When a low-VOC paint just isn't enough

 When a low-VOC paint just isn't enough

Choosing a low-VOC paint is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a truly clean product for your home.

Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are chemicals found in paint, building supplies, furniture, cleaning supplies and many other products; these chemicals have an atmospheric photochemical reaction that pollute the ozone layer. VOCs are typically defined as compounds of carbon, emitting gases and evaporating under normal indoor temperature and pressure conditions.

The smell associated with fresh paint comes primarily from VOCs in the paint. Even when the smell goes away, VOCs can be emitted in lower levels. When the compounds react with the air, ozone is created, releasing the distinctive scent associated with paint.

VOCs pose health risks to humans and animals, with exposure causing eye and breathing irritation, headaches and nausea. Long-term exposure has been linked to cancer as well as kidney and liver damage.

VOCs are almost ubiquitous in paint commonly found at the local hardware store. But other options are available, including low-VOC, no-VOC and natural paints.

Here are some things to consider when you're looking for a environmentally friendly paint option for your home project.

Banned substance: Lead

One of the most infamous VOCs is lead, chemical element Pb within the carbon group on the periodic table, which used to be added to paint because of its moisture-resistant properties that allowed paint to dry faster.

Lead was banned in consumer paints by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1978, at which time the commission lowered the maximum level from 0.5 percent to 0.06 percent. In 2008 that level was further lowered, to 0.009 percent or 90 parts per million.

If you're remodeling an older home, check to see if the paint has lead content above the current regulations. If there's old paint with the higher levels of lead that were common before 1978, special precautions are needed to protect people working on the home.

Acrylic and latex

Acrylic paint is harmful because it’s like putting a zippered plastic bag around wall surfaces or around an entire building; it traps moisture and walls can’t breathe. Mold and spore retention goes up dramatically when acrylic paint has sealed a house, denying ventilation and setting up a scenario for Sick Building Syndrome. Latex paint is not inherently breathable either; it leaves a plastic-type decorative film on painted surfaces.

In 1998 the EPA set an architectural coating rule limiting the amount of VOCs in paint—flat interior and exterior coatings—to 250 grams per liter, but some states have even stricter regulations. While the EPA has not yet set standards of measurement for volatile organic compounds, industry experts have assumed “under 5 grams per  liter” as a definition for zero VOC.

Trace chemicals are necessary to create color in any paint, no matter how ecological it is. Paints with any tint at all are going to contain volatile organic compounds. The question is, how much?

Mineral-based paint

The VOC content in mineral-based can be between 0.01 percent and 0.05 percent per liter. For instance, ROMA paints are odorless, eco-sustainable and non-allergenic because they are mineral-based products.

With exceptionally low VOC levels, ROMA’s mineral-based breathable paints, plasters and cement products go beyond just making sure the atmosphere is free of volatile compounds. ROMA does not add other chemicals that cause or trigger asthma. No polyethylene glycol. No alkylphenol ethoxylates. No solvents. No asthmatic triggers. None of these chemicals are found in mineral paint products.

Yet ROMA’s mineral-based flat and matte paints are durable, thanks to a harmless inert binder safe for soil and plants, animals and waterways. Mineral-based paints do not peel. ROMA’s paint products remove internal humidity that can cause bacteria to grow and form mold. When applied to breathable walls, mineral-based paints can increase thermal co-efficiency by 25 percent.

Painting brick and masonry

Because mineral based paints are breathable, for both interior and exterior products, even brick stucco can be safely painted; the exterior paint allows the masonry surface to breathe. Prior to this technology, homeowners and builders were admonished never to paint a brick building because the paint would trap moisture in an already sponge-like material and create spalling, which caused brick to chip off and break, which necessitated repainting the brick every few years.

Using mineral-based paint or lime wash allows brick to continue acting like a porous brick. The lime wash gives the brick a soft, natural patina that ages over time and changes color, something designers appreciate. When applied under proper conditions with a dry brick, the mineral-based paint is really going to last. It is often referred to as a 100-year product in Europe.

Minerals, from nature, provide a more vibrant color. Because mineral-based paint is a natural crystalline structure versus a synthetic plastic one, walls appear to change colors from day to night, depending on how much light is coming into the room. It is not a drastic difference, but a hint of perspective discernible to an artistic eye.

Mineral concentration

The minerals in ROMA paints are concentrated materials. Water is added to each liter on site, with complete instructions for dilution provided by the company. A self-priming paint, ROMA’s super flat paint works well with a light coat directly on top of new drywall, for example, and after the Sheetrock has been touched up only one coat of paint is necessary.

Mineral paints are derived from natural stone or earth. Then, during a process of using other natural resources— fire, water and air—these natural minerals are transformed into a paint product. ROMA’s mineral paints are truly clean: nontoxic and ecological. They have an alkaline content, and therefore naturally prohibit bacteria, so mold will not form on a ROMA-painted surface.


A house or building that breathes, i.e. a continuous flow of air and humidity, inhibits hot or cold air from the exterior environment from penetrating the walls. Breathable walls allow any toxic vapors developing indoors to slowly diffuse to the outside, keeping the indoor air fresh and clean. Using breathable, mineral-based paint ensures this process keeps a house as healthy as possible.

Read more about low-VOC paints.

Topics: Going Green, Healthy Homes, Indoor Air Quality, Paint | Low VOC and No VOC

Companies: ROMA

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