Green Interiors

Paint the Walls Green
by Pamela Portwood

The easiest and least expensive way to change the look of a room is to paint the walls and then change some of the accessories to highlight the new colors or even to develop a new style. That's the conventional wisdom in the design trade, and it's still true.

What's wonderfully different now is that the paint options have changed. We are not living in a simple latex- and oil-based paint world. No-VOC paint, low-VOC paint, clay paint, milk paint and lime paint are some of the options. They all have different looks and different virtues.

Standard latex- and oil-based paints use petroleum products, so they off-gas volatile organic compounds. VOCs are carbon-based compounds that evaporate easily into the air. VOCs are the source of that "new paint" smell, and they cause respiratory and other health problems. VOCs also are the major component of smog.

Almost every major paint company now offers no-VOC and low-VOC latex paint options. What is confusing about this labeling is that the levels of VOCs are currently measured based on the base for these paints. Yet when the colorant is added, the VOC levels typically rise.

Even a "zero-VOC" certification does not mean absolutely no VOCs. Some paints labeled "zero-VOC" have no VOCs in the base, but may have VOCs in the colorant. Scientific Certification Systems, Green Seal and Greenguard certify levels of VOCs and toxic substances.

A number of smaller manufacturers make no-VOC paints with no-VOC colorants. Originate (www.originatenbm.com), Tucson's natural building materials showroom, carries several of these paint lines and many other natural wall finish products.

AFM Safecoat and Yolo Colorhouse have their own color palettes, and they can be matched to almost every major paint manufacturers' colors. So you can buy a greener paint without giving up color options.

According to Natasha Winnik, Originate's owner, AFM Safecoat and Green Planet Paints, which is based in Patagonia, offer "much more natural and purer paint(s)." Both companies use clay and natural products to create their paints, and they avoid solvents and chemical additives as well as VOCs.

Other natural wall finish options include milk paint, mineral-pigment paint, clay plaster and hydraulic-lime paints and plasters.

Milk paint has been around for centuries. Made with casein (milk solids), lime and earth pigment, milk paint comes in saturated colors and has no VOCs. You can use it on furniture as well as walls.

When it comes to the Old World look, there's nothing like natural hydraulic lime paint and plaster. It's the faux finish without the faux. The color is actually imbedded in the plaster to create the rich subtle looks seen on old homes throughout France. Clay plaster has a beautiful richness and texture, too, and it comes in more saturated colors than lime plaster.

The 1990s were the time to rag roll, sponge, pounce, stipple, crackle, glaze and texture your walls with paint. The 21st century is the time to go natural. Sometimes that means going retro - even stepping back centuries - to be contemporary.

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Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly Tucson Green Times).


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