Low VOC Paints
LESLIE: Well, if painting is on your to-do list, it’s a good idea to make sure that the project is healthy for you and your family.
TOM: And fortunately, that has become a lot easier these days, thanks to a wide range of paints that feature low or even zero VOCs. With us to talk about that is a guy who has clocked quite a few hours, I’m sure, with a paintbrush in his hand: Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House.
KEVIN: It’s great to be here. It may be too many hours sniffing those VOCs, as well. I don’t know.
TOM: Well, let’s start with the basics for those that are not familiar. What is a VOC?
KEVIN: Well, VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. And that sounds kind of nefarious but basically, they’re the solvents in paint that allow you to brush it onto the wall and then have the paint dry. Paint starts as a solid and you have to add these solvents to make it a liquid.
And they really can cause some problems. People have been around paint cans that might have had the experience where they’ve gotten a headache because they’ve been exposed to the fumes too long or felt dizzy. They are suspected carcinogens and generally speaking, you don’t want to be exposed to these things for too long.
TOM: Now, for many years, paints actually needed these solvents to kind of do their job but the technology’s changing, isn’t it?
KEVIN: Well, the technology’s changing for sure. There are a lot of major manufacturers out there right now that will offer you a low-VOC paint. And some of them are even providing a no-VOC paint. So that’s good news in and of itself but it’s also good news that these paints actually perform as well as their predecessors that did have VOCs.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. I know there’s been a ton of testing as far as scrubbability, durability, wearability across the board with manufacturers, that show that these products are performing well.
KEVIN: Yeah. And I think we’ve had good experience with them. On many projects, we’ve gone to low-VOC. Almost all of our projects now, low VOC-paints. And they go up well and they’re durable.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Well and I think that’s the direction that the EPA is sort of mandating, when it comes to paint manufacturing now and going forward, that the maximum amount of VOCs is getting lower and lower and lower as the years go on.
KEVIN: Yeah. My experience is is that these things typically start in places like California or New York and then they sort of come into the country.
TOM: Work their way east. In California, for sure.
KEVIN: Yeah. No, absolutely. Right. And so, California has really pushed the envelope in terms of low-VOCs and no-VOCs. But I think it’s the future; I think the rest of the country is going to adopt it wholesale and probably the best part is I think that customers are going to demand it.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Now, with the product having a low-VOC, does that change what we have to do as far as prep is concerned, when it comes to a painting project?
KEVIN: Well, it’s interesting because for many years, people – professionals, I think – sort of pooh-poohed low-VOC paints. And it was the sort of the same arguments that you heard when we went from oil-based paints to water-based paints. “Ah, the oil is nasty but it’s great stuff. It can’t be beat.” Well, latex paints perform really well. And then we heard that – “Well, without the VOCs, without these solvents, you can’t have a great paint.” I think that’s been pretty much dismissed; these paints can perform well.
It does not, however, change the prep process. A good paint job really depends on really good prep work and you still need to do that before you paint with any can of paint.
TOM: Now, Kevin, the labeling is really an important thing here because, as you said, some are no-VOCs, some are low-VOCs, some have odor, some don’t have odor. You know, if you’re trying to sort it out and kind of make an intelligent decision as to which product that you want to go with, can you rely on what’s on the can in the store or is there a better way to figure it out?
KEVIN: There’s some good information on the can. I don’t think it’s completely comprehensive and for that, you probably have to go to the internet. The manufacturers actually publish something called an MSDS and that stands for the Material Safety Data Sheet. And that will tell you exactly what’s inside that can of paint and all of its technical specifications.
And as I say, you can get it from the manufacturer’s website and it’ll have some good information. Maybe more than you need but it’ll have some good information.
TOM: Good advice. Kevin O’Connor, host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for dropping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: It’s great to be here, guys.
TOM: For more tips, look for the Interior Paint Buying Guide at ThisOldHouse.com.
LESLIE: And of course, you can always watch Kevin and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.
TOM: And This Old House is brought to you by Lumber Liquidators. Lumber Liquidators, hardwood floors for less.