Eco Paints and Plasters a Good Fit for Older Homes

Mary Butler

In recent years, the term VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, entered the home improvement vernacular as a giant red flag. VOCs are found in most paints, varnishes, and wax, as well as many cleaning and degreasing products, and depending on what kind they are, VOCs have been linked to health effects ranging from headaches to cancer. 

Unsurprisingly, many home remodeling enthusiasts have begun seeking low-VOC or no-VOC products, leading to a rise in demand for ecological paints and other wall coverings.

You used to only be able to get such specialty products by mail-order. But today, it's becoming more common to find eco paints and other natural wall finishes at your local hardware store, especially as larger manufacturers jump on the green bandwagon.

Great Green Paint
At least two major paint makers, Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams, have unveiled low-emitting interior paint lines certified by Greenguard for indoor air quality. Greenguard lists those and several other low- to zero-VOC paint and wall finish options on its website.

Milk paint, made from the milk protein casein, is making a much-deserved comeback. Used in King Tut's tomb, historic milk paint is best known for lending Shaker furniture its distinctive colors. The earthy hues have a rich look unlike anything you can find in latex and they lend an antique feel that fits perfectly in historic homes. While old-fashioned milk paint works best on porous surfaces, you can find updated--and still totally natural--milk paint that adheres to drywall and previously painted walls.

Wall Coverings
If you're more of a wallpaper kind of person, don't despair. There are many ecological options in a wide range of designs.

Several companies offer recycled wallpaper printed with natural vegetable dyes, and some companies have shunned traditional paper altogether in favor of alternatives such as arrowroot-grass cloth. Vintage wallpaper is yet another wonderful green option. Search online for specialty retailers, such as Secondhand Rose, which claims to have the world's largest vintage wallpaper collection. Opt to make your own wallpaper paste using flour, water, alum, and cloves.   

Perhaps you love the look of lathe and plaster walls or the rustic feeling of a classic Tuscan villa. Clay plaster, a blend of pure clay and natural nontoxic pigments, can be applied in smooth or rough finishes in a number of rich colors. If you're an old house enthusiast, you can't beat clay plaster's ability to give you the best of both worlds: the ease of drywall and the look of yesteryear.

Domino Magazine
Environmental Protection Agency

About the Author
Mary Butler is a Boulder, Colorado-based writer and editor, who spends much of her free time remodeling an old house.

About the Author
Mary Butler is a Boulder, Colorado based writer and editor, who spends much of her free time remodeling an old house.

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