City of Alexandria, VA
Page updated Jul 27, 2012 9:23 AM
Choose Low VOC Paints for Better Air Quality
Despite the trend to embrace all things “organic,” the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in most household and commercial paints pose serious threats to your health and the environment. Occurring either naturally or from manmade activities, VOCs have a high vapor pressure at room temperature which causes them to rapidly release into the air and wreak havoc on your respiratory system, central nervous system, and more.
Building owners and managers have to maintain a fresh, appealing interior and exterior space to satisfy customer and tenant needs. Choosing low- or non-VOC paints offers a great way to improve indoor air quality for building occupants, reduce harmful exposure to chemicals, and help protect the environment.
According to the U.S. EPA, indoor VOC levels are typically 2 to 5 times higher than concentrations found outside homes and other buildings, and paint is one of the main sources of VOCs. VOCs are also commonly found in a number of everyday products such as cleaning supplies, varnishes and lacquers, building materials, office equipment, glues and adhesives, insulation, cabinets, and countertops. Paints containing VOCs release these organic pollutants into the air through a process called off-gassing. Even old coats of paint continue to emit off-gas vapors years after application. When working with VOC materials, increased ventilation helps disperse organic compounds and decrease levels of exposure.
The growing popularity for green building and environmentally preferable products makes this an excellent time to begin incorporating low- and zero-VOC paints into your maintenance schedule. Tenants with respiratory health problems or chemical sensitivities will appreciate the reduced irritation associated with lower-VOC paints. Although the most environmentally safe zero-VOC paints typically cost around $30/gallon (similar to the premium lines of traditional paints), there are several inexpensive options available for low-VOC paints that still provide numerous benefits over conventional paints.
A variety of paint manufacturers, like Benjamin Moore and Olympic, now offer product lines featuring low- and non-VOC paints. Low-VOC paints typically must not exceed 50 grams of VOCs per liter for interior flat paint and no more than 150 g/l for non-flat paint. Keep in mind the tinting process on some paints adds variable amounts of VOCs, so paint labels indicating a zero-VOC tinting system are ideal. As a general rule, darker shades of paint generally contain higher VOC levels.
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