Green Rookie: Adding Color With Low-VOC Paint

Reader Contribution by Julie and The Green Rookie On A Budget
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When my honey and I bought our first home, painting topped the to-do list.

Armed with a few paint supplies and a bit of help, I knew I could take the dingy walls in our new house from drab to fab–in a weekend, without dropping a lot of cash. When you’re a first-time homeowner with a paltry budget, what more could you ask for?

Well, there is one thing.

I decided long before we threw down drop cloths that I wasn’t going to adorn our walls with regular paint. It was low- and no-VOC or no paint at all.

Why? Because standard paints offgas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contaminate your home while you’re painting and stick around even after that nasty smell dissipates. Plus, VOCs have been linked to a slew of health problems, including respiratory, skin, and eye irritation; nausea; and more. (Learn more about why you’re better off without VOCs.)

That wasn’t exactly the fresh start I was looking for. That’s why I researched paint options and discovered Harmony Interior Latex, a line of zero-VOC, low-odor, silica-free paints offered by Sherwin-Williams. They cost a bit more than the standard paint at the store, but despite my tight budget, I was willing to fork over a few extra bucks to breathe easily.

In the living room, herbal wash provides a serene (and low-VOC) backdrop on the walls.

Because I live in a small town, however, the paint options at the store were limited. That’s why the stucco (SW 7569) walls in our living room, hallway, and bedroom are Harmony, but the herbal wash (SW 7739) walls are Duration Home (still low-VOC and low odor), and the sunny yellow walls (bee’s wax, SW 7682) in my office are ProGreen 200 (it’s low-VOC too).

The herbal wash and stucco walls in the living room make a low- and no-VOC pair.

I did have one other hitch in my low-VOC quest. The deep red hue (fireweed, SW6328) we’d picked for an accent wall in the bedroom wasn’t available in a low-VOC version (the more pigment needed, the more VOCs involved). But I figured it was OK since we were only painting one wall, so I went ahead and purchased the standard paint and we set to work.

In the guest bedroom/office, low-VOC paint in bee’s wax is cheerful–and a healthy alternative to standard paint.

All of the low-VOC paints went on just as well as any other paint I’ve tried. We taped, cut in the corners and edges, rolled away, and managed to get two coats per wall done in the upstairs rooms in a weekend.

The red accent wall in the bedroom is the only one that wasn’t painted with low-VOC paint. It looks good, but smelled terrible.

The colors were terrific. And that telltale painting smell was noticeably absent–until we opened the red can. Then I was reminded why painting can be so painful. Slapping that red paint on one wall–just one lousy wall–made the whole bedroom and hallway smell. It was potent, and instantly made me regret my decision.

To avoid painter’s remorse, do your research before you buy. Here’s a handy rundown of some of the green paint options available today. If you’re still not sure whether the paint you’re getting really is “green,” look for the Green Seal logo, which ensures your paint meets stringent, environmentally friendly criteria.

Was that red hue–as terrific as it is–really worth it? Probably not, because even now, a year and a half later, I still occasionally picture VOCs wafting through the air in our bedroom. (Yes, a bit dramatic. But true.)

But I was a rookie. Lesson learned. Next time, it’s low-VOC all the way, baby.

Editor’s Note: Natural Home does not recommend, approve or endorse the products/services offered by companies guest bloggers review online. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.