Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Using green paints

So, if you read my last post, you'll know that when we moved into our new house, absolutely everything you could paint (walls, coving, ceiling, mouldings) was an unpleasant shade of dirty peach. One of the very first jobs we did was to redecorate the majority of the rooms, starting with:
  1. our bedroom
  2. living room/dining room
  3. the hall (as the stairs are open to the living room, we then had to do up the stairs wall and the whole upstairs landing.

Fortunately, we were able to get all of this done (thanks Mum and Dad and the in-laws!) before we moved in, which made things much easier, although it still took the best part of a week (including three days with 4-6 people working on it).

Our living/dining room after the repaint

I was very keen that we use VOC-free paints and found this article by Katherine Sorrell in the Guardian a very useful starting point. Having looked around at a few forums for DIY-ers (who knew?!) most of the feedback seemed to be pretty good, along with the useful info that you really should get the recommended ranges for use in bathrooms/kitchens as water-based paints don't cope so well with steamy conditions. The only negatives seemed to be complaints about the range of colours on offer in eco ranges, and the fact that these paints don't resist marks very well.

The positives for using eco paints are:
  • they only use naturally-occurring ingredients. Note, however, that this doesn't mean that they are chemical free as is sometimes claimed, as many natural pigments and thickeners are chemicals. However, they are all non-toxic, which means that you aren't surrounded by things that can be harmful leaching in to your air, food and water;
  • they also don't include any of the things you find in normal paints, like solvents, heavy metals, formaldehyde, or phthalates.
    • The solvents in paint are what cause it to smell, so eco paints have practically no odour at all, meaning that you can use them without risk of a headache, even with the windows closed!
    • Formaldehyde is a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC). VOCs in the air in our homes can cause allergies and asthmatic symptoms.
    • Phthalates are a bugger for leaching into your general environment and there have been a range of studies showing that people have some phthalate residues in their urine and they can also turn up in breastmilk. Phthalates are quite difficult to avoid now, as they're in everything from deodorant to soft furnishings, but there is worrying evidence that they cause hormone disruption (endocrine problems) and birth defects - pretty nasty stuff.
  • one other positive for eco paints is that they allow your walls to breathe, to expand and contract with the weather without cracking the paint, and also allowing moisture in and out without giving rise to damp. This is particularly useful in older houses built with materials fashioned in a more traditional way;
  • Finally, because they don't contain any VOCs, eco paints help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases.
One word of warning, if you are thinking about using eco paints (and if you're going to go VOC-free, you might as well go the whole hog and cut out the solvents and the toxic elements too), then do be careful to read the back of the tin if you're buying paint from a generic DIY store, or to look at the company literature if you're buying online. Many companies claim to have 'organic' or low-VOC paints, but the product might not be as pure as you think it is, either because it still contains solvents, or toxic colourings, or because 'low-VOC' means, 'lower than average' rather than 'negligible'.

In the end we plumped for ecos paints, which with 108 different colours to choose from (as well as a bespoke colour-match service which we didn't use), still gave us a difficult decision for choosing our final shades. We went for four main shades, which we've used throughout the house: maple (quite a deep red), white lily (what it says on the tin); amaretto (a very light biscuit colour) and sorrento (a mid-yellow). We bought them all as matt paints to paint straight on to the wall as-was (paint on paper) and the only shade we had a problem with was the maple, which was difficult to apply evenly. The other three shades were very easy to use and all four required only basic preparation (washing the walls and allowing them to dry) followed by two coats of paint, applied mainly with a foam roller. Our rooky mistake was in the ordering - the Ecos paint calculator took into account that we'd need to apply two coats but we didn't realise it was that clever and doubled our numbers. We've since painted the bathroom and the study as well and we still haven't had to order any more of the normal matt paint - in fact, we've enough to do the second bedroom too and still have some to give away (any takers?) We have just ordered some white lily in their eggshell range, which is specially created for kitchens and bathrooms, as we've found that, as predicted, the normal matt paint hasn't coped well with the steamy conditions in our bathroom.

Our bedroom - maple and white lily

So, the answer to the bottom line question is, yes, it did cost us significantly more than normal paint. For a 5L tin of a dark colour we paid £31.85 rather than £17.99 for a DIY centre own-brand. But, we know exactly what we've put on our walls, we know it isn't harmful to us or the planet and, most importantly, we think it looks good!

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, the old "Chemical-free paint".
    My inner scientist just died a little.
    Looking forward to seeing the results though, sounds lovely.