Painting your home is an excellent and relatively inexpensive way to remodel. The right choice of paint colors can make the drabbest room come alive!
But what about the effect of paint on the environment and your health? Your local hardware store has hundreds of choices; if you’re looking for more than just color, picking one can be bewildering. It can be hard to find a durable, dependable paint that’s healthy to live around and environmentally friendly.
Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are airborne chemicals emitted by most paint. The greatest quantity of VOCs are released while you’re painting, but they keep being released afterward – sometimes for years. They can cause headaches, dizziness, respiratory distress, and other illnesses. (Ever feel overwhelmed by that “new paint” smell that lingers during and after your paint job? Now you know what you’re smelling!) These chemicals are likely to be carcinogenic. They’re also a major contributor to ozone and indoor air pollution.
Increasing demand from consumers and tighter regulations mean that new paint brands have recently been developed which emit fewer to no VOCs. These brands must have 250 or fewer grams per liter (g/l) of volatile organic compounds for flat paint. In my view, even 250 grams per liter is too much; you can find brands out there with much fewer to no VOC’s.
The performance quality of low and no VOC paint has historically been a problem. It would often be thinner, splash too much, rub off easily, not cover well, and just not look as good. Technological advances and increased demand for low VOC paint have resulted in new paint lines that eliminate all or most of these problems. It is now possible to find low VOC paint that’s durable, applies well, and looks great.
There are two relevant third-party certifications that test for and guarantee low quantities of VOC’s: Green Seal and GreenGuard. Green Seal certifies that a paint’s VOC content is 50 g/l or lower for flat and 100 g/l for non-flat paint. GreenGuard allows only traces of VOC’s to be found.
Here are three high-quality low VOC paint brands that bear one of these certifications and have also been tested by Consumer Reports (CR) for factors like hiding defects, smoothness, ease of cleaning without rubbing off, mildew resistance, and so on. (References to rank refer to all paints tested, not just low/no VOC brands.)
1) Benjamin Moore Aura (GreenGuard): I personally consider Benjamin Moore paint to be the gold standard for quality and vibrancy of color, having used it over and over again for various paint projects over the years. I’ve not yet used the low-VOC Aura brand, but if it’s anything like Benjamin Moore’s other brands you are likely to be satisfied. Consumer Reports rated Aura particularly highly in flat and eggshell finishes, but not in semigloss. Great for a cozy living room, not so great for the bathroom.
2) Olympic Premium (Green Seal): This no-VOC brand, available at Lowe’s, earned CR’s “best buy” recommendation for flat and semi-gloss finishes. It was an average performer for eggshell among all paint brands tested.
3) Sherwin-Williams Harmony (GreenGuard): This no-VOC brand was judged by CR to be middle of the pack among its peers. It performed best in flat and semi-gloss finishes, but not well in eggshell.
Try one of these brands and you may notice an immediate difference, since those intoxicating fumes should no longer be present during and after your paint job. You can also rest easier knowing that your family will not be subjected to continuing VOC emissions over the years.
By the way, please don’t forget to properly recycle any unused paint!
UPDATE: see also, Review: Benjamin Moore Aura Low VOC Interior Paint Brand