Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Going Green with Interior Paint or Stain

Painting and staining are often overlooked when it comes green remodeling. After all, when the subject of green remodeling does come up, most homeowners think of things like increasing their home's energy efficiency, cutting energy costs, and reducing fossil fuel consumption. But green remodeling is about creating healthier homes and using safer building materials, as well. Since interior paints and stains are a major contributor of indoor air contaminants that negatively affect the health of millions of Americans every year, it's easy to see why going green with your interior finishes is a smart choice for anyone who owns a home.

Introducing Green Remodeling Expert David Johnston
ServiceMagic understands that it can be tough for homeowners to wade through all the "green" remodeling information out there, which is why we've teamed up with green remodeling expert David Johnston to provide you with the best, most accurate, green remodeling advice in the business. Johnston is the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., the author of multiple books on green remodeling, (including the Nautilus Award winner, Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time), and he's got plenty to say about what you can do to make sure your interior paint or staining project ends up being as green as possible.

The Cost of Going Green with Interior Finishes
The first thing homeowners want to know when the talk turns green with paints and stains is how much it's going to cost versus using traditional materials. The answer to that question isn't as easy as many homeowners might think. At first glance, and from a financial standpoint, the answer is that you're probably going to pay a little bit more for environmentally sound, and safe, paints and stains. But when you look at things through a greener lens, the lines begin to blur. After all, what value would you place on a healthier family? On an improved quality of life? On knowing that you're doing everything you can to create a better, more environmentally responsible world for your children and grandchildren? Put it that way, and it's easy to see what Johnston means when it says that the real value of going green extends far above any figures involving dollars and cents.

Going Green with Interior Paints and Stains
So just what are the benefits of going green with interior finishes, and what steps can you take to make sure your painting or staining project is as green as they come? From achieving a healthier indoor environment to doing right by the environment on a global scale, here's a guide to green painting and staining, drawn directly from the work, experience, and writings of Johnston himself to help you get off on the right foot.

  • Use Low VOC- or No-VOC or Formaldehyde-Free Paint—Traditional paints emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your home, and can continue to do so for years after being applied. In addition to contributing to outdoor air pollution (VOCs can add to ground level ozone and smog), VOCs have also been linked to cancer, respiratory disorders, and central nervous system disorders, among other ailments. Low- and no-VOC paints help you to lower, or eliminate, your exposure to VOCs and the associated health risks.

  • Use Water Based or Latex Paint—Alkyd or solvent based paints are particularly bad in the VOC department, and can contain as many as 300 toxic ingredients, half of which are considered carcinogenic. Water-based or latex paints are safer, since they use water as a thinner instead.

  • Use Low-VOC, Water-based Wood Finishes—Wood finishes can be even more volatile than paints, making the selection of low-VOC and water-based wood finishes that much more important. Be aware that many water based finishes still off-gas potentially harmful solvents, biocides, and other chemicals, especially prior to drying, though they're still far superior from a green perspective than the alternatives.

  • Practice Safe Application Procedures—Even low- and no-VOC paints and stains can have potentially adverse health effects when they are initially applied, and improper application can lead to even more problems down the road. Follow the manufacturer's application instructions, and be sure to provide plenty of ventilation when the paint or finish is applied and for several days afterward.

  • Use Natural Paints or Mix Your Own—Natural paints are healthier paints because they avoid the use of toxic pesticides and generally utilize pigments and dyes free of heavy metals. Go-getters can also mix their own paints using natural dyes, which allows you to avoid biocides altogether, further minimizing exposure to potentially harmful VOCs.

  • Buy Recycled Paints—If you aren't picky about colors, consider purchasing recycled paint. It eliminates waste, helps to minimize groundwater contamination, and it will save you money; most recycled paints run about $10 per gallon. The one downside: recycled paints will probably contain higher levels of VOCs than those mentioned above.

  • Carefully Calculate the Amount of Paint You Need, and Dispose of Leftovers Properly—Improperly disposed paints and stains can leach into groundwater and contaminate drinking supplies. You can minimize waste by carefully measuring out the amount of paint you'll need in the first place, and you can help reduce unnecessary pollution by contacting the proper authorities to obtain hazardous waste disposal guidelines, or the location of paint recycling centers in your area, if you have leftovers.

Which Shade of Green is Right for You?
While going green with your interior paint or stain job is a smart choice for you, your family, and the environment, it's not unusual for homeowners to feel a little overwhelmed when presented with the full scope of green remodeling options. If you're feeling unsure about how green you're willing to go, there's no need to worry. Keep in mind that going green isn't an all-or-nothing proposition, and not every homeowner has the time, or dedication, to mix their own paints in the name of environmental stewardship. The truth of the matter is that any step you take in a green direction is a smart one, whether you paint your home green top to bottom, or just look for a low-VOC paint at the hardware store.

If you do think green is the right choice for your upcoming interior paint or stain project, talk openly with contractors about adopting a green building philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm so you get the best possible advice on what going green is going to mean for you.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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