Note: this post was originally written by Daniel DiClerico and posted to Consumer Reports News on April 28th, 2008
At my local home center, I’m seeing more interior paints whose cans say that the finishes have few or no VOCs. What are VOCs, and what do the numbers mean?
The seal has definitely been broken on the issue of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, in paint. You can expect to see more brands touting their virtuous VOC content.
VOCs are solvents that get released into the air as the paint dries. Other products also emit solvents, including adhesives, cleaning supplies, and even some home furnishings. VOCs can cause acute symptoms, including headaches and dizziness. The long-term effects are less certain, but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, some VOCs are suspected carcinogens.
The federal government caps the VOC content in paint at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat finishes and 380 g/l for other finishes, including low-luster, semi gloss, etc. However, some manufacturers have opted to comply with more stringent limits 50 g/l for all finishes set by California s South Coast Air Quality Management District. These products include Benjamin Moore Aura, True Value Easy Care, and Glidden Evermore. In the past, low-VOC paints have performed poorly in our tests, but these products all got high marks in our latest tests of low-luster interior paints.
The Ozone Transport Commission, a multistate organization created under the Clean Air Act, also has a model rule that limits flat coatings to 100 g/l and non-flat coatings to 150 g/l. It has been adopted by the District of Columbia and Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. Any paint sold in these places must be OTC-compliant.
A handful of paints whose manufacturers claim they contain zero VOCs are now on the market. One is Mythic, which sells for $35 to $45 per gallon at independent dealers nationwide. If you’re a reader of shelter magazines, you’ve probably seen the print ads for Mythic. Another zero-VOC paint is Freshaire Choice, a Home Depot exclusive that sells for $35 to $38 a gallon. Freshaire has adopted a more wholesome marketing approach: It’s good for your family and better for our world.
The base of other paints might also be free of VOCs, but when any pigment is added at the point of sale, the VOC level climbs as high as 150 g/l, according to ICI Paints, which manufacturers Freshaire Choice. But the makers of Mythic and Freshaire Choice both say that the color pigments used in their finishes contain no VOCs.
Mythic and Freshaire Choice use a VOC-free color additive that is supposed to eliminate not only harmful solvents but also the telltale odor of a freshly painted room, according to their manufacturers. Carl E. Smith, CEO of the Greenguard Environmental Institute, argues that measuring emissions is as important as identifying the VOC level in a paint. You can have a low count on VOC, but still have high emissions, says Smith. That’s why Greenguard, which describes itself as an industry-independent, third-party testing organization, makes emissions central to its certification process. Currently, Freshaire Choice earns the Greenguard seal, as does Benjamin Moore Aura, whose low-luster and flat paints scored an excellent and a very good overall score, respectively. Mythic has not yet been tested by Greenguard.
Consumer Reports has not yet tested Mythic or Freshaire Choice, but both will be considered for our 2009 report of interior paints. We don’t know whether these finishes will endure our typical hiding, fading, and stain resistance tests.
Remember, even though a paint might have low or no VOCs, it doesn’t do you any good if it needs constant touch-ups or reapplying.
The issue of surfactant leaching can also be known as streak staining, weeping, exudation, surfactant staining, and other similar names. This is known to occur with exterior latex paints when the environmental conditions cause the water-soluble components of the paint to be extracted and concentrated in deposits on the paint surface. Surfactant leaching is more readily apparent visually with accent colors, especially deep and dark colors, but it can also happen with light colors and whites, especially with tans and beiges. Both the formulation of the paint and the conditions in which the paint is applied and dried directly affect the likelihood of this happening and the severity of the effects.
All latex paints include ingredients that will eventually come out of the paint film when exposed, such as glycols, thickeners, surfactants, dispersants, wetting agents, and others.
Environmental moisture, including rain and dew, will generally leach out these materials in the first few weeks of exposure. Prevailing weather conditions can cause a majority of water-soluble ingredients to come to the surface as the paint dries, or soon thereafter, and these usually manifest as blotches or shiny streaks. Light rain and dew can also result in the extraction of water soluble substances, also known as surfactant leaching, if they occur soon after painting.
The negative visual effects of surfactant leaching will usually be weathered off after about a month of normal exposure in exterior environments, but removal before this period can be very difficult, especially if sunshine has baked the streaks or blotches into the paint surface. Power washing must be undertaken with special care, as new paint can be tender or easily damaged before it has fully cured or dried out.
Therefore, Golden Brush Painting suggests that our clients take no action to have such exterior services repainted or cleaned because the problem should fix itself in time. Surfactant leaching generally does not affect the paint is integrity or durability adversely.
At Harris & Ruth, we strive to formulate our latex paints with as little of these water-soluble substances present as possible, which will help keep this leaching to a minimum. Although universal tinting colorants contain glycols and surfactants, we do our best to achieve good color acceptance, good paint stability, positive application properties, and good film formation to ensure our clients receive the best looking results possible with minimal surfactant leaching.
There are six finish levels for drywall surfaces, used for walls, ceilings, or other drywall construction, that are defined by the major drywall construction, painting, and manufacturing trade associations. The levels are numbered from 0 to 5. These levels define, in detail, exactly what a certain level of finish means and must be so that there is no vagueness in the meaning of a finish. When you ask for a certain finish level, you get it.
From GA 214-96 and GA 214-90
This level has the designation of zero because there is no finish. There is no taping, no joint cement, and no painting. The drywall is erected and is then complete.
Recommended use: temporary construction, dust walls
There is taping at this level, but no painting. The taping at Level 1 is set in joint compound but does not have to be embedded in it. All drywall joints and interior angles are taped. Any excess compound is removed during application, and ridges and tool marks are OK. Levels 1 and 2 allow the presence of tool marks and ridges. Higher levels (3, 4, and 5) require that they be absent. Recommended use: areas not accessible to common traffic or the public, plenums above ceilings, attics, service corridors, and other concealed areas, hidden areas
As in Level 1, there is taping but no painting. However, the taping is more detailed and more extensive. At this level, again, all drywall joints and interior angles are taped, and at this level, the tape is embedded in the compound as opposed to merely being set and wiped with a joint knife to leave a thin coat of compound over the joints and angles. Also, all fastener heads (nails, screws, accessories) and beads are covered with one coat of compound. Like Level 1, excess compound is removed, and ridges and tool marks are OK here too. The definition of embedded in Level 2: Joint compound applied over the body of the tape at the time of tape embedment shall be considered a separate coat of joint compound and shall satisfy the conditions of this level.
Recommended use: garages, warehouses, and other storage areas
For a medium to heavy final paint texture or with heavyweight wall covering
The taping at Level 3 requires the tape to be embedded in compound (as in Level 2) with an additional coat of compound over the taped joints and angles. Any fastener heads and beads need two coats of compound, whereas in Level 2 you just needed one, and in Levels 0 and 1 you didn’t need any. At this level, the compound has to be smooth, and you can’t have any tool marks or ridges. In Levels 1 and 2, you could have them. In Level 3, you apply a coat of drywall primer after taping. Level 0 does not use joint compound, and so the presence or absence of tool marks on a Level 0 finish is not applicable.
Recommended use: With medium to heavy final paint texture or with heavy weight wall coverings. Level 3 isn’t used for smooth (flat or lightly textured) painted surfaces or with light to medium weight wall coverings
For flat paint, a light final paint texture, or with lightweight wall covering
In Level 3, you have an additional coat of compound over the embedded tape at the drywall joints and angles. Here in Level 4, you have two additional coats. The fastener heads, accessories, and beads are covered with three coats. The compound has to be smoothed, and there cannot be any tool marks or ridges and a coat of primer is applied after the taping.
Recommended use: with flat or light textured painted surfaces or with lightweight wall coverings. Enamel, semi-gloss, and gloss paint isn’t used with a Level 4 finish
For flat paint, enamel, semi-gloss, and gloss paint in severe lighting conditions
To get to Level 5, you take Level 4 before you apply the primer and add a thin skim coat over the entire surface. The skim coat is of joint compound or of a material manufactured specifically for this purpose. This skim coat is smooth and doesn’t have any tool marks or ridges. Then, the primer is applied.
Recommended use: for a flat paint surface with enamel, semi-gloss, other non-textured and gloss paints in severe lighting
In all of the levels that use drywall primer (3, 4, and 5), the term drywall primer means a high-quality, high-solids primer formulated to equalize the suction difference between gypsum board surface paper and the joint compound, and not just any sealer/primer of undetermined content.