How can you tell if it is truly a "green paint" from start to finish?


How can you tell if it is truly a "green paint" from start to finish?

Asked by Ellen Wallingford, Rockport, ME

We are looking into different paint companies, trying to find a good "green" paint that won't cost a small fortune. I was going to go with Mythic Paint. I also considered the new Natura paints by Benjamin Moore. The salesman said that most green paints are low or zero VOC until you add the color. How can you tell if it is truly a "green paint" from start to finish? I just want a product that will be good for the air, earth, and people without killing my checkbook. Is that so hard?

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Victoria Schomer's picture

It's great news that we now have so many different formulas and choices for paint-in light to dark "shades of green," and at all price points. When I did my first green design project in 1990, there was one green paint available: a plant-chemistry based paint from Europe, at $60 per liter!

Still, all the choices can lead to frustration and confusion.

  • It's important to remember that while we've made progress, there are no 100-percent green and healthy products.
  • For each project, we have to weigh a number of considerations, including budget, aesthetics, and green priorities.

Every major paint manufacturer now has a zero- or low-VOC paint. These "over the counter" paints are either water-based or made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. As you noted, colorants do add emissions.

  • A few of these new green paints have been certified by third-party agencies, so check the websites of Greenguard, Green Seal, and Scientific Certification Systems to see a list of paints and finishes that have met their criteria for safer products.
  • These certifiers have raised the bar on their own certification requirements to meet California's Green Schools programs.

The three paints you are considering are all newer, conventional (not plant-chemistry based), very low-VOC, and water-based. I have not used these paints, but some snooping around on the websites, and some MSDS (material safety data sheet) checking brought this information to share.

Mythic Paint is Green Seal certified through the 2006 standards, and will soon be tested for the new, stricter 2008 levels. The company's material safety data sheets describe a very safe product.

Elements, from California Paints, is a low-VOC paint with a stronger odor; it is not certified.

Benjamin Moore has been in the green paints business for quite a few years now, starting with their Eco Spec paint. My experience is with their Aura paint, which is Greenguard third-party certified under the stricter Children and Schools standards. It is also a different paint chemistry, resulting in a finished surface that retains its color after scrubbing. I have clients with chemical sensitivity who do just fine with Aura. The new Natura line you mentioned is not certified, but is a low-VOC paint, and the reviews I read were good: low odor, good coverage, easy to apply.

Home Depot and Lowe's also have low- and zero-VOC paints at lower price points. I have used these products, and they are fine paints-lower odor than traditional paints and a little lower in cost than most "green" paints.

  • But across the board, it seems that safer, low-odor paints are premium paints, and do cost more. I would weigh the extra $10 to $15 per gallon against potential health risks.
  • I believe with all petroleum-derived products-from gas, to plastics, to traditional paints-we are used to seeing low prices, but those prices don't include all the environmental and health tolls that we pay in other ways.

So in short, check for certification and choose the greenest paint within your budget, which might need to be reconsidered.

And remember: no matter which paint you choose, give yourself plenty of ventilation and protection from paint emissions during application.

For More Information:

Green Home Guide's Know How article Paint Like a Green Pro gives practical tips for painting your home.

Read Selecting Green Paint for an overview of paint options and environmental and health considerations.