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Paint Your House Green with Environmentally-Friendly Paint

Updated on October 8, 2012

It's time to start a painting project, but you hate that "chemical" smell of a freshly painted wall. Or you know most paint can be toxic to the environment both inside and outside the home and don't want to contribute to a potential ecological problem. And possibly you can't even use conventional paint products because the chemical off-gassing makes you physically ill. These are only three reasons to look into paint that is environmentally friendly.

There are many definitions of environmentally friendly paint and Eric Von Knipe, CEO of Betanix Coatings, offers a nutshell view of the product, "Environmentally safe paint is a paint that doesn’t give off a lot of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), that doesn’t smell a lot, if at all, and also that if a child or an animal were to chew on it then it would not hurt them. Something that if it's spilled, if it was washed into the sewer system or washed into the water system, it would integrate itself and not damage the water or damage the environment."

There are very simple, and safe, organic paints in the marketplace and are based on animal or plant products. One fairly well known option is milk-based paint. This type of paint was commonly used many years ago and, in consequence, people involved in a restoration project who want a high level of authenticity will use this paint to match the original coating. These paints are free of VOCs and other pollutants and do not have that distinctive chemical "paint" smell.

A drawback to using an all-natural, organic-based paint is typically you'll sacrifice a level of quality in the product. The chemistry that created harmful paint also created a better product. Luckily many companies are making products that are just as good as any conventional paint and have an environmentally friendly element to boot.

Is mold a problem?

Betanix Coatings originally worked to create environmentally safe termite control products, but during the research Von Knipe realized mold that causes wood to rot was also a serious issue. Given the attention black mold gets today, his realization was prescient. He says, "I saw immediately we have the biggest class-action lawsuit to the tobacco industry, which is mold in people's homes, and it's coming true."

With this background, Betanix has come out with a paint product that is extremely low in VOCs, is environmentally safe and is universally tint-able so it can be used with tints from many manufacturers. Betanix paints are also termite and mold resistant and come with a warrantee of up to $250,000 for replacement of labor and materials, and not just the paint itself, in case of any problems.

Von Knipe says he created his entire line of termite and mold suppression products to offer a "whole-house" system. He explains, "We can put our products into engineered lumber, we can pressure-treat it into wood and if I can put it into paint, then we have a whole-house system." Betanix mold-suppressing paint costs are in line with paints offered by major manufacturers, such as Benjamin-Moore and Sherwin Williams.

Sealing the Problem In

American Formulating and Manufacturing (AFM) is targeting the LOHAS -- lifestyles of health and sustainability -- market, a niche that spends in upwards of $250 million each year on products promoting a healthy lifestyle, with its Safecoat paint product. AFM's focus is on indoor air quality, which is a little different slant on environmentally friendly paint than the industry takes.

Jay Watts, vice president of marketing at AFM, explains some chemicals, such as ammonia, are not considered VOCs by the government, so products containing those chemicals can be advertised as "zero VOC," but still have a negative effect on health.

AFM's research has found out that chemically sensitive people can only tolerate a certain few ingredients in the products they are exposed to and the company has stuck with those chemicals for their product formulations. Environmental exposure to irritating chemical can be a serious issue for people with sensitivities, but it affects everyone. Watts says, "If it's good for the chemically sensitive, it's good for everybody is our mantra here."

The result of AFM's research and development is a paint that creates a very strong matrix that actually seals in toxic emissions from either old paint or off-gassing building materials beneath the painted surface.

Watts offers an analogy of conventional paint laying down a porous surface like ping-pong balls laying side-by-side and allowing emissions to escape through the surface. Safecoat's molecular structure forms a cross-linked pattern to seal the surface, so instead of ping-pong balls, imagine a layer of tightly packed marshmallows that hold emissions under their surface.

Watts says, "Safecoat paints, unlike our competitors, are actually very good sealers. Sealing meaning that if there's an emissions issue -- let's use an example, a zero VOC from "X" company that keeps emitting -- we come in with a Safecoat paint and we overcoat it and we've contained the emission from the paint."

Prepping Green

Swing Paints no longer makes actual paints, but they do offer environmentally friendly water-based primers, and paint and varnish removers that don't contain methylene chloride. Stripping a surface of old paint or varnish is a common prep activity in a painting job, and Swing's Soft Strip is an environmentally friendly option. It's priced in line with their conventional strippers, but the difference comes in the application.

"It's just a different way of stripping off paint and varnish. It's slower than our regular stripper. Instead of seeing paint, varnish or polyurethane start to bubble up within a minute of applying it, per coat, here you're looking at twenty to thirty minutes a coat," says Eric Chaimberg, vice president of marketing and advertising at Swing Paints.

He outlines another difference in the more "green" stripper, "This will stay wet for a good twelve to sixteen hours depending on the relative temperature that you're working in." This difference can actually make the environmentally friendly stripper a better choice for projects involving stripping products that require a longer activation time because it won't dry out too quickly."

Busting Myths

AFM's Watts has the final word on environmentally friendly paint. "The myths out there are: Myth A -- these environmental products are very expensive, and Myth B -- they don't work very well. Now I can certainly see some people arguing point "A," that they are too expensive. Well, you've got to compare apples to apples. You can't take a nine dollar gallon of paint and try to compare it to a thirty dollar gallon of paint. But the other side, that they're not good products? No problem. These are very good products."

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