Trying to build as greenly as possible means constant decisions.

When we got ready to paint Underhill House, we had two basic questions.

1.  What company to go with?

We started out getting paint from Sherwin Williams because we were familiar with them and liked them.  We got the paint for the timbers there.

Then, as we prepared to paint the interior walls of the house, our plasterer, Krome Burke-Scoll    pointed out that Hallman Lindsay paints are produced here in Wisconsin, making local paint a possibility.  But the closest dealer is in Madison, some 30 miles away.  Meanwhile we could get Benjamin Moore paints from a local dealer in Dodgeville, which is only 10 miles from Underhill House.

I decided to go with Hallman Lindsay, which has a good reputation and is manufactured nearby, even though I have to drive a little farther to pick up paint.  I try to include paint runs with other nearby errands and keep the miles down as much as possible.

2.  How about VOCs?

When you open a can of paint, what are you looking at?  What are you about to put on your wall?

That can is full of \

  • Pigments – powders that give paint its covering power and its color
  • Binders – that hold the powder together
  • Solvents – that make the paint liquid when brushed or rolled on, then evaporate leaving a colored film on the surface

It may also contain

  • Thickening agents
  • Antisettling agents
  • Fungicide

Painting in the dark is not ideal, but sometimes necessary.

If it is an oil-based paint, it will use a binder derived from a drying vegetable oil like linseed oil, which sounds harmless, but the oils are diluted with thinners like turpentine, and metallic salts that increase the rate of drying.

If it is a latex paint, the particles are bound together with acrylic or vinyl.  Latex paints are durable and pretty color fast and the equipment can be cleaned with water, which makes it seem so much less toxic.

But even latex paints have been a source of VOCs – volatile organic compounds.  Pigments and binders can also contain VOCs.

VOCs evaporate into the air and become a menace.  They can react with other elements to produce ozone and may cause cancer.

As paint dries, these nasty VOCs are at least 10 times higher than outdoor levels and can be up to 1,000 times higher right after painting.  They’ll keep seeping out into the air you breathe for some time.  Only about 50 percent is released in the first year.

Paint-related products are one of the worst environmental offenders. They’re the second largest source of VOC emissions into the atmosphere after automobiles, responsible for roughly 11 billion pounds every year, according the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide

According to Consumer Reports, Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of the American Lung Association, says studies suggest an increased prevalence of respiratory problems consistent with higher VOC levels in freshly painted homes. “Generally speaking less is always better,” she says.

But, those VOCs were there for a reason.  When you remove them, you are removing features you may want in your paint.

The salesperson at Hallman Lindsey assured me that their no VOC paints will perform well on the wall.  The difference he warned me about is that the new paints won’t last as long in the can.  It can go bad, and he did not hazard a prediction of how long it will keep on the shelf.   That’s a little unnerving, but a trade-off I’m willing to make.

We are using low and no-VOC paints in Underhill House.  Time will tell if they are as durable on the wall as their more toxic predecessors.

What is your experience with no-VOC paints?

7 replies

  1. Wall paints I have no problem with, but the wood paints I do wonder about their durability for the job since the introduction of “greener” paints. Varnish too! There is not much point in having a paint that you have to redo frequently, even if it is greener and trying to balance that is hard.

    One of the intriguing problems I found was not with household jobs but craft jobs, the problem with the new water based varnishes was that they wet the paper products I was varnishing and reacted with salt dough creations and was no good. I had to go for a cheap thin oil based varnish in the end.

  2. Hello from Hallman Lindsay!
    We are glad you are using Hallman Lindsay Paints on your home and went the extra miles to get paint made in Wisconsin! Thank you! We are interested in hearing more about your experience with our low and zero VOC paints.

    Just a follow-up on the shelf life of the paint in the can: the shelf life of zero VOC paint depends on the contaminants that are introduced into the paint can when you are painting and when you store it. Under normal conditions, our lab says that the paint should last several years, but that can vary.

    We’d love to have you come and visit our factory in Sun Prairie. We know it is quite a distance from you, but let us know if you are in the area any time soon!

    Happy painting!

  3. Hi
    Wanted to let you know that one of the reasons Hallman Lindsey is great paint because they don’t put anti-freeze in it like the big box brands because it’s not traveling as far and sitting in warehouses and trucks. I doubt I will ever use any other brand of paint, I’m very very happy with their paint.

    • Thanks, Mary. That’s a good point. It’s a great opportunity for us in the area to buy local and benefit on many levels.

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