3 posts categorized "Going Green"

Friday, March 12, 2010

Maximizing Open Time

No one wants a product that is difficult to use. Sometimes that's been a complaint about zero- and low-VOC paints when it's really just a case of learning to work differently with these new products to get the best from them. We recently came across a good example of this in the Phoenix area, where a contractor was finish painting a chain of retail stores. The crew was spraying and backrolling with a 16-inch roller, but having trouble because the Aura paint was drying too quickly in the hot and dry conditions of the region.

One solution was to add Benjamin Moore 518 Extender, which would allow the paint to maintain a wet edge for a longer period of time. With regular latex paints, contractors often use over-the-counter paint additives to increase drying time, but they're solvent-based and increase VOC levels in the paint. With 518 Extender, you can adjust Aura's and Natura's open times to allow for environmental factors such as sun, wind, and humidity, without affecting the paint's VOC level. In fact, in this case, we opted to switch to Eco Spec WB (a zero-VOC paint), because it has a longer open time than Aura.

In addition, we made a small adjustment to their technique: Instead of the guy with the spray gun running the job, the guy with the roller was put in charge. In those conditions, that was the best way for the roller to keep pace with the sprayer. Low- and no-VOC paints have quicker drying times than standard latex paints, but this painting contractor quickly recognized that, far from being a liability, the quicker drying time allowed his crew to be more productive. These paints aren't more difficult to use; they’re just different from standard latex paints.

Finally, one of the biggest complaints heard from both homeowners and contractors is that most paints--even some of the so-called low-VOC paints--still smell. And it's true: If you open up a few cans of paint from different manufacturers, your nose will be able to tell you which ones contain higher levels of VOCs. The bottom line is that odor corresponds to VOCs; the more there are in the paint, the more the paint smells. But if the paint is odor-free, you can be sure that the VOC levels in the paint live up to the promise on the label.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why Going Green Can Also Mean Better Color & Better Performance

In the previous post we noted that green paints are often greeted with the same criticisms that the new latex paints received 50 years ago. For some green paints, concerns about durability are valid--too often when manufacturers try to reduce or eliminate carbon-based solvents, which give rise to VOCs, colorfastness and durability suffers. But because Benjamin Moore has developed an entirely new (and proprietary) colorant system that's water- not carbon-based, performance of our green paints does more than just match our traditional paints, it actually exceeds their capabilities in these areas.

Take color rub-off, for example. It's one of the most common paint problems with both oil-based and traditional latex paints. It happens because solvent-based universal colorants (that were originally designed to be used with oil-based paints) contain pigments that are hard for the resins in latex paint to completely encapsulate. As a result, some of the pigment remains on the surface, where it can be wiped off, either by inadvertently brushing up against it or while cleaning. This is also the cause of water streaking, which is often visible around tubs or sinks. 

There's no easy fix with most paints, but because our colorants are water-based, homeowners and painting contractors no longer have to worry about color rub-off and water streaking. These new colorants (in low-VOC Aura and no-VOC Natura paints), contain pigments that can be completely encapsulated by the resins in the paint so that the color is almost literally "locked in." Instead of degrading the paint, the pigment actually completes the resins in the paint, enhancing the paint’s performance and locking in the color. With our system, what we call "color-lock technology," the old rules--glossier paints in lighter colors for durability, flatter paints in darker colors strictly for décor--no longer apply. Now, any sheen in any color can be used in any room in the house.


Another common complaint about traditional latex paints is that they don't hide very well, particularly in dark hues, and colors like reds and yellows, require multiple coats. That's because tinting a latex paint with universal colorants actually degrades its performance (and boosts its VOC levels) and reds and yellows, in particular, contain synthetic rather than natural oxide pigments. While synthetic pigments offer more vibrant color, they don't hide as well natural pigments, which produce more muted colors. As a result, reds and yellows may need as many as 4 or 5 coats for complete coverage, adding considerable expense in both materials and labor. Our waterborne colorants in Aura and Natura, on the other hand, enhance rather than degrade paint performance, allowing two-coat coverage in almost any hue.

Fading can also a problem with most traditional paints. While latex has better UV-resistance than oil-based paints, the Achilles heel of both of them are--again--the universal colorants used to tint them. Waterborne pigments aren't affected by UV light like solvent-based pigments, so both Aura and Natura are more stable and less likely to fade when exposed to direct sunlight. 

Bottom line: Going green is not only about saving the environment. If you're also looking for the greatest durability, coverage and colorfastness--and who isn't?--the right green paints, those with Gennex water-based colorants that "lock in the color," will actually perform better than traditional paints (and other green paints) in every color and every finish.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Zero- and Low-VOC Paints: Separating Fact from Fiction

When latex paints were first introduced 50 years ago they revolutionized the industry, but many skeptical painting contractors swore they would never replace oil-based paints. 'Not durable enough,' they complained. 'Too hard to apply.' 'Too...well, different.' Exactly the same comments are being made about green paints in many quarters. Unfortunately, for many so-called 'green' paints put out by our competitors, those criticisms are valid. Some do require multiple coats just to get the same coverage as one or two coats of conventional latex, and they dry fast, so brush strokes can be a problem. Some haven't proven to be very durable, and require recoating after only a year or two. Worst of all, after they've been tinted at the store most aren't even zero- or low-VOC.


Low levels of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are--or should be--the one thing that all eco-friendly paints have in common. VOCs are the carbon-based solvents that give traditional paints their obnoxious odor. The raw materials that contain VOC's are used for a number of reasons, mainly connected with application properties and freeze thaw stability. VOCs in traditional paints account for 2-4% of existing ozone-depleting substances in the U.S. and have also been linked to various health problems. 

Because of their health and environmental effects, VOCs have been and continue to be regulated. Presently it's an alphabet soup of standards at national, state, and regional levels* but very soon, "going green," ie using low or zero VOC products, will be a part of everyone's life. Regulations aside, however, the biggest confusion is created by misleading certifications. Simply put, consumers and contractors are being "greenwashed" into believing products are zero- or low-VOC when they're not. This is because widely-used third party certification agencies, such as Green Seal and Greenguard, don't account for the high-VOC universal colorants which are used to tint paints. In practice this means that a paint can earn a "low" or "zero" VOC designation but contain significant levels of VOCs as soon as it's tinted. (As you'd expect, the darker the tint, the higher the level of VOCs. A dark tint can boost VOCs to up to 100g/L, twenty times the accepted level for a "zero VOC" product.)

With no industry-wide definition of what green paints actually are, a confusing mix of standards that can be applied to them, and flawed third-party certification programs that don't accurately measure product VOC as-used or performance, it's no wonder that painting contractors look at green paint with the same apprehension they had when latex paints were first introduced. That's why when we at Benjamin Moore began to develop green paints we knew we had to create an entirely new colorant system that didn't rely on carbon-based solvents. The challenge was to reduce or eliminate these solvents but still have the colorfastness and durability associated with traditional VOC-containing paints. The result is our Green Promise® portfolio of paints, which includes Aura® and Natura®. These zero- and low-VOC products that rival the performance of our best traditional paints while exceeding the most stringent industry standards for environmental safety. And unlike most green coatings, these paints are available in any color without compromise, thanks to our patented zero-VOC water-borne, Gennex® colorant system.

* For those of you interested in the fine print, the EPA's National Volatile Organic Compound Emission Standards for Architectural Coatings--the so-called AIM rule--which took effect in 1999, limits the VOC content of flat paint to 250 g/l, and non-flat paint to 380 g/l [VOC levels are expressed in pounds per gallon (lbs/gal) or grams per liter (g/l)]. Some state and regional agencies have even lower emissions standards. In Southern California--where Orange County is the smoggiest region in the U.S.--the South Coast Air Quality Management District's VOC limits are the strictest in the country. The EPA may soon revise its AIM rule to adopt more stringent limits close to those in effect in the OTC region (ozone transport commission) which incorporates a number of states in the Northeast. Today, a typical can of flat interior latex paint contains about 150 grams per liter of VOCs, compared to 50 g/l or less for a flat, low-VOC paint. Recently, the SCAQMD adopted the 50 g/l limit for ALL paints, and this level is the typical upper VOC limit for most green building standards. The accepted level for no-VOC paint is currently 5 g/l or less.