Low-VOC Products Paint the Way to Eco-Friendly Homes
There comes a time when the inside of every old home needs a little touch-up. A dab of paint here, a five-gallon bucket of paint there. Unfortunately, that old staple of house renewal, latex paint, is one of your more toxic household products.
Three Dirty Letters
By now, you've undoubtedly heard the three dirty letters: VOC, which stand for volatile organic compound.
VOCs are oft-toxic gases released by many products, including paints. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs can cause "eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans."
Fortunately, paint manufacturers have developed paints that are either low-VOCs or no-VOCs. By EPA standards, a no-VOC paint can have up to 5 grams per liter (g/L).
Prices of eco-friendly latex paint have come down through the years. Many home improvement stores offer low-VOC paints.
The most environmentally friendly paints are "natural" paints. They use ingredients such as water, milk, clay, and plant oils, resins and dyes.
Whether you are using an eco-friendly latex paint or for some reason are sticking with an old standard latex (maybe if you have some left over from a previous project), you should take several precautions to protect yourself and the environment:
- Buy only what you need--your supplier can help you figure out how much to buy. Unless you have a standard, premixed color, the retailer won't take returns. Store paint you have left in the original container, upside down. Do not dump quantities of paint down the drain.
- Vent the room well while painting and drying, even if you are using a low-VOC paint. If using a standard latex paint, air out the room several times in the following days.
- Find a second use for unused paint--use it for another project, give it to friends, or search for a paint recycler through local environmental or solid waste agencies.
- Clean brushes in the sink, where paint droplets will go to the sewer plant for treatment. Squeeze paint from rollers back into the can, then either wash the roller (a chore that puts quite a lot of paint into the sewer system), or let the roller dry and discard it. Do not put paint into the ground or into storm sewers, where it will find its way into local streams.
- Let empty cans dry and dispose of them as you normally would.
These precautions will help protect you and the environment as you paint your old house in an eco-friendly way.