Four Options for “green” house painting

April 26, 2011

Low VOC doe snot mean Low Odor

Low VOC doe snot mean Low Odor

Four Options for Green House Painting

By Anna Giles

Everyone knows that indoor air pollution is dangerous. The phrase can encompass many things: paint and cleaner fumes, dust, and hundreds of other possibilities that all add to a pollution problem that exceeds even outside city air pollution.

Unfortunately, freshly painted home interiors are one of the main factors of bad indoor air quality. House paints can contain toxic metals, solvents and volatile organic compounds (or, VOCs). After a few days, that “fresh paint smell” may go away, but the off-gas release of the new paint can add to indoor air pollution for as long as five years.

Some are more affected by paint fumes than others. The young and elderly, pregnant woman, and those with chemical sensitivities, allergies or asthma can be even more sensitive to a paint’s off-gas release. But don’t despair: there are “green” alternatives to normal interior house paint (four are listed below).  Keep in mind that none of the options will give you the full spectrum of shades and durability, but they are currently the best alternatives.

Our first alternative is the Zero-VOC paint. Don’t let the name fool you – they don’t really produce zero emissions, but they come pretty close. They contain less than 10g/l volatile organic compounds vs. 5 – 10% VOCs in normal acrylic or water-based paints and as high as 40 – 60% in solvent-based paints. These environmentally sound paints are the best alternative to regular paints and have a large variety of colors in satin, flat, and glossy finishes; not only that, but they’re relatively easy to apply and durable.  Most major paint manufacturers as well as home improvement centers carry the lines of paint. As always, lighter paint colors will have fewer VOC emissions than darker or deeper colors.

The second choice is clay paints. Clay paints are comprised of natural ingredients including mineral pigments, water, soy, and other plant-based elements. These paints are biodegradable and have the interesting but positive side effect of absorbing smells. Clay-based paints can be difficult to apply, but they quickly stick to the majority of interior surfaces and have a gorgeous suede-esque finish. However, the paints’ color selection is limited – mostly earth tones are available. Keep in mind that when a surface is painted using clay-based paints, it can’t be scrubbed, washed, or wiped, so a protective sealer coat may be necessary (apply it on top of the paint).

The third option is milk paints. These are the most environmentally friendly and organic ingredients for interior painting projects and the best option for those who have had problems with the other paints. Not only are milk paints 100% biodegradable, they also help clean the air in your home by absorbing carbon. Milk paints come in a powder that should be mixed before usage. It does have a very limited quantity of colors, and it may look uneven and blotchy on your wall when dry – almost like a faux-finish look. In the vein of clay paint, it only comes in a matte finish and a protective sealer coat should be added for increased durability.

Lastly, the fourth option is to install a wall covering.

Since most people spend the vast majority of their time inside their homes, taking care to ensure that your house paint is safe for you and your family is vital, and there’s no better way to do that than by using “green” paint. While many may not be able to build a completely green residence (click here <>  to see one family that did it), simply using environmentally-friendly house paints can greatly decrease the toxic load that you and your family are breathing.

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