Decorating With Environmentally-Friendly Paints
If a fresh coat of colour is included in this year’s renovation or interior decorating plans, avoid that new paint smell by using paints with low or no VOCs.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), All Around Roofing explains, are chemicals released into the air by a variety of household products; including furniture, adhesives, cleaning agents, building materials, and paints. Exposure to VOCs can cause a variety of short term health effects, such as eye and throat irritation, nausea, skin reactions, fatigue and dizziness. VOC emissions have been linked to sick building syndrome, cancer in animals, and are suspected or known causative agents of cancers in humans.
Is There a Safe Level of VOCs?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, concentrations of VOCs can be up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors. Compounds released following an interior paint job can seep into the air over a large surface area; however, recommending a safe level of VOC content in paints is difficult, due to so many factors that contribute to indoor air quality, including home ventilation and cumulative sources of VOCs from other products.
Many home decorators are not waiting to find out the long term effects of repeated exposure to paint products and coatings. Concerns over the impact of organic chemicals on health and even climate change have spurred demand for paints with low or no VOCs.
Differences Between Low VOC and Standard Paint
As more brands reduce the amount of VOCs in their products, they must develop other ways to achieve the performance of standard paint formulas.
In its March 2009 issue, Consumer Reports published results of tests revealing that not all low VOC paints are created equally. Although full results can only be accessed with an online subscription, the magazine notes two brands as having performed well in a one-coat coverage test – Olympic Premium and Benjamin Moore Aura. It also points out that VOC levels are generally measured in the base paint before pigment is added. The addition of colour usually leads to a higher VOC content.
While the long term effects of exposure to VOCs in standard household paints are not entirely understood, many home decorators and builders have felt the effects of short term exposure to emissions from these chemical compounds. A variety of paint brands now advertise products with low or no VOCs. Visit the EPA website to learn more about VOCs and their potential health effects.
Always recycle unused paint: Consumers can locate recycling drop-off locations by typing “paint recycling,” plus their location, into any search engine.