January 22, 2011

Healthy Home, Healthy Walls: Why We Should Think Twice Before Choosing Paint. ~ Kip Golden

How bad is paint?

When we want to breathe new life into our home, our first idea is often to change the color of our walls. Without thinking much more about it, we run to the store to buy paint.

But we need to think more about it. As mindful consumers, we try to choose products that are both healthy for us and safe for the environment, so we need to be aware that paint is usually bad for both. By painting our walls, we end up sucking life out of our home instead of breathing new life into it.

From a health perspective, most paints contain harmful off-gassing chemicals called VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Exposure to VOCs in paint can trigger asthma attacks, eye irritation, respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness and other symptoms. Prolonged exposure has been linked to kidney and liver disease, even cancer. Most people assume that the off-gassing from paint lasts just a few days, but research shows that 50% occurs over the first year after application, and the rest over time. This means its impact is long term.

There are long-term effects for the environment as well. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that VOCs in paint are responsible for a whopping nine percent of the pollutants creating ground level ozone (or “bad ozone”). Paint also requires a huge amount of energy to manufacture, bring to market, dispose of, and it takes eons to decompose making it a very unsustainable product.

So what to do? Let’s explore three solutions:

Clay plaster

Clay plaster is nature’s alternative to paint–it is one of the healthiest, cleanest and most environmentally friendly building materials available. Clay contains no chemicals or harmful toxins–just pure clays, recycled aggregates and natural pigments from the earth that when combined, will actually improve the quality of your indoor air. Best of all, it is beautiful, really beautiful. With clay walls you won’t just get new color, you’ll get a whole new feel. Available in many rich textures and colors, clay walls impart a tangible beauty, uncommon warmth, and longevity to environments of any style.

But how does clay plaster improve air quality? First, clay is non-toxic, hypo-allergenic and dust free, making it ideal for those with chemical sensitivities. It even has the ability to absorb toxins from other materials and bind odor, such as cigarette smoke, decreasing levels of indoor pollution. Second, clay is porous, allowing a building structure to breathe and resisting the build up of mold. Third, and probably the coolest, clay walls release negative ions into the air–the invisible molecules found in natural settings that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress and boost our daytime energy. To learn more about clay’s benefits, visit: www.earthclayworks.com/benefits.

There are two ways to get earth plasters on your walls. You can find a local craftsman who will actually excavate and mix earth from a local site near your home, or you can purchase pre-mixed plaster from a company called American Clay (available at most natural home stores).With American Clay, you can either install it yourself or find a locally trained applicator. Learn more at www.americanclay.com.

Paints made with natural ingredients

There are several companies that make non-toxic paints from raw natural ingredients such as linseed, citrus, soy oils, minerals, plant pigments, lime, chalk and milk. Allergies and sensitivities to these paints are uncommon and if choosing paint, these are the safest for your health and for the environment. When shopping for alternative paints, make sure to investigate them in detail before you purchase for three reasons:

1. Some natural ingredients still off-gas a little.

2. Some have limited usage inside the house and can’t be used in humid areas.

3. Since the manufacturing process is different, they may require a different process for installation than we are used to with regular paint.

Some of our favorite natural paints are:

BioShield, made from clay (www.bioshieldpaint.com)

SafePaint, made from milk (www.milkpaint.com)

Anna Sova, made from milk casein, titanium dioxide and food-grade ingredients (www.annasova.com)

Green Planet Paints, made from plants and minerals (www.greenplanetpaints.com)

Low or no VOC paint

Be very conscious when choosing low or no-VOC latex paints. This is America and since we don’t mandate honesty in labels, many paints labeled as odor-free or containing no or low VOCs are misleading. For example, “no” VOC paints are often made with alternative chemical and toxic substances not classed as VOCs. In addition, federal law only requires paint companies to disclose their paint’s impact as an outdoor pollutant, and even though they contain ingredients harmful to humans, they are exempt from VOC labeling because they don’t negatively impact the ozone outside. It is also important to note that low VOC paints still off-gas, but the level is lower than with traditional paint types.

However, there are a few companies offering truly non-toxic, zero VOC paint that we feel great about:

Mythic Paint www.mythicpaint.com

Yolo Color House www.yolocolorhouse.com

Ecos Organic Paint www.ecospaints.net

So that’s the story. Whether you want to create an accent wall in one room, or change the color throughout your house, check out your options and choose to bring your walls to life–not just with color, but with the right product!

Kip Golden is the owner of Earth Clay Works, Boulder & Denver’s go-to team for American Clay installation. Earth Clay Works is a conscientious company known for its commitment to extraordinary service, attention to detail and passion for beautifully “greening” as many homes as possible with American Clay Earth Plaster. Learn more at www.earthclayworks.com, friend us on Facebook with Kip Golden, or email us at [email protected].

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