Friday, September 3, 2010

Low VOC Paint Recommendations from Consumer Reports

Not only are the noxious smells from new paint annoying - and sickening for some - but they release all kinds of bad chemicals to the environment.  Fortunately there is a better alternative now.  Here is an article from CS.

(This article is adapted from the the Home & Garden Blog and the June 2010 Consumer Reports Paint Buying Guide) 

Paints that are better for the environment are earning top ratings in Consumer Reports’ tests. Many of the recently tested interior and exterior paints have very low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — chemicals that contribute to ozone, smog, and respiratory problems.

The interior low-VOC paints contain no more than 50 grams per liter (g/l), much less than the 380 grams per liter once common in the most-used low-luster paints. They're also within the tougher federal VOC limits that Consumer Reports called for in the past, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose this year, and they meet stricter regional limits in California.

The exterior low-VOC paints tested meet the expected federal limits of 100 to 250 grams per liter for paints, and 250 grams per liter for stains. Several exterior paints from Glidden and Sherwin-Williams also meet the more stringent, southern California VOC limit of 50 grams per liter.

Green Recommendations

Among the interior low-VOC paints tested, Behr Premium Plus Ultra Satin Enamel(available from Home Depot) was top-rated at $33 per gallon. 

Among the exterior low-VOC paints tested, the California Fresh Coat Velvet Flat at $35 per gallon was best overall and is good for sunny locations. Despite its name, it's sold mainly east of the Mississippi and not in California. 

Behr Premium Plus exterior flat paint (sold at Home Depot) is more widely available, and at $19 per gallon, it almost matched the $35 California Fresh Coat Velvet Flat at fending off cracking, dirt, and mildew. 

The top performing Behr Premium Semigloss resisted a variety of conditions and looked notably better than other brands after the equivalent of nine years in the elements.

Behr also won out among deck and fence stains tested. Behr’s $26 Deck Plus Solid Color Deck, Fence & Siding topped the ratings for the second straight year. 

But at just $21 per gallon, Sears Weatherbeater Solid Deck, Fence & Siding had much lower claimed VOCs and is a bargain if your home doesn't face intense weathering. Among the stains tested, the Sears Weatherbeater meets the 100-gram limit for parts of California. 

Understanding green certification labels 

Some paint brands promote their green credentials on their cans, highlighting certifications that are self-awarded or from independent groups. But those certifications don't guarantee top performance. We describe 5 different certifications below:Greenguard, GreenSure (Sherwin-Williams ), Green Promise (Benjamin Moore), Green Seal, and Green Wise.


This independent organization requires manufacturers to measure off-gassing from drying paint and allows only trace levels of VOCs, including formaldehyde and styrene. Companies pay Greenguard to have paint tested, along with at least $3,000 to use the Greenguard logo. Home Depot’s Freshaire Choice has the Greenguard certification and logo. But it scored at the bottom of Consumer Reports ratings of interior paint (available to subscribers) in two out of three categories.


GreenSure certification was created by Sherwin-Williams, is self-regulated, and covers only the company's products. Paints with the GreenSure logo must have VOCs of 50 grams per liter and be free of certain other chemical substances. The logo is on Sherwin-Williams Harmony and Duration lines, which generally rank low in Consumer Reports ratings of interior paint.

Green Promise

Green Promise was created by Benjamin Moore, covers only its products, and requires VOCs of 50 grams per liter or less. It also requires paints to use zero-VOC colorant, according to the company. It's on Aura and Natura paints, which were very good overall but were outscored by lower-priced paints.

Green Seal
This independent group requires limits on VOCs of 50 grams per liter for flat paint, 100 for nonflat; with colorant, 100 grams per liter for flat, 150 for nonflat). The Green Seal also prohibits certain other hazardous substances, and assesses performance. Companies payGreen Seal $2,500 to $10,000 to have paints evaluated and to use the Green Seal logo. VOC levels are from manufacturers; none of the paints tested by Consumer Reports currently have the logo.

Green Wise

The Green Wise( links to: certification standard for interior paints is similar to those for the other four. Green Wise limits VOCs to 50 grams per liter for flat finishes and 100 grams per liter for nonflat finishes. Green Wise certification also prohibits other hazardous substances, including formaldehyde and methylene chloride, and includes a test for washability. 

Developed by the Coatings Research Group Inc. (or CRGI), manufacturers pay a $20,000 membership fee, which covers the cost of testing and licensing of the Green Wise logo. Two finishes in Consumer Reports latest ratings of interior paints (available to subscribers) have Green Wise certification, but they didn’t score highest.

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