You’ve probably heard someone talk about “green” products or “low-VOC” paints in your interior painting Denver project. These environmentally friendly, health-conscious coatings are a major part of modern painting. I guess I assumed homeowners would be excited about the new technology because of all the talk I hear in the industry.

American Painting Contractor magazine published an article about their survey of 2,000 Americans on the subject. It was published a few days ago. The results of this survey show that we as an industry are failing to communicate the benefits of these paints in a way that is understandable by people.

Only 21% of those surveyed understood the meaning of “low-VOC”. 67% of respondents rated their understanding as neutral and 12% had no idea. It was clear that homeowners are concerned about what low-VOC paints can do. In fact, 2/3 of respondents said they were at least moderately concerned about indoor air quality in their homes.

Clearing the Air About VOCs

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are organic chemicals that can be emitted from liquid and solid products. These gases can be harmful to our health. VOCs can be found in many common household products, such as:

  • Paints, paint strippers and other solvents
  • Preservatives for wood
  • Common household building materials
  • aerosol sprays
  • Disinfectants and cleaners
  • Moth repellents, and moth-proofing air fresheners
  • Storing fuel and automotive products
  • Hobby supplies
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • pesticides

These products are so common in our homes that we have significant higher levels of VOC’s indoors than outdoors. In some cases, it can be as high as 5-5 times more than outside.

VOC’s can’t be eliminated from modern homes. However, we should make every effort to minimize our exposure. House paints are now healthier than ever thanks to governmental restrictions that are getting tighter and pressure from the public. How do I tell if my paint has low or no VOC?

How do I know if my paint is low-VOC or no-VOC?

A quick internet search will reveal many different articles and sites that define the criteria for Low and No VOC’s. It all depends on the article’s age, the State they are referring to (since different States have different regulations), and the industry-specific products being discussed.

VOC levels in paint are measured in ‘grams per Liter’. Some sources will say that paints with less than 250g per liter are low-VOC. Others will claim 150.

This article will be based on Greenguard.org’s Guide to Low & Zero VOC Paints From Better Homes and Gardens(r).

“The general acceptance for low-VOC paints is less than 50g per liter. Zero-VOC paints have fewer than 5g per liter. Paint that is latex (rather alkyd) has a sheen of flat rather than glossy and is light in color. However, it is possible to make it difficult for individual formulas to be compared. VOCs on labels do not include VOCs from colorants that were added to the product. Greenguard.org and greenseal.org provide independent certifications and standards that measure VOC emissions. 

These standards should be used as a guide. However, latex paints will always be the best choice for your health. It is important to understand that many paints have a lower VOC than those with a higher sheen. Lastly, remember that tinting paints will increase their VOC’s. The lighter the color, the lower the levels.

Shopping for Paint

This guide is available from Greenguard.org. It provides a list of the top paint manufacturers’ low and no-VOC products. You can use it to compare your paint purchases.

Keep in mind, however, that this guide was written in 2008. There are many product options now. However, this guide was the most complete I could find so you should at least have a place to start.

Here is their disclaimer.

This chart will help you to compare your options. Only companies that have verified information about paint with a VOC of less than 50 grams per liter are allowed to be included. Information can be changed; make sure you check the manufacturer’s website for the most up-to-date information. “

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