and the health and comfort of homeowners and building occupants.
Initially reformulated to meet or exceed varying standards governing VOC emissions, low-and no-VOC water-soluble latex and natural paints now also satisfy the growing demand for healthier and environmentally benign alternatives to conventional coatings.The Value of VOCs
VOCs in water- and oil-based paints are carbon-containing chemical compounds used as solvents to thin and bind the solid content and pigments, and as coalescent to help the latex resins flow together toward the formation of the finished surface coat. The coating applies smoothly and evenly, hides brush strokes and the substrate being covered, and maintains a desirable durability, among other benefits.
The compounds readily and completely evaporate into the air as the coating is applied and cures, usually within a few days. Inside the home, in high concentrations and because they are often “trapped” within a structure, VOCs give off a distinct and lingering smell. Emissions also are slower to dissipate than in exterior applications, potentially affecting the eyes, nose, skin, and lungs of the occupants.Performance Improvements
Early attempts to reduce VOCs in paints focused primarily on the amount or ratio of solvent to solids and pigments in the mix. As a result, initial solutions dried faster (per the higher percentage of water and solids to solvent), covered less area, and were less durable to regular cleaning than their conventional counterparts.
Three decades later, low- and no-VOC formulas are nearly comparable in performance and price to their predecessors, thanks to advances in coating chemistry.
“Sustainability is also about durability and lasting performance,” says Steve Revnew, director of marketing at Sherwin-Williams. “A coating that lasts five years instead of just one or two probably doesn’t impact the environment all that much more.”
Green Planet Paint. This zero-VOC, clay-based, matte-finish coating uses natural mineral and plant-based ingredients to create a lightly washable finish. Depending on surface conditions, the paint covers 350 to 450 square feet per gallon and dries within one hour. Thirty-one premixed colors are available; additional colors are coming for a new line to be launched in late 2008. 520.394.2571. www.greenplanetpaints.com
American Pride. Interior eggshell acrylic latex enamel paint offers a no-VOC formula and contains no other hazardous materials per OSHA regulations. It covers 400 square feet per gallon (one coat) on smooth surfaces and dries to the touch within two hours and up to eight hours before re-coat. It is available in more than 1,200 colors, and is Green Seal certified and qualifies for LEED rating system credits. 888.714.9422. www.americanpridepaint.com
ICI Paints. Freshaire Choice is the first tinted, VOC-free, flat interior latex paint, the company says, thanks to a proprietary colorant system that does not add VOCs. The product covers 300 to 400 square feet (one coat) per gallon and dries to the touch in 30 to 60 minutes. More than 60 colors are available. It is Greenguard certified to qualify for LEED rating system credits; it also is approved under Home Depot’s “Eco Options.” 866.880.0304. www.thefreshairechoice.com
AFM Safecoat. The company’s all-purpose exterior latex satin paint is applicable over a variety of typical surfaces. VOC content is listed as 17 grams/liter, and it is fully tintable using zero-VOC colorants and tints. To maintain low-VOC content, the formulation does not contain mildewcide or fungicide. It covers approximately 350 square feet per gallon (one coat) and dries within one hour. It is the only paint certified by SCS and qualifies for LEED rating system credits. 619.239.0321. www.afmsafecoat.com
Benjamin Moore. Aura interior acrylic paints feature a patent-pending, waterborne colorant system to maintain very low VOC content of 50 grams/liter while delivering deeper and more durable colors, the company says. The paint covers 400 to 450 square feet per gallon (one coat) and dries within one hour; a self-priming quality enables only two-coat applications. The product is certified under Greenguard indoor air quality standards and qualifies for LEED rating system credits. 800.344.0400. www.benjaminmoore.com
Pittsburgh Paints. Pure Performance no-VOC interior coating and primer series maintains expected performance qualities, including hide, color retention, surface mildew resistance, and washability, the maker says. The product covers 350 square feet per gallon (one coat) and dries within one hour. It is available in 1,890 colors using a proprietary tint system to maintain zero VOCs. It is Green Seal Class A certified and qualifies for LEED rating system credits. 800.441.9695. www.pittsburghpaints.com
Sherwin-Williams. The Harmony interior latex coating system is among the company’s GreenSure-designated lines as a no-VOC, silica-free, waterborne formulation. The product purports superior performance qualities, including color retention and durability after repeated washings, as well as anti-microbial properties to protect paint film, says the firm. It covers 350 square feet per gallon (one coat) and dries within one hour. The coating system meets or exceeds Green Seal criteria and qualifies for LEED rating system credits. 800.524.5979. www.sherwin-williams.com
Silacote. Natural, inorganic, silicate-based paint for exterior and interior masonry and similar surfaces is a no-VOC formula that also seals out water, lets the substrate dry passively, and provides no food source for mold. A typical two-coat application covers up to 120 square feet per gallon; it requires 12 hours between applications. The product is GreenSpec listed and qualifies for LEED rating system credits. 800.249.1881. www.silacote.com
Mythic. Mythic paint is a zero-VOC, zero-toxin, noncarcinogenic high-performance paint. The paint production process focuses on improving the latex paint at its core instead of removing toxins from the paint at a later stage, the company says. The paint, which qualifies for LEED rating system credits, is available in 1,232 colors and can be matched to another color through a toxin-free coloring system and using MatchRite color-matching software. 888.714.9422. www.mythicpaint.com
Bioshield. The company’s natural clay paint contains no VOCs or toxins for low-odor application and drying. It is suitable for various surfaces, painted or unpainted, in low-impact areas; extra protection is advised with the natural wall glaze product. Available in seven standard colors and several custom blends, the paint covers approximately 400 square feet per gallon (one coat), depending on surface conditions, and dries within one hour. 800.621.2591. www.bioshieldpaint.com
YOLO Colorhouse. Earth’s Color Collection of zero-VOC interior paint offers 53 earth-based colors. Flat, eggshell, semi-gloss, and primer are 100% acrylic with no added solvents for low-odor application and drying. The formula, with 40% volume solids, delivers excellent hide and layout qualities, the firm claims, and it includes a zinc-based microbial additive. The paint covers 400 square feet per gallon (one coat), dries in 40 minutes, and is Green Seal certified and qualifies for LEED rating system credits. 877.493.8275. www.yolocolorhouse.com