When you think about painting the inside of your house, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? The mess, the stress, the fumes? It all sounds like mere inconvenience, but did you know that the fumes can actually be harmful to your health?
Most paints and varnishes emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). It’s a normal chemical reaction that occurs as paint dries. When VOCs are trapped inside your home they can build up and cause minor problems, such as headache or irritation of the eyes, ears and throat. In some cases more serious health problems can also result from the build up of VOCs.
So does that mean you’re stuck with “builder beige” in your living room? Absolutely not! There are many things you can do to reduce your exposure to VOCs, and safeguard your family’s health (and still get the color you want on your walls). Here are some steps you can take when you plan your next painting job:
- Start with latex paint. Not only is it easier to clean up, but because it’s water-based it starts off with fewer chemicals. That does not mean that all latex paints are Low VOC, though. You need to read the label. The U.S. EPA has created a standard that measures the amount of VOCs in the paint before any pigment or other additives are mixed in, and it regulates which products can be called Low VOC.
- Every coat counts. When you apply multiple coats of paint (primer, too!), you are increasing your exposure to VOCs. Each coat has to dry, and as it dries it releases VOCs. Additional coats and drying time will add to the VOC levels trapped inside your home. Take steps to limit the number of coats of paint applied. For example, if you want a dark, dramatic treatment on your wall, start with a tinted primer.
- Watch the add-ons. Some paints claim to reduce mold growth – this is because there are additives that inhibit mold growth. Guess what – those additives emit VOCs.
- Be careful with unused product. VOCs can be emitted by paint left in the container, and can still build up in your home. Start your project by purchasing the amount of paint you need, then only store enough for occasional touch-ups. When storing paint, keep it in a tightly sealed container, and store it some place with a mild temperature climate. A garage is fine, as long as the temperature in your garage does not drop below freezing.
- Dispose properly. If you find that you’ve over-purchased for your project, or you no longer need to keep the unused portion, do not just toss it in the garbage. First, add kitty litter to the can and allow it to dry. Then you can put the can in the trash.
- Hire a professional. Look for someone with years of experience choosing the right paint for the job, and let them know you prefer Low VOC. (Most painting contractors prefer them, too – no one wants to be exposed to extra chemicals!) As an added benefit, the painters will take care of the mess!
What about “Low Odor paint?” In the painting industry, “Low Odor” and “Low VOC” are used interchangeably. The fumes in traditional paint are the evidence of VOC emission. When you reduce the VOCs, you reduce the odor! Following all of these steps will ensure the results you want and a healthier environment for your family.