Painting a Greener Environment

e have mentioned and recommended the use of environmental-friendly paints in our popular  HINTS FOR THE HANDYMAN column several times over the past few years and since then, we have received many requests from our readers for more information on what exactly the regulations are aimed at controlling, what exactly were those regulations and  limitations, and what paints are available today that comply with the regulations. The following is the result of considerable research, looking into the history of regulation change, the standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the various paints brands available today that comply with these new, more protective standards.

Environmental and health concerns about the use of products that contained volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have driven a heightened awareness of the dangers they present.  VOCs are gases emitted by solids and liquids that are contained in certain products like paints and cleaning fluids.  Some VOCs have been directly linked to short- and long-term illness and disease, according to the EPA.

In 1999, the EPA started to limit the use of both interior and exterior paints that include these potentially dangerous VOCs and as a result, many popular commercial paint manufacturers have begun offering EPA-compliant paints to consider.  The new Federal standards call for no more than 250 grams/liter (g/l) of VOCs for flat paint and 380g/l for all others but for Pennsylvania and other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that compromise the Ozone Transport Commission have a set a much lower ceiling of 100g/l for flat paints and 250g/l for non-flat, high- and semi-gloss coverings. At first many consumers and contractors considered low-VOC paints less-than- desirable alternatives to the types they were used to but that has changed dramatically.

The initial perception was that the first wave of water-based, low-VOC paints that first appeared in the late 90s, though low in VOC content, were low-quality.  Over the years, the continuing regulatory push towards even lower VOC content in paint has driven many of the existing paint manufacturers to ramp up the development of newer paints, focusing not only reducing VOC content but also on improving performance.

Unfortunately, as the quality of low-VOC paints is has increased significantly over the years, the price of the eco-friendly alternatives still remains much higher than regular paints.  In many cases, these new paints are anywhere from $4 to $10 per gallon more than their regular counterparts.  Sadly, with the stress of containing costs, much more has to be done in this area before we can a total acceptance of these paints.

Contractors and consumers agree that even though the quality of these paints has gone up dramatically, there is still a great deal of preparation required, perhaps more, to achieve the same results.  Using the proper primer is now most critical to managing effective coverage with a minimum amount of coats.  If the proper steps are not taken initially, you will see the difference and perhaps, have to spend much more for paint now needed to make the job look good.