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If you’re one of those people who love the idea of refreshing your walls or furniture with new paint, but can’t stand the smell, you’re in good company.
We love the effect of a fresh new coating of paint, but we’re not so hot on new paint “hangovers” that come from breathing paint fumes all night. And our clients are becoming increasingly aware that many paints contribute to poor air quality inside their homes (which has been linked to headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and breathing problems for those who are vulnerable).
As a result, we have been drawn to paints that are stylish but less smelly, and generally less toxic. We try look for paints that emit fewer or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which are the solvents that allow paint to spread evenly on a surface, and then evaporate as the paint cures. “Off-gassing” is most intense in the period after paint is applied, but continues to a lesser degree even when you don’t detect the new paint smell anymore.
When you buy paint, there are a number of choices that reduce or eliminate smelliness and toxicity of paint. Oil paints are the worst offenders — we recommend staying away from these inside your home!
Latex, or water-based paints, are better than oils in terms of their smell. But keep in mind that even zero-VOC paints can still contain harmful ingredients when colour or any biocide or fungicide is added. Generally speaking, glossy paints usually have a higher VOC content, as do darker colours, so use these in moderation.
If you buy latex, then zero- or low-VOC paint is a good way to start. The cost of these paints is comparable to a high-end conventional paint. Benjamin Moore’s Ecospec, Home Depot’s Natural Whites line, or Glidden/ICI Paint’s Lifemaster series are all no-VOC paints. AFM Safecoat, a zero-VOC paint is available online through Ottawa-based Healthy Home Services, www.healthyhomeservices.ca. Benjamin Moore also carries a low-VOC paint line called the Collection Series.
If you want to eliminate toxic gases from paint altogether, you can opt for natural paint, which contains only natural ingredients such as plant dyes, linseed oil, clay, minerals, or milk protein (casein).
Natural paints have an entirely different look than conventional paint, an authentic feel that we just love! And while the market for these products is still developing, there are some exciting developments and ideas:
- A type of paint called silicate dispersion paint, or inorganic mineral paint, is based on minerals. See Fredericton-based Eco-House, www.eco-house.com, for information on this type of finish. A litre of it will cost you $26.50, plus extra for tints and shipping.
- Several American internet stores sell clay-based natural paints online, at around the $40 US per gallon mark, plus shipping. See Arizona-based Green Planet Paints, www.greenplanetpaints.com, or New-Mexico-based www.bioshieldpaint.com.
- For wooden furniture, “milk paint” is an old-fashioned idea which was revived to create an antique look for reproduction furniture. Toronto-based Homestead House Paint Company www.homesteadhouse.ca, charges $36.99 for a pound of this powdered product (i.e., enough for a large project).
With all these products available and others in development, refreshing and renewing your walls and furniture with a fresh coat of paint will soon become a breeze — a fresh one at last!