Low- and zero-VOC products are most often used in areas where children or the elderly are present, such as schools and hospitals. Additionally, commercial clients working on projects where LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is desired usually require low- or zero-VOC paint. There are varying degrees of accepted VOC levels for paints and adhesives that contribute to LEED certification, which are determined by a specific application in various residential and commercial settings.
“In the architectural coatings industry, low-VOC is no longer a specialty product offering, it is a must-have option,” said Jenny Burroughs, senior product manager, exterior and interior paints and specialty products, PPG Architectural Coatings U.S. and Canada. “Some customers rely on low- and zero-VOC* (*Colorants added to base paints may increase VOC level significantly depending on color choice) paints which are often associated with low odor, allowing occupied spaces to be painted with little disruption to everyday activities, while others rely on this type of paint for its lower emissions. It is imperative that we provide products that address this consumer need.”
“This is no less true in various parts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where low- and zero-VOC* is not driven purely by environmental legislation, but maybe to a greater extent by indoor air quality,” Burroughs continued. “In some countries, there are labeling systems and national regulations in place to limit emissions from consumer products, typically measured 28 days after installation or application, as a result of the long-term health concerns resulting from low dose chemical exposure, especially from inhalation.”
According to Robert Wendoll, director of environmental affairs for Dunn-Edwards, regulations have limited the kinds of coatings that manufacturers can offer, but consumer demand for ultra-low and zero-VOC paints has been driven primarily by the desire for low-odor interior finishes. “This has been reinforced by voluntary green building standards that relate mostly to indoor air quality,” he noted. “Because demand for ultra-low and zero-VOC paints is growing, we consider them an important market segment.”
PPG offers a number of low and zero-VOC coatings products. In North America (U.S. & Canada) PPG offers PPG PAINTS PURE PERFORMANCE, which is formulated to provide excellent hiding and ease of application in addition to low odor, zero VOCs* and anti-microbial properties resulting from the incorporation of a preservative which inhibits the growth of mold and mildew on the dry paint film. PPG Paints Pure Performance paint is ideal for use in occupied areas such as: hotel/motel resort properties, nursing homes, homes, schools, government facilities, retail space, office buildings, hospitals, and apartments.
Dunn-Edwards offers two zero-VOC interior paint lines, Everest and Spartazero. “Both include a flat finish and several sheen levels in enamel,” said Wendoll. “We also have a variety of zero-VOC primers, including Ultra-Grip Select Multi-Purpose Primer, Vinylastic Select Interior Wall Sealer, and Interkote Premium Interior Undercoater. Our Ultra-Low VOC paints (with VOC contents less than 50 g/L) are too numerous to list here. And, since 2012, all our colorants are zero-VOC.
PPG PITTSBURGH PAINTS WONDER-PURE provides outstanding durability, ease of application, and good hiding and coverage, according to Burroughs. “Its low odor allows painters and maintenance professionals to paint in occupied spaces with little disruption, and its anti-microbial properties resist mold and mildew on the dry paint film. Additionally, the PPG Paints brand recently introduced the next generation of the <50 grams per liter VOC version of BREAK-THROUGH! interior and exterior waterborne acrylic paint.”
DIYers are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of indoor air quality. Benjamin Moore’s interior paint Natura, has been Certified asthma & allergy friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). This certification comes on the heels of Natura becoming the 2015 Product of the Year in the interior paint category and being Cradle to Cradle Certified Silver.
“This is the latest step in our long history and commitment to manufacturing green paints that are safer for your family and the environment,” said Chris Connelly, director of brand management, Benjamin Moore. “With zero emissions and no harsh fumes, Natura truly is an eco-friendly paint that delivers on performance and color integrity.”
Low- and zero-VOC products also are sought after for wood finishing applications. Sherwin-Williams Product Finishes serves customers around the world in segments such as wood finishing, general finishing, transportation and building products. “Our products must meet a broad spectrum of regulations. We have customers that require extremely low VOC products as well as those who use traditional coatings,” said Nick Bartoszek, global marketing product director - Wood Finishes, Sherwin-Williams Product Finishes.
“In wood finishing, virtually every product category that we offer has a low- or zero-VOC option,” Bartoszek added. “That includes coatings such as a full line of formaldehyde-free finishes and UV waterborne flatline coatings. Since its introduction in 2014, our Ultra-Cure Waterborne UV Pigmented Blending System has helped cabinet and furniture manufacturers significantly reduce VOC emissions while reducing energy consumption and increasing throughput. As an example, one California-based manufacturer reports that his company doesn’t come close to the allowable monthly limits of VOC that can be sprayed since a move to waterborne finishing with Ultra-Cure Waterborne Pigmented Blending System. We also offer a family of coatings for the wood flooring market that includes UV-curable wood flooring coating systems.”
For general finishing applications, Sherwin-Williams offers a wide variety of coatings with reduced VOC levels such as Polane and KEM Aqua. “For building products, our SHER-NAR 5000 fluorosurfactant-free coating with Arkema Kynar 500 PVD resin is designed to help architects and specifiers meet stringent AAMA 2605-13 specifications for long-lasting performance standards in a variety of weather conditions,” Bartoszek said.
When formulating zero- and low-VOC coatings paint manufacturers must balance achieving low VOC levels while providing a quality product that will meet its customers performance demands.
“One of the biggest challenges for low- and zero-VOC coatings is meeting and exceeding regulations,” noted Burroughs. “For example, the United States’ federal government has set the acceptable limits of VOCs up to 250 grams per liter (g/L) for flat finishes and 380 g/L for non-flat finishes (low-luster, semi-gloss, etc.). However, several states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions have adopted a more stringent model based on Ozone Transport Communication (OTC) Specifications, which limit VOC levels in flat coatings to 100 g/L and non-flat coatings to 150 g/L. The southern coast of California is known to have the strictest regulations on VOC levels, with limits of 50 g/L for both of these high-volume categories as set by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District. In Europe however, VOC levels are set by the EU Deco Directive and they apply to all EU countries.”
“In addition, the performance of low- and zero-VOC coatings must match that of traditional paint,” Burroughs said. “It is crucial for low-VOC products to keep similar application standards to what DIY consumers and professional painters are accustomed to. Previously, painters were forced to make major sacrifices with product application to achieve lower VOC levels. However, in the U.S., low- and zero-VOC products have made a lot of progress over the years and now apply similarly to regular paints in coverage and spreadability. This is no less true in EMEA, where the performance gap between traditional and low VOC coatings has almost been closed, especially for wall paints.”
“If you are using a zero- or low-VOC base, keep in mind that colorants can increase VOC levels significantly depending on color choice,” Burroughs added. “For instance, more colorant is needed in order to achieve darker colors, which can introduce higher amounts of VOCs into the paint. Additionally, the composition of the paint product can impact VOC levels. For example, latex paint generally includes less VOCs than alkyd paints.”
According to Wendoll, the main technical challenges are in achieving good wet edge/open time and good dry film hardness. “Resin selection is the most effective way to ensure good film hardness,” he noted. “Unfortunately, no truly effective non-VOC additives are currently available to improve wet edge/open time. We are hopeful that the industry will see some new developments in this area soon.”
PPG’s Burroughs noted that the demand for low- and zero-VOC coatings will continue to rise. “As the low- and zero-VOC paint space progresses in the U.S., consumers will be looking at additional ways to be environmentally sensitive, such as using recycled paints or paints made from bio-renewable resources, or participating in Paint Care programs,” she said.
“In parts of Europe, we have seen an interest from consumers in the reduction of indoor air pollution by limiting emissions after installation or application – typically 28 days. France (for all paint types), Belgium (for floor coatings) and Germany (only for parquet lacquers) have regulations in place to limit emissions to this end. In France, paint cans have to be labeled according their emission characteristics (A+ is best, A, B, C is worst) and in the other two countries products are not allowed to be sold on the market if they do not comply. Compliancy can only be tested in special emission chambers and cannot be calculated from the formulation. PPG has these testing capabilities both in-house and with third part suppliers, and is thus able to investigate thoroughly the formulation parameters that results in low-emission paint.”