Low- & Zero VOC Paint Technology

By Kerry Pianoforte | May 7, 2009

No longer merely a buzzword, demand for "green" coatings continues to increase for both the professional and DIY markets.

Over the past decade, consumer demand for products, including paint and coatings, deemed environmentally friendly has gained in popularity. No longer merely a buzzword, consumers are becoming more aware of the advantages of using "greener" products. As more companies expound the virtues of reducing their environmental footprint and buying carbon credits, going green has become an important trend.

According to a recent study by Chemark Consulting, the rising demand from customers, including architects and other specifiers, for coatings companies to improve their green profile have resulted in more environmentally-friendly formulations, sustainable manufacturing practices, carbon footprint reductions, paint "take-back" programs and variety of product certifications.

According to the study, an important trend that is placing pressure on coatings manufacturers to produce environmentally friendly products are green building standards, most notably the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) initiative. Generally speaking, buildings adhering to USGBC standards use environmentally sound, sustainable and low impact processes and materials that reduce their environmental impact.

Another trend fueling the demand for green products is legislation in environmentally progressive areas, such as California, to drive down VOC content.

"There seems to be two key drivers," said Carl Minchew, Benjamin Moore's director of product development. "One is clearly the VOC rules that limit how much VOC can be used in architectural coatings in the U.S. Over the years these limits have moved downward. Although zero VOC is not mandated, the technology to make these coatings has evolved as we worked to reduce VOC content. In addition to adding less VOC to the air, these coatings also have less odor and dry quickly.

"The second driver is a renewed interest in environmental issues spurred on by the publicity regarding climate change," continued Minchew. "Whether it is smaller, more efficient cars or high efficiency light bulbs, the green message is everywhere. Paint selection is just one more area where concerned people can exercise a choice."

The new Mythic Exterior Flat, like the company's other exterior products, is a premium quality, 100% acrylic paint that provides durable mildew and fade resistant protection for a variety of exterior surfaces.
According to Rocky Prior, president of Mythic Paint, the key trends he has noticed are increased color offerings, improved durability and a focus on not only being low in VOCs but also in toxic materials. "Consumers are now realizing that removing VOCs is not enough and they are demanding to see the impact of their products on health and safety," he added.

"There are two types of green customers," said Lis Weller, marketing manager, Rodda Paint Company. "First is retail, which is being driven by consumer marketing, personal responsibility and a new environmental awareness. The second market is the commercial arena. This trend started with a few independent thinkers withvision and a genuine environmental concern that helped influence architects, governmental agencies and general contractors. They showed that this was not only the right thing to do but there are fiscal rewards as well."

Steady demand despite downturn

While the economic downturn has certainly affected growth in the coatings industry, most paint manufacturers Coatings World spoke with were optimistic that the demand for green coatings will remain stable.

Rodda's Horizon Interior zero-VOC paint exhibits outstanding performance, including its near odorless application, extreme washability and excellent splatter resistance.
"The economy will affect all business, but the percentage of green coatings should remain stable and even increase due to the demand of municipalities to increase energy efficiencies and healthy buildings for workers," said Weller. "On the retail side, you will see an offset from those who feel strongly about the benefits and will buy green to those who are caught between their conscience and their budget. The last component is that there are more and more products available for purchase."

"It seems that everyone is holding back on their paint purchases regardless of their position on green products," said Minchew. "However, we believe the desire for more eco-friendly coatings and the attendant benefits of low odor, quick return to service and reduced overall emissions are very compelling benefits for many consumers."

"I think the growth trajectory has been changed a bit," added Prior. "Instead of triple-digit growth annually, it has returned to double-digits. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult to measure as more and more companies are converting their main lines to low-VOC."

Increased color options

The key to developing a successful zero- or low-VOC green paint is to provide a product that performs comparably with its traditional counterpart. In the past, zero- VOC paints were limited in their color availability due to the fact that many colorants added VOC. With the development of new technologies, the color palette for zero-VOC paints has been substantially expanded.

Benjamin Moore's latest addition to its portfolio is Natura, a zero-VOC premium performance interior paint line available in thousands of hues and a wide range of sheens. According to Minchew, the VOC level of Natura is unaffected by the addition of colorant because the paint is based on Benjamin Moore's patented waterborne colorant system.

"Until now, zero-VOC paints meant restricted color options, because traditional colorants add VOCs," said Minchew. "But, Natura is built upon Benjamin Moore's patented waterborne colorant system, and it's the waterborne technology that makes the difference. So, no matter what color you choose you will never add to the VOC level."

To substantiate that claim, Benjamin Moore sent Natura for testing to one of the two laboratories in the U.S. that perform California's Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) indoor air tests. In comparison testing, it was found that Natura releases fewer total volatile compounds than other national top-selling zero-VOC paints.

Kelly-Moore Paint Company has recently introduced two zero-VOC, low odor paint lines, Enviro Coat and Green Coat. These two new lines meet both health and environmental concerns.

"As a California-based company, Kelly-Moore has been at the forefront of environmental innovation and regulation in the paint industry," said Steve DeVoe, president of Kelly-Moore Paints. "Enviro Coat and Green Coat offer both painters and DIY consumers healthy, high-quality, durable environmental paint choices that last longer than consumers may expect. The quality of our paints reduces the need for frequent repainting, which lowers the overall cost-per-foot-per-year for the consumer. This also helps the environment, as less paint waste is disposed of in landfills."

Zero-VOC and low-odor Enviro Coat is a premium quality, 100% acrylic interior paint featuring good sealing properties and excellent hide. It can be tinted to a wide variety of custom colors, offers easy application and cleans up with water.

Kelly-Moore's zero-VOC Green Coat interior coatings have the same performance and service life as conventional interior architectural coatings. Green Coat is easy to clean up with water and provides a tough, durable finish that covers well with good touch-up properties. Along with a wide range of custom-mixed colors, Green Coat is available in six stock colors.

Masterchem has recently introduced KILZ Clean Start, a zero-VOC high performance interior/exterior water-based primer, sealer and stainblocker. KILZ Clean Start offers zero VOCs, low odor and excellent adhesion. According to the company, the product offers the same performance as its other primers and is ideal for people who are sensitive to airborne pollutants.

Mythic Paint, the high-performance, non-toxic paint from Southern Diversified Products, has launched a new finish to complete their paint line portfolio. The new Exterior Flat paint contains no toxins or VOCs and can be mixed to any color.

"Mythic Paint is a completely different kind of paint," said Prior. "It offers any color with very low odor and high performance. To help support this reputation, we wanted to offer retailers a complete line of products to keep their customers happy and have them coming back for more Mythic."

The new Mythic Exterior Flat, like the other exterior products, is a premium quality, 100% acrylic paint that provides durable mildew and fade resistant protection for a variety of exterior surfaces. The Exterior Flat has proven durability as evaluated through industry standard testing.

In addition to offering a lower sheen level for aesthetic purposes, the Exterior Flat is ideal for previously painted or primed surfaces such as vinyl, aluminum and wood siding, shutters, clapboard, shakes and shingles and composite or hardboard.

According to Weller, Rodda continues to improve its current product lines by lowering VOCs and expanding its green offerings of traditional paints, as well as researching future changes and possible new products. "We feel that if we can offer the consumer the same quality coating they're familiar with using less harmful ingredients and processes, but keeping all of the performance, then it's a win-win situation," she added.

"Our true green product, Horizon, has outstanding performance qualities that outperform our standard lines and we have several other lines that meet green building standards with normal performance characteristics," said Weller. "Improvements still lie in the raw materials developed for this category and in the colorant and tinting abilities."

Side bar

Sherwin-Williams Offers GreenSure Designation

In an effort to raise awareness of its environmentally friendly products, Sherwin-Williams has launched the GreenSure designation. GreenSure products offer maximum performance, long-term durability and the highest indoor air quality ratings, according to the company. Sherwin-Williams currently offers four products that carry the GreenSure designation.

Harmony interior latex paint meets criteria for coatings in LEED certified building; Duration Home interior finish is available in matte, satin and semi-gloss finishes; ProGreen 200 is a low-VOC, low-odor paint, ideal for painting occupied areas; and Builders Solution Interior Latex is a two-coat system for new residential applications.