I'm taking on some painting projects this winter and am looking for a safer paint. Lately I seem to be more sensitive to working with paint. I get an allergic reaction that makes my eyes water and leads to some nasty headaches. Are there any options for a more environmentally friendly paint product? I have also been reading a lot about something called "VOC's" in paint. What are they and could this be causing my problem?
sueandrbrt33 1-2-07 8:28pm
Possibly. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds. Some VOC's are fungicides that prevent mold growth, other help with color and some contribute towards the paint's spreadability. The fact of the matter is that chemicals like these have been in pat of the manufacturing process for many years because it actually made the paint better. Believe it or not, even toxic lead, which is no longer used, was there to improve color fastness. In fact, I remember finding a can of very, very old paint on a home inspection years ago where the manufacturer BRAGGED about the paint's "high lead content!"
Fortunately, the manufacturing process has gotten much better at producing quality paint that is much safer to use. Today, lead is gone and "low" or "no" VOC paint is more of the standard. Latex, alkyd-based paint is commonly made with no or low VOC's and even oil paints have a lot less. You can actually read the label to the paint to determine how much VOC was added. A low VOC latest paint would have about 250 grams of VOC's and a low oil-based paint would have about 350 grams, or so.
When shopping for paint, be sure to inform the clerk helping you that you are particularly interested in low-odor, low-VOC paints. If you ever have a question about what is inside the can, you can also ask for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) which will list VOC's in Section 9. For example, the MSDS sheet of this BEHR  product discloses very low VOC's of 149 grams/liter.
Odor is another issue that manufacturers have been working to reduce. Most low-VOC products are also low odor. Some years ago, Sherwin Williams introduced a product called Harmony  that is specifically designed to have almost no odor. I have opened a few cans myself and it really is fairly odorless.
Other than this, just make sure you work in a well ventilated area. Opening up a few windows in the dead of winter might not seem like a smart idea, but the added cost in heat is a small price to pay for your health and comfort throughout the job.
Reaching Tom: If you have a home improvement question or comment on this topic, please post it here. For answers to other home improvement questions, please email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org  so your question can be used in future blog entries.