VOCs Can Affect Paint Performance

By Dan Hounsell, Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Paints and Coatings: Determining the Environmental ImpactPt. 2: This PagePt. 3: Paints and Coatings: Washability, Durability Play Key RolePt. 4: Managers Must Consider Regulations and Standards for Paints

Manufacturers produced the first environmentally friendly green paints by using fewer or no VOCs, says Steve Revnew, director of marketing for Sherwin-Williams. Those paints were less harmful because they had fewer VOCs, but they did not have much durability and did not flow or level as well as oil-based paints. Now, thanks to advances in resin technology, new-generation green paints flow and level better and last longer than their predecessors, Revnew says.

Advances in raw materials and in formulation technology also are helping produce paints that offer better flow and stain release and cover more consistently, says Carl Minchew, director of product development with Benjamin Moore.

Newer paints, teamed with manufacturers’ efforts to educate end users, are helping to change some managers’ attitudes toward green paints. But the process has been slow, given some long-held beliefs about paints and coatings.

For instance, take the early focus on the harmful effects of VOCs, which are central components in the performance of oil-based paints. Because regulators focused heavily on removing VOCs, specifiers began to focus on them — almost exclusively — when specifying paints. Specifiers too often assume low- or no-VOC paints are always a more sustainable option than more traditional paints, says Tim O’Reilly, business manager with Zinsser. But that is not always the case.

Because performance differences remain between some paints with VOCs and those without, painters might to have put on three coats of non-VOC paint to cover a surface, while a VOC-containing paint could do the job in one coat. Three coats in some cases can release more VOCs than one application of an oil-based paint, O’Reilly says.

“Managers have to look at the entire process before deciding what’s best for the environment,” he says. “Sometimes, the equation turns the other way.”

Manufacturers say they continually work to convince end users to get out of the mindset that low- or no-VOC paints are always the greenest option.

“I hear people say that every day, and it frustrates me,” Revnew says. “Just because something is low-VOC doesn’t mean it’s an environmentally responsible product.”

Then there is the issue of green claims related to paints and coatings. Manufacturers warn end users to read the claims carefully and research the information. Minchew likens the numerous green claims on today’s paints and coatings to claims by food producers several years ago that certain foods were organic, when in fact they were not.

“It (organic) meant something at first,” he says. “Then everything was labeled organic, so it meant less. Now they are starting to define some of these terms.” The federal government and industry groups are attempting to weed out some of the more egregious offenders in the paints and coatings industry.

“Managers should have a healthy amount of skepticism,” Minchew says. “If it’s too good to be true, the alarm should go off,” offering the example of a manufacturer claiming its paint is “absolutely non-toxic.” Says Minchew, “That’s a very tricky term.”

Fully understanding the various characteristics of paints also is essential in selecting the most appropriate product. Revnew says many managers seem confused about the difference between a paint’s scrubability and its washability. Washability refers to the difficulty or ease in removing a stain from paint film, he says, while scrubability refers to how firmly paint is attached to the substrate and, therefore, how many times a worker can scrub it.

“People think a high scrubability number is better, but that’s not necessarily true,” he says. “Paint can have high scrubability, but the stain won’t come off until the 1,000th scrub.”

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  posted on 10/1/2008   Article Use Policy

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