One of the first blog posts I wrote was on eco paints (see Eco paints demystified). Now that I’m at the stage of specifying paints for our renovation project and am facing painful budget constraints, the price difference between environmentally-friendly paints and high street brands is really hitting home! So I thought I’d look again at the health/environmental benefits of eco-paints and persuade myself, and you, that they really are worth the extra cost. I’ve learnt a bit more about assessing paints so I give you 4 basic tips on what to look out for. I’ve also got a few ideas as to how to stay within budget when it comes to internal finishes.
To recap, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are unstable compounds that are varied and ubiquitous in modern building materials and are commonly found in paints, wood products, flooring, adhesives, insulation – the list goes on…….. At fairly low levels they can lead to asthma, rhinitis (a hayfever-like irritation), dizziness and nausea whilst at high levels they can be linked to cancer; liver and kidney complications; and problems with the central nervous system. The average person spends over 90% of their time indoors which explains why poor indoor air quality can have such a huge impact on our health and well-being.
I have tied myself in knots trying to assess the eco-credentials of various paints – making paint is a complicated business and many paint technicians are trained chemists – but this is what I’ve learnt along the way:
- Don’t be fooled by a paint being water-based – many nasty toxins and solvents can be suspended in water.
- Look at the grams of VOC per litre (g/l). A paint with less than 4g/l is classified as minimal VOC. Sometimes VOC levels are expressed as a percentage where 0.0-0.29% is classified as minimal and 0.3-7.99% as low. I buy paints with minimal VOC levels because in real buildings (unlike in test laboratories) temperature and humidity levels fluctuate and change VOC off-gasing tendencies.
- My rule of thumb is that the most environmentally friendly paints are those that publish a full, comprehensive list of their ingredients. If you can’t find it online, then speak to the technical assistants who should provide you with the information you’re after.
- Finally, there’s a big distinction between natural and synthetic VOCs. Substances such as citrus oil and eucalyptus oil contain natural VOCs which can actually be beneficial to health and wellbeing. Many of the eco-friendly wood paints contain these oils but as a result are unable to class themselves as low VOC.
There can be a huge variation in price between eco-paints – some are 50-70% more expensive than others. The most expensive eco-paints tend to be the designer paints which have a beautiful array of unrivaled colours and cost between £65 – £75 for 5 litres. An option, which I’ve just found out about, is Keim Optil which is a no-nonsense, commercial eco-paint which costs £42 for 5 litres or may be less with a trade discount. I love the fact that Keim have an agreement with local German farmers where they plough dried residues of waste paint into their fields! I’m going to use this on all the walls that we’re painting white. Another option is Earthborn Ecopro which is cheaper than their claypaint range but just as good and arguably more eco because it’s made in the UK rather than Germany. A 5 litre can of white matt emulsion costs £35 and can be bought through Mike Wye & Associates who are one of the most helpful and knowledgeable suppliers of eco friendly building products that I’ve spoken to.
Another plan I have for some spaces is to leave the lime plaster in its natural state thereby saving on paint and labour costs. This look is typically used in Italian villas and French chateaux and I love it.
Also, on one wall of our kitchen, depending on what the bricks look like underneath, I’m going to leave them exposed. This is great if you’re trying to achieve an industrial style and is both cheap and eco because the fewer materials used the better.