Healthy Paint

Now that the health of the environment is taking front and center in all aspects of design, you may be hearing the term VOC being tossed around.  What does it mean and is it important to me?

VOC Explained

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain products. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.  What makes an organic compound volatile? Technically speaking, the compound has a high enough vapor pressures under normal conditions to vaporize and enter the atmosphere.

VOC and Health

There is debate among experts as to the health effects from the level of organics found in homes, and paint and related products, along with some cleaning products, are the primary VOC sources within the home.  What is known is that very high VOC’s can cause immediate health effects such as:

  • Eye and respiratory tract irritation,
  • Headaches,
  • Dizziness,
  • Blurred vision, and
  • Memory impairment.

If you’ve ever walked into a freshly painted room and the smell made you sick or gave you a headache, it was probably the VOC’s in action.

Low VOC Paint

While there is not a clear mandatory standard for Low VOC paint, painting manufacturers have stepped up efforts to lower VOC’s.  You’ll notice when you paint a room these days, the smell is not as overpowering and not as long-lasting due to the lower VOC’s.

Several of the major paint makers are offering low VOC paints, including Sherwin Williams, Duron and Benjamin Moore.  There are also no-VOC paints, but they do cost more.  These paints include:

  • Sherwin Williams Harmony Interior Latex - $40 per gallon (Sherwin Williams Stores)
  • Benjamin Moore Eco Spec - $32 per gallon (Benjamin Moore and Ace Hardware)
  • Pittsburgh Paint Pure Performance - $37 per gallon (Pittsburgh Paint Stores)
  • Olympic Premium Paint - $20 per gallon (Lowes)
  • Freshaire paint - $37 per gallon (Home Depot)
  • Mythic Paint - $50 per gallon (Online only)

Be aware that some paints that qualify as no-VOC or low-VOC, actually have VOC's added in when the paint is mixed with the coloring pigment.  If you’re considering purchasing a low or no VOC paint, investigate to see if this is the case with your healthy choice.

Bottom Line

VOC’s are still an unknown in their long term health and environmental effects.  It’s your choice to use these products and determine if the increased cost outweighs the decreased side effects.