Nesting Green Home & Garden Special Issue
Seasonal Salads What to plant for tasty greens year-round
Conserving Water, Anticipating Surprises A profile of Deborah Brady
Small Space, Big Tastes Ten herbs you can grow in your apartment
Not a Yolk Backyard chickens produce
On the Wing Plants that attract birds and butterflies
Eco-Paint the Town
Environmentally friendly options
by Suzi Steffen
Admittedly, some of us love the “fresh paint” smell. Mmmmm, our nostrils think, that smells lovely and new!
But some of us react to the chemical off-gassing that causes the smell with something akin to a full-body freakout. Chemical sensitivities aren’t a laughing matter, nor are the various issues that oil-based paints can cause, says Corey Spencer. Spencer’s the manager of Miller Paint in Eugene.
Spencer, like folks at smaller and more eco-focused stores like Greater Goods and The Green Store, says he’s happy to offer paints that provide a more ecologically friendly way to spruce up living space.
Steve Musser at The Green Store says that his store sells “nontoxic” paint. “It’s formulated differently,” he says, so that there aren’t various chemicals mixed into the paint. Other paints may contain additives and fillers like formaldehyde, he says, or crystals that turn to powder as the paint ages. Not good for the lungs.
At Greater Goods, owner Joanie Kleban sells a variety of eco-friendly exterior and interior paints. Some contain plant-based oils rather than petroleum-based oils and what she calls “natural drying agents” instead of chemicals that produce a lot of off-gassing.
Even those who aren’t affected by the chemicals in regular paint might want to consider the issue of volatile organic compounds, the paint experts say. Low-VOC paints, according to the EPA, contain less than 50 grams of VOCs per liter, and zero-VOC paints have 5 grams or less per liter. What’s wrong with VOCs? Well, the EPA found that “levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants [are] 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside,” and added, “While people are using products containing organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels.” That can lead to anything from headaches to dizziness to memory loss, the EPA says. Er, yuck.
“I have people who can’t even come into the store, they’re so chemically sensitive,” Spencer says. In those cases, he sticks with the no-VOC line.
Most stores that sell paint now carry low or zero-VOC paints. Water-based paints, because they’re not created around petroleum products, usually have much lower VOC counts, Musser says. YOLO Colorhouse paints from Portland line the shelves at The Green Store, and Musser says the shop has recently added Mythic Paint as well.
Along with many water- and milk protein (casein)-based paints, Kleban also carries low-VOC stains. Yep, repainting your deck or resealing it can be just as problematic as painting your bedroom, so you might want to look for things like BioShield stains, which are zero-VOC (Greater Goods stocks some BioShield products).
And if you’re doing the spring cleaning while touching up the wall color, Klegan notes that the store has wood sealant and wax that won’t increase the VOC count either. No matter where you’re shopping for paint, be sure to make your house look pretty without killing off your cells — that’s the way to stay green even if you’re painting the house all of the colors of the rainbow.