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What does VOC mean to you?

I remember long ago when I was refinishing woodwork and would get dizzy. I did not know I was feeling the effect of a high amount of VOC's in the air. The varnish was comprised of Volatile Organic Compounds (usually carbon) and VOC’s were released into the air as varnish dried.

Today an important part of the green movement and LEED certification uses low VOC paints. Federal regulations cap the VOC content in paint at 250 grams per liter for flat finishes and 380 grams per liter for all other finishes.  LEED requires flat finish paints at 50g/l and others at 150g/l. Paint meeting these requirements is often referred to as “Green Seal Certified” paint.  You can also beat LEED requirements with zero VOC paint (really not zero but anything under 5 g/l).  Then there are “true zero VOC” paints to differentiate from zero VOC paints.  Confused yet?

The catch is, the base white color can be “green seal certified”, zero VOC, or true zero VOC but as soon as you add a colorant the VOC’s could go through the roof.  Be careful when you pay extra for zero VOC that you are getting what you paid for.  Zero VOC paints cost more because others use a less expensive petroleum base.

I called my friend Gordon Sterk, owner of Johnston Ace Hardware, who sells Benjamin Moore paints to get the scoop and found Natura by Benjamin Moore is a true zero VOC including the colorant.  The paint costs $69 per gallon and is available in an infinite number of colors.  Benjamin Moore also has several “Green Seal Certified” paints that cost between $39 and $59 per gallon.  Home Depot has a similar paint called FreshAire Choice but only comes in 65 colors and costs about $40 per gallon.

- Rob Smith


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