Zero-VOC paints line the walls of the Proud Green Home at Serenbe

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Zero-VOC paints line the walls of the Proud Green Home at Serenbe

In addition to being a net-zero home, the Proud Green Home at Serenbe was designed and built with healthy, comfortable living in mind.

The solar panels on the roof will generate as much electricity as the home uses in the course of year, and the home's tight building envelopeensured it was EarthCraft certified and Energy Star certified for energy performance. The home's performance doesn't stop there, it also achieved Indoor airPLUS certification in recognition of its indoor air quality.

Architect Chris Laumer-Giddens of LG Squared Inc., and builder Luis Imery of The Imery Group designed and built the home using some key strategies to meet the Indoor airPLUS requirements.

See a slide show of the Proud Green Home at Serenbe.

There are more than 30 additional home design and construction features are included in the Indoor airPLUS label to help protect qualified homes from moisture and mold, pests, combustion gases and other airborne pollutants.

Air quality strategies

One of the key steps they took was using zero-VOC paints in the home. PPG Porter Paints was a participating manufacturer that supplied the Pure Performance zero VOC paint for use in the home.

In addition the builders used low-VOC adhesives, caulks and finishes wherever possible, including cabinets made without formaldehyde from Wood-Mode.

"Paints, adhesives and sealants are big contributors to VOCs in a home," Imery said. "That's why all the products we used met Indoor airPLUS standards."

Watch builder Luis Imery explain some of the indoor air quality strategies of the Proud Green Home at Serenbe.

Why is indoor air quality such a big deal? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies show that levels of air pollution inside the home are often two to five times higher than outdoor levels. And poor indoor air quality is associated with a host of health problems, including eye irritation, allergies, headaches, and respiratory problems such as asthma.

Low VOC paints have been on the market since the early 1990s. Back then there some issues with durability and washability that may have left consumers less than enthused. But since then advancements in paint formulas mean there's no trade-offs in using low or zero-VOC paints according to Laurie Forbush, brand manager for PPG/Glidden Professional paints.

"Nowadays products that are low VOC are certainly very durable and have good performance quality and have been engineered at a higher level," she said.

VOC basics

VOCs are volatile organic compounds that vaporize quickly in the air. When they react with the air, ozone is created, creating the familiar smell of new car interiors and paints.

It's clear that breathing VOCs is not good for you, your family, or your pets. VOC exposure can cause eye and breathing irritation, headaches and nausea. Long-term exposure has been linked to cancer as well as kidney and liver damage. 

Do-it-yourselfers should know that interior painting is one of the top activities for exposure to VOCs. The EPA has found that indoor VOC levels are 10 times greater than those outdoors. Right after painting, VOC levels may be 1,000 times higher. In fact, VOCs are released long after the paint is dry, even when there’s no odor.

Know the standards

The EPA sets standards for VOC content for paints, and defines the levels for what qualifies as a low-VOC paint. Limits are set at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat paints and 380 g/l for others. However, some states have more stringent requirements. For instance, California's standards are 150 g/l for non-flat finishes and 100 g/l for flat. Los Angeles is even tougher: 50 g/l level for all finishes.

Paint companies are required to post the VOC content on the can. However, keep in mind that number is solely the base paint before any pigments or additives are added. Tinting the paint with pigments can 150 grams of VOCs to the paint can. 

Low VOC Paint

Green Seal, an independent non-profit that sets standards for environmentally responsible products, certifies paints based on VOC content, durability and performance. VOC content in paints that earn the Green Seal must be below 100g/l for a non-flat finish and 50 g/L for a flat finish. Compare that to the EPA limit of 250 g/l. For primers and floor paints, the Green Seal limit is also 100 g/l. Reflective wall coatings have a limit of 50 g/l. Paint makers usually advertise Green Seal certification on the paint can.

Many paint makers offer products in this category the 10-25 g/ range, so pay attention to the specifications to find the lowest VOC content.

No VOC paint

Zero VOCs usually means very low levels. For paint that’s on the shelves of the typical big-box home stores, expect to find a VOC content of 5 g/l or less. That means, even when you add pigment the total for the mixed paint will be under 10 g/l.

Paints in this category typically cost more but also cover well because they have more pigments and binders and less solvents.

The payoff comes with cleaner air in the home, and a better painting experience.

"If the paint is low or no odor, the advantage is being able to get back into your rooms more quickly," Forbush said. "You always want to ventilate correctly when you're painting and you can reduce your exposure to VOCs that can aggravate asthma, allergies and headaches."

Photos by James Moses, Bisig Impact Group © 2013

Read more about the Proud Green Home at Serenbe.

Topics: Energy Star, Indoor Air Quality, Interior Design, Paint | Low VOC and No VOC, Proud Green Home at Serenbe

Companies: U.S. EPA,, Southface Energy Institute, Kohler, BASF Corporation, PPG Pittsburgh Paints, Kleendeck, LLC, Bisig Impact Group, Serenbe Sustainable Community, LG Squared, Inc., The Imery Group, Benjamin Obdyke, Zehnder America, Wood-Mode, Inc.

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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