“Green” Paint Technology

Published in the ECHO Journal, June 2012

Eco-Friendly Products on the Rise

Selecting paint for your home, and particularly for an entire HOA, is an investment. The right choice can provide your home with a feeling of satisfaction and pride. So you’re thinking about painting your home and wondering if using a new environmentally friendly “green” paint will give your home that fresh and new look while still providing you with a long lasting investment.

“Green” Paint Evolution

As has been the case in many other industries, during the last twenty years construction stakeholders demanded less-polluting, environment-friendly construction practices and products. This interest prompted a challenge to paint manufacturers and their raw material suppliers to create environmentally-friendly paint products and materials that comply with new standards without sacrificing quality performance.

In 1993, the GS-11 Paint Standard was published by the nonprofit organization Green Seal. This was designed to reduce health and environment impacts due to volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). VOC’s are carbon compounds that can have short- and long-term negative health effects. This standard was later updated in 2008 with more stringent requirements. As a result, paint manufacturers are producing an array of new eco-friendly paint products and “green” paint technology has become more widespread and is growing in availability.

One of these products is a result of polymer research that has lead to a new and improved latex paint that eliminates the need for toxic solvents. For example, a new line of emulsion polymers have driven manufacturers to develop “low-voc” and low odor paints. What is an emulsion polymer you ask? Think of soap washing away dirt and what’s leftover is something clean. With emulsion, a surfactant or soap is added to a molecule that when combined with water and other molecules, get rid of any unused stuff and the result is “latex.” [Even though latex paint is titled thus, it actually contains no latex, so it won’t affect people with latex allergies.] Air quality is maintained and does not suffer during the painting application process with this new latex paint. Another innovation is the infusion of water-repellent characteristics. This feature allows the coating to repel water and dirt, leaving the building surface clean and free from soiling and the effects of the weather. It helps the surface to remain dry and maintain color over longer periods of time. In addition, the introduction of biocidal products is allowing paint to be manufactured more safely. A less-harmful production of paint is very important to manufacturers as they move to provide solutions that meet these green standards and ensure buildings’ viability and sustainability. These innovations are also leading the way for ingredients designed for all types of coating applications as well as shortening application and drying times.

Components of Paint

Paint has three main components:

  1. Pigment gives it color,
  2. The binder or resin makes the pigment stick when the paint is applied and forms a solid layer of paint, and
  3. The carrier or solvent keeps the paint in liquid form and evaporates once the paint is exposed to air.

Latex paints have an acrylic or vinyl acetate binder. Because they use water as the carrier rather than oil-based solvents, latex paints have lower VOC levels than oil-based paints. While they don’t cover stains as well as oil-based paints, low- and no-VOC latex paints perform well for most home applications. Some high-quality latex paint can be as durable as an oil paint. Latex paint cleans up easily with water, so you don’t need harsh solvents to work with it. It can also be “recycled” by combining leftovers; oil paints cannot be recycled in this way.

100% acrylic paint is more water resistant than vinyl acetate paint and is good for kitchen, bath, and exterior surfaces. Vinyl acetate paint is good for most indoor applications and is less expensive. Look for solids content of over 30% to hide stains, cover in fewer coats, and cover more surface area per gallon. You should be able to find this information on the paint’s label or technical data sheet (TDS).

Oil based paints have a synthetic or petrochemical binder. They are also known as Alkyd or enamel paints. These paints for many years have been widely used and accepted. They are very durable, easy to scrub, water resistant and give off a high gloss finish. This makes them highly suitable for many applications like kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and exterior surfaces. They also are easy to use. The problem is they are also very harmful to the environment. Oil based paints tend to emit more VOC’s and contain other harmful chemicals. The EPA has found that high doses of VOC’s can not only be harmful to our environment but also to people.

Many of these eco-friendly paints contain less than 50g/L VOC’s and some are Zero (0)g/L VOC, unlike their counter part oil based paints that can contain more than 250g/L VOC’s. With little to no odor, these eco-friendly paints make it ideal for indoor areas like our homes, offices, hospitals and other areas where odor can be a concern. The State of California has been very aggressive in moving away from oil based paints to water based products. Various organizations and agencies along with the State of California are working together to help pave the way to this conversion. The California Environmental Protection Agency, Green Seal and South Coast Air Quality Management District are good resources for a better and more detailed understanding of the rules and regulations governing these changes.

So what to do? Green paint technology is moving fast and helping to change the paint industry. Green paint products are now populating the market, ready to be used and available by most every paint manufacturer. These products are proving to be better than previous versions and continue to improve.

If you’re still in doubt, consult your paint contractor for advice as they can be a great source of help. Paint manufacturers also have literature available through their websites and retail outlets for a better and more informed decision. A good coat of paint should last you years, so your choice is significant for your home, your health, and the environment.

By Daniel E. Villalobos, Property Management Services, Kelly Moore Paints Company.