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Eco-friendly Paints That Won’t Raise a Stink

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By Jessie Milligan

RISMEDIA, July 1, 2008-(MCT)-We opened the lids on six eco-friendly paints, the kind made with fewer dangerous chemicals, or at least less likely to emit them. The good news: Some of these paints provide good coverage. The less-than-perfect news: Some of them still smell.

Eco-friendly interior latex paints are those described as low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are chemicals that help cause the sharp smell of fresh paint. Mostly solvents, they can include formaldehyde, benzene and other compounds linked to ozone depletion. They can cause eye, nose and throat irritation; nausea and headaches; and trigger asthma attacks. Worse, some of the chemicals have been linked to cancer. And off-gassing-the emission of VOCs from paint-can continue even after it has dried.

In response to these concerns and stricter government regulations, many major paint brands have produced new formulas labeled low- or no-VOC, although some of these still may contain minute amounts.

The city of Austin’s Green Building Program recommends always opening windows when painting, even with “green” paints.

Our test was not scientific. It consisted of one homeowner opening paint cans in her garage, sniffing the paint and trying it out on canvases. What she found is this:

- It’s worthwhile to get samples from several brands before you invest in paint.
- Quality varies widely.
- Price isn’t necessarily an indication of quality.
- A paint labeled no-VOC can compare with or exceed the quality of paint labeled low-VOC.

Benjamin Moore’s low-VOC Aura was clearly the best in this test, with great coverage, low drip and only a slight smell. Aura rated third overall for interior eggshell-finish paints in a March “Consumer Reports” test of traditional and eco-friendly paints. Aura is the most expensive of the six paints tested, and it’s an exception: In this case, price did equal quality.

Yolo Colorhouse and Olympic Premium weren’t drippy or streaky and provided good coverage. Both are labeled no-VOC.

Note: Colors and finishes can greatly affect how a paint performs. The paints used in this test were an eggshell finish, with the exception of” “Duration, which only is sold in flat, satin and semi-gloss. We tested Duration’s satin finish.

Women Behind the Paint

It’s been a colorful life for the girl from Idalou, Texas. Of course, Janie Lowe didn’t plan on becoming a co-owner of a company that would get buzz on design blogs for a hot new eco-friendly interior and exterior house paint.

Lowe just wanted to be an artist as she was growing up in the tiny town 12 miles east of Lubbock.

In the late 1980s, with a fine-arts degree from Texas Tech just behind her, Lowe headed to New York and the School of Visual Arts for her master’s degree.

“I am a fine-art painter, but back then my focus was illustration.” Lowe says. For two years, she worked as a freelance illustrator in New York.

Still, she was a Westerner at heart, and freelance life in the city was a grind.

Lowe headed west to Portland. She freelanced. She taught art. She worked as a decorative painter, creating faux finishes on homeowners’ interior walls.

“A few years into it I started feeling the effects of working with paint,” Lowe says. She’d get sore throats and headaches.

She and another fine artist turned faux-painter, Virginia Young, started researching old paint recipes. They looked at paints made from clay and paints made from milk. They researched the toxicity of modern paint and studied paint performance.

Finally, in 2005, with four employees, Young and Lowe launched Yolo Colorhouse paint. “We started from the ground up being a green company. In every decision we make, we consider our impact on the environment,” Lowe says.

Yolo paint’s labels are 100% post-consumer waste and are printed with soy-based ink. The paint can is made from 100% recycled plastic. Color swatches are printed on poster-size paper so customers can get a sense of how the paint will look on their walls.

Yolo Colorhouse is manufactured by Kelly-Moore Paints in Hurst, Texas, and also is distributed by Kelly-Moore.

Last year, Yolo was distributed by 37 dealers. Now it is carried by 145 and Lowe, now 44, says more expansion plans are in the works.

© 2008, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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