What are the benefits of low-VOC paint?
low-VOC paint benefit
You probably spend a lot of time picking out the perfect colors and finishes when shopping for paint for your home, but how much time do you invest in learning about the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) the paint contains?
VOCs are toxic chemicals emitted from drying paint and are commonly associated with that “fresh-paint smell.” VOCs can cause health issues, especially for those with asthma and allergies. They’re also a major source of indoor air pollution, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“I don’t think most homeowners really realize how bad the chemicals in the coatings industry really are to the environment,” says Bryan Tibbetts, whose company, highly rated Fresh Colors Painting, LLC in Indianapolis, offers low- and zero-VOC paints, which have grown in popularity in recent years as more paint manufacturers have transitioned from traditional petroleum-based paints.
A recent poll of Angie’s List members found 21 percent who hired a painter last year chose a company that uses eco-friendly paints and products, which emit fewer toxins, making the air in your home safer to breathe.
The EPA limits the amount of VOCs allowed in paint to 250 grams per liter (g/L) for latex paints. Low VOC paints – which are typically water- instead of petroleum-based and contain little or no formaldehyde or heavy metals – are not regulated but generally carry a rating of 50 g/L or less. Even zero-VOC paints still contain small amounts of VOCs; typically less than 5 g/L. Manufacturers are required to clearly list VOC levels on paint container labels.
If you’re going to dabble with adding color pigment to basic colors, be careful. Many tints contain VOCs -- 2 to 5 g/L on average – so you may end up with more VOCs than you’d intended unless you do that math. Many companies offer low- and zero-VOC tint products as well, so talk about that with your supplier before you start to mix it up.
“A lot of painting companies had products that were low-VOC, right at 50 g/L, but once they tinted it – added color to it – it went up considerably, because the tints companies used were really, really strong,” says Scott Schmitt, owner of Green Brush Painters in Indianapolis. “Now, a lot of companies have latex additives, so whatever color you choose, you can get a zero VOC.”
Related: Painting: The psychology of color
Low- and zero-VOC paints have come down in cost and have improved in quality in recent years and now are comparable in both price and performance to traditional paints.
“When we first started using it 10 years ago, there were some differences,” Schmitt says. “(Instead of) only putting two coats on, you had to put three coats on. The products cost a little bit more and were not available in all the colors. Now, the industry has really caught up to where it should be. If you want a red color, orange or a dark, chocolate brown, you can get them all and in zero VOC. All the products are just as durable, just as washable and the price point is pretty much the same.
“Why wouldn’t you do it? It doesn’t cost any more. It lasts just as long. It’s better for your family, better for the air inside your house and just better for the environment.”
Editor's note: This article was originally published in April of 2012.