Besides saving energy, natural daylight is beneficial to our health and productivity. We consider as “green” products that enable us to bring daylight into a building, including specialized commercial skylights, fiber-optic daylighting systems, lightshelves, and tubular skylights.
Just how low the VOC level needs to be for a given product to qualify for inclusion in GreenSpec depends on the product category. For most products, we require certification to California’s health-based emissions standard, CDPH Std Method v1.1 standard (also referred to as California Section 01350), which tests a product’s resultant VOC concentrations in the space after a given period of time. For wet-applied products like paints, caulks, and adhesives, we still also look for VOC content instead of, or in addition to, verified low emissions; this is because emissions testing doesn’t adequately test initial offgassing, and VOC content is currently the only widely available proxy.
Glidden's Ultra-Hide, LifeMaster, and Diamond 450 “No-VOC” interior latex paints are intended for professional use. UltraHide provides a uniform finish at a lower price point; LifeMaster acrylic is for use in commercial, institutional, and educational buildings; and Diamond 450 is formulated with greater durability for high-traffic applications. Glidden offers its LumiTec colorants that the company claims are bright enough to allow for 20% less artificial lighting. These paints all meet MPI’s X-Green performance standards.
Occupant health and performance are the key consideration when choosing an interior paint.
First, make sure the paint has low emissions. There’s no perfect test right now for emissions from wet-applied products, so the best bet is to make sure it has both low VOC content (under 50 g/L), and has met California Section 01350 emissions requirements.
GreenSpec includes primarily paints that have both low VOC content (under 50 g/L or the lowest available in the category) and meet California Section 01350 or other more stringent emission protocols as verified through related certifications like MPI X-Green.
GreenSpec also lists products with a Pharos VOC score of 7 or above—demonstrating zero VOC content in the base paint, including “exempt” compounds. Exempt compounds are those that may be health hazards but aren’t typically counted in VOC content measures because they don’t contribute to smog. We consider it important to avoid these compounds.
GreenSpec also lists products that are Green Seal GS-11 certified because they address a broader set of our concerns, even though they don’t have emissions testing to California Section 01350.
Subscribers to EBN can learn more in the in the 2006 EBN feature article Get a Whiff of This: The Lowdown on Product Emissions Testing or purchase the special report Green Building Product Certifications for more on emissions testing of wet-applied products.
Added tints, particularly the deeper tints, can be a major source of VOCs. A base paint that is marketed as low-VOC may not stay that way after being tinted. Keep your eye on this: even if the manufacturer has low-VOC tints in the product line, retailers may not be using them.
GreenSpec typically only lists paints where the tints, as well as the base product, have low VOC content, or at the very least VOCs levels in tints are clearly disclosed so consumers can make informed choices.
Paint needs to work! Avoid introducing VOCs through frequent application of a paint that doesn’t adequately meet durability and performance needs.
GreenSpec lists many MPI X-Green and Green Seal GS-11 certified paints—both certifications include performance requirements.
GreenSpec occasionally lists specialty primers, sealants, and paints to meet specific high performance applications for which there are few low-emitting alternatives. These coatings are preferable for the specific application, but may not meet the same bar as basic interior paints and should be used only where absolutely necessary. Epoxies, used in floor coatings due to their durability and chemical resistance, are not listed in GreenSpec because they contain bisphenol-A, an endocrine disruptor. GreenSpec lists acrylic floor coatings with VOC levels of 50g/l or less and MPI certification.
If a paint that we’re listing because it meets other key criteria has been found to have performance issues, we’ll refer readers to information on that. Please also add comments with your own experiences, good and bad!
Some chemically sensitive people find even low-VOC petrochemical-based paints to be irritants. Paints made from minimally processed plants and minerals may be easier to tolerate, despite potentially higher VOC levels.
GreenSpec lists paints made from minimally processed plants and minerals that also provide full disclosure of ingredients that the product contains no chemical hazards of high concern, or state clearly the absence of such hazards.
Potential occupant health concerns go beyond VOCs, and include semi-volatile organic compounds and other chemical hazards, but complete information is rarely available. Green Seal, MPI, and Greenguard each address some of these hazards, but the lists are not exhaustive.
GreenSpec would like to see products that provide full disclosure of material composition to Pharos demonstrating that the product contains no chemical hazards of high concern, even if they don’t provide VOC content for tints.
- MPI X-Green Performance Standard
Ratings and Commentary