Nothing looks better than freshly painted walls in your home. It immediately brightens up any space and can make old walls feel new again. But while a new coat of paint can be refreshing it can also unleash harmful chemicals into your home with far-reaching negative effects to your health and wellbeing – if the paint used contains volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. defines VOCs, as “organic chemical compounds, capable of evaporating under normal indoor atmospheric conditions of temperature and pressure due to their chemical composition”.
VOCs are often found in paint and other types of coatings, used as solvents or thinners which enables paint to stick onto walls or surfaces. While these compounds may support durability and longevity, they can also pose a health risk.
It is important that homeowners be aware of the materials used in building/designing their homes. The facts below will arm you with information you need to make more informed choices when you decide to paint your living or working space.
Will the VOCs be gone when it dries?
VOCs in paint are emitted during application and as it dries out. It’s what causes that fresh paint smell we are all familiar with. While some of the harmful components are eradicated as the smell dissipates (as the paint dries), it doesn’t completely go away, because VOCs can evaporate under regular room temperature for a long period of time, the effect may linger for years.
One time is enough
While an immediate response might be to use paint infrequently, it does not really solve the problem. This is one of those cases when one time is enough to do the damage. A one-time painting project can result in a high release of volatile organic particles, which may keep increasing up to a thousand times.
It’s sometimes in the tints
With an increased focus on environmental friendliness and rising VOC regulations, paint manufacturers have made huge efforts at reducing VOCs in their base paint. . However, the same harmful VOCs may be used in paint tints, and those VOCs pose the same risk as those removed from the base paint. It is important that you ask the supplier about their tints and whether or not they too are VOC free.
Is Smell the only sign of VOCs?
Although the smell of fresh paint is unmissable and is typically the major sign of VOCs in paint, it is not the only sign. Long after the smell has faded, irritability of the nose and skin or consistent headaches may point to the effect of VOCs. If you observe consistent irritation when you are in a particular room or in the house as a whole, VOCs in the paint used may be the culprit.
VOCs are more active indoors than outdoors
If you suspect you may be experiencing the adverse effects of VOCs in paint and you are unable to repaint immediately, stepping out to breathe in some air might provide some relief. Since carbon (which is a major component of VOCs) is abundant outdoors, VOCs are not as active outdoors as they are indoors. The temperate nature of closed spaces also compounds the issue.
50% of VOCs in paint will be emitted in the first year
If your home was painted with VOC-laden paint about a year ago, you may have inhaled about half of the harmful chemicals in the paint on your walls. Unfortunately, the harm won’t be gone in another year. It might take a few years to reduce the risk. One effective way to reduce the lingering effects of high VOC paint is to re-paint with a high quality non-VOC sealer/primer, then repaint with non-VOC paint. It will not 100% completely eliminate the VOCs from the older paint but it will dramatically reduce the effects.
VOCs can cause acute symptoms
Sneezing, wheezing and irritations are the more attributable symptoms to VOCs but there may be more impacts. Symptoms such as joint pain, dizziness, cloudiness, memory impairment, loss of concentration, and damage to organs such as the kidneys have also been associated with VOCs.
Are Painters at risk of the effects of VOCs?
While awareness is on the rise among homeowners, it is important that painters and interior decorators also be aware of the dangers of high-VOC paints and where possible insist on low/zero VOC products. Constant exposure to high-VOC paint may result in health issues later in life.
How to reduce VOCs impact: Check the datasheet
If you are remodeling, it is important that you approach the purchase of your materials intentionally. Time spent reading labels such as fact and data sheets is time well spent. We recommend that you read up on all product information available, do as much research as possible and purchase paint and other items that are not only good for your house but also for your health.
If you are employing the service of a renovator or builder, ask them about their position on health-friendly building materials and if they have completed any past projects using healthy materials. And if so, inquire about those materials and do your best to research them further.
Apart from paint, VOCs, like formaldehyde, are present in other building materials such as caulking, carpets, underlay, adhesives, pressed and composite wood products. Undisclosed chemicals are used on surfaces, drywall, millwork, flooring, and countertops may also contain VOCs. Silicone used in the installation of showers, countertops and sinks is another example of products that contain harmful VOCs. They may also be found in adhesives, among other building items.
Is a VOC free home possible?
Given the large amount of construction materials used in your home and everyday household items that contain VOCs, it would be close to impossible to eliminate all VOCs. However you can dramatically reduce your exposure through increasing ventilation in your home and replacing items that might be high VOC emitters such as furniture, carpets and underlayment, and repainting. Builders and homeowners can pay attention to materials and intentionally build low-VOC homes.
As an inspired healthy home advocate, Empire Custom Homes [link] is committed to creating healthier living environments for our employees and clients through a company-wide commitment to our RESIDE Healthy Standard, AVANT Cabinets (NRC tested low-VOC cabinetry), our new healthy home collection in Currie at Valour Park, and on-going research to help reduce the impact of VOCs and related construction materials and practices on our built and lived-in environment.
If you would like to learn more about the RESIDE Healthy Standard, AVANT Cabinets, or our Valour Park single family project, please contact us.
Learn more about our healthy homes here.