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Location: HOME > Industry News

The Promise of Green Paint

WHEN it comes to building, renovating and maintaining a home, paint is a little like milk: it’s a staple, a basic ingredient. And much like milk, a product that helped make the organic food movement a mass-market phenomenon, paint is leading the expansion of the green building movement, as stricter regulations, pressure from environmental groups and increasing consumer demand for eco-friendly products force manufacturers to produce paints with fewer dangerous and smog-producing compounds.Skip to next paragraph.
In the last few years, the marketplace for paint has undergone a dizzying revolution, with paint companies furiously researching technologies that will help them compete with new green lines in this changed universe. A number of start-ups, too, have introduced paint brands (several made with milk) that they claim are not only safer for humans and the earth than conventional paint, but more durable and better performing than the paints billed as eco-friendly that came on the market in the early 1990s and failed to take hold.
Not everyone is happy about the shift. Many designers, painters and consumers who applaud environmental responsibility are nevertheless worried about the growing restrictions on oil-based paints (which contain high levels of harmful volatile organic compounds), and even on less hazardous water-based latex ones.
They argue that there is no way, at least with the products currently available, to replicate the sheen, consistency or lasting power of an oil-based paint, particularly for use on cabinetry, trim, bookshelves and other specialty jobs. And they complain that painting a wall or ceiling can require several more applications of the newer paints made to be low in volatile organic compounds, or V.O.C.’s, than of old-fashioned latex blends.
Even then, the look is not the same, and flaws like rough brushstrokes are more visible. Maura Spery, who paints apartments in New York, said she has begun to advise clients to expect to spend more time and money on jobs using low-V.O.C. paints, given that she has to use five coats to achieve the same coverage she gets with two coats of traditional latex paint.
“I just wish they could get the product to really perform as well as the other products,” she said of the manufacturers.
Jackie Greenberg, an interior designer in Manhattan, said she had designed an apartment for clients who requested low-V.O.C. paint, then demanded a new paint job within a year because of signs of wear and tear; J. J. Snyder, a Brooklyn painter who works on high-end residential jobs, said he has heard from clients about problems that start even earlier.
“They will tell you that the new latex is just as hard-wearing,” Mr. Snyder said. “But it’s not as hard-wearing. You put this latex on a cabinet, and six months later your clients are complaining.”
Eve Ashcraft, an architectural color consultant in Manhattan, agreed. “The products behave differently. If you bring the old ideas in, the paint’s going to be disappointing.”
Still, Ms. Ashcraft and other designers and painters interviewed said they supported the efforts to protect the environment, and that the demand from their clients for safer, more environmentally responsible paints was getting stronger. Adrienne LaBelle, another Manhattan interior designer, said she was seeing it grow, especially among clients with young children. “Everybody’s really on this right now,” she added.
The problem is one of expectations, Ms. Ashcraft said: “If you want health-food Doritos, I bet you they will not taste the same. It’s a trade-off.”
THE environmental issues are complex, the regulations vary wildly across the country, and many questions remain about the performance of paints known as low- or no-V.O.C. They contain small or only trace amounts of volatile organic compounds, solvent additives that manufacturers have long regarded as crucial to paint quality. But they also release harmful vapors and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and can cause headaches and dizziness, can potentially exacerbate asthma and other health conditions, and can even cause kidney and liver damage if exposure is extremely high, according to public health experts.
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