It’s a rite of passage that accompanies moving into any new house: painting. Putting a new coat of paint in a room can liven it up and painting can come with a real sense of accomplishment; like you are putting your stamp on the house and making it feel like a home.
For all the enjoyment that can come from painting, there’s a lot of risk involved too, particularly risk that you can’t necessarily see. A fresh coat of paint may look good and might liven up a room, but without the right product, it could harm your home.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be irritants during whatever home repair you might be working on. Using those chemicals can ratchet up the number of pollutants in your home very easily and quickly. The number of pollutants can lead to a number of health problems and the exposure to VOCs is much greater inside than outside. Studies have shown that level of several organics average two to five times higher indoors than outdoors.
Common VOCs include benzene, formaldehyde, butanal and toluene. When it comes to flooring, Formadehyde, benzene and toluene are some of most common. Toulene is found in paint, benzene is found in paint and glue and formadehyde is found in floor finishing products and some plastics. Water-based polyurethane is a good low-toxic alternative to formadehyde.
VOCs have a great impact on air quality indoors and are emitted as gases from solids and liquids. These can range from cleaning products to degreasers to hobby products like glue. CBC Marketplace reports that VOC levels of more than 50 parts per billion (ppb) can affect people with chemical sensitivities.
When it comes to paint, there are three basic types:
- Latex: Latex paints have a water base and have fewer VOCs as a result.
- Oil: Oil paints are durable, but have a chemical base and have the highest level of VOCs.
- Natural: Natural paints use things like chalk, casein and linseed instead of chemical bases. They do emit some VOCs and it’s best to test them to figure out if you’re sensitive to certain ingredients.
To keep your home safer and allergen and pollutant free, consider using low-VOC wall primers as well. Wall primers have been changing in recent years due to changing VOC regulations. In many cases, wall primers made with latex perform well as an alternative to oil-based wall primers, but in some cases oil-based wall-primers still work best.
Low-VOC wall primers are currently available, but there is still some concern as to how VOC regulation will affect the stability of some primers.
If your home already has a coat of VOC paint on it, there are several steps you can take to deal with that problem and lower the amount of VOCs in the house.
- Remove it: to completely eliminate the potential harm of VOCs, it may be best to strip away the existing coat of paint for a fresh surface. Keep in mind through that stripping away old paint or sanding it away may expose VOCs such as lead.
- Cover it: If a paint job is more than five years old, you can paint over a coat of high VOC paint with a low VOC paint. The amount and type of VOCs emitted depends on the type of paint used and if it’s been a long time since an old coat was applied, the chances of VOCs still being emitted are less.
- Use sealing primer: a good non-toxic sealing primer can effectively block different VOCs and can work wonders on a fresh coat of paint that’s high in VOCs.
Choosing the right low-VOC paint or primer can be tricky, but this guide can help you pick the right one for your home.
The Huffington Post offers some helpful tips as well for picking a greener painting option.