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Color Me Healthy

5/8/2010 9:07:39 PM

Tags: air quality, color, eco-friendly, house, home, paint, low-VOC, VOC, volatile organic compounds, zero-VOC, Simran Sethi

PaintThere’s a persistent urban myth that the Eskimo have at least 50 names for snow. While that may have been debunked, I’m pretty sure there’s another classification in the running for Most Names for One Thing: paint colors. As I confirm my color scheme, I find myself paralyzed by pigments. There seem to be at least a thousand names for the color white: moonlit snow, colonial white, diamond mine, combed cotton, capri cream, vanilla wafer, linen ruffle, mother of pearl, heirloom lace ... the list goes on and on.

Confirming colors for my 1,500-square-foot abode, I went through 13 shades of white, four shades of pink, five shades of red, two shades of plum and eight shades of orangey-rust colors. I looked at my artwork, floor rugs and hues of plants. I pulled colors from all those places, as well as from the book Mexican Color, to achieve my final palette. I wish I had perused this cool color blog but I didn’t find it until after I was done.

Picking colors was hard but picking the paint was easy. I went back to what I knew worked. When I moved to Kansas three years ago, I was determined to use a zero-VOC paint that would not give off harmful volatile organic compounds (or VOCs). (Take a look at my last post on flooring for more information on VOCs and why they should be avoided.)

VOCs are known to add to indoor air pollution and contribute to (or trigger) a host of problems ranging from skin allergies to headaches and possibly cancer. Zero-VOC paints contain fewer than five grams of VOCs per liter. (That ratio really refers to the base paint. Most pigments contain a higher percentage of VOCs but are still significantly better for your health and the planet than traditional paints.)

As with most things, paints exist on a continuum. The most eco-friendly paints, such as Real Milk Paint and Bioshield Paint, are made from substances such as milk casein or clay. They are incredible but require more money and greater preparation — and are not as readily available in my area (so were not on my original list). If I had chemical sensitivities, I would seek them out or source the natural paints on this list.

I initially used — and have stayed with — the Pure Performance line of PPG Pittsburgh Paints. The line had great sample sizes (which, sadly, have been phased out) and vibrant colors. When I put the paint on the walls of my apartment, I had little concern for the paint beyond its color and concentration of VOCs. I was happy that professional painter David Bryan, owner of Ad Astra Painting Company, concurred. He said, “Pure Peroformance behaved like a high-quality paint.”

Dave named his paint company after the Kansas state motto: Ad Astra per Aspera. It means, “to the stars through difficulty.” Quite honestly, that’s what these days in the house feel like. I’m in a low place, feeling the weight of costs and the discomfort of not really knowing what I am doing (it turns out those floors I thought looked great are not nearly done). But there are people like Dave who help me get through these times. I am ever-hopeful this house is becoming a home.

Ad astra,


Photo by Jessica Sain-Baird

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