Go Green > Walls That Are in the Pink

Despite a growing awareness of the threat certain chemicals pose to our personalhealth, many of the products available as wallcoverings still contain thesedangerous toxins. Even after their noxious odors subside, paints, lacquers, paintthinners and many other household products can emit fumes called “volatileorganic compounds” (or VOCs), which can cause headaches, nose and throatdiscomfort, and allergic skin reactions, among other side effects. To create ahealthier environment to live in and improve the air quality in your home, take alook at what’s on its walls and ceilings.

Green paints

Benjamin Moore has an established line of low-VOC paints called Ecospec and a zero-VOC paint called Aura. Ecospec is available at Carpenter Paint and Flooring in Concord, where a deep finish is quoted at $32.49 a gallon. Aura is available at R P Johnson & Son in Andover for around $55 a gallon.

Pittsburgh Paints also has a line of zero-VOC paints called Pure Performance, which is available at Capitol Paint in Concord for between $27 and $34 a gallon.

Another local resource for paints without VOCs is Meredith Gonzales at Your Home, Your World in Concord. Her store carries Safecoat paints, a zero-VOC paint that costs between $35 and $45 a gallon. (See the resources listed on page 35 for more information on the retailers carrying these and all other products featured in this article.)

If you’re questioning the quality of these paints, the walls of Your Home, Your World tell a different story. These products look and feel just like any other top-quality paint, and there are more than eight hundred colors to choose from. Low- or zero-VOC paints have a tighter seal (helping to reduce energy costs by aiding insulation), and, according to Gonzales, “They are just as easy to work with and anyone can use them.” Gonzales painted her store a week before it opened, and there weren’t any residual odors to speak of when her customers arrived.

Green plaster

If paint isn’t your preference, consider plaster walls. According to Lisa Teague, who has a design and decorative art business in Nashua, there are many benefits to a clay plaster like American Clay Natural Earth Plasters, which is made in New Mexico. For starters, clay is completely non-toxic, can reduce your home’s energy use and increases indoor air quality. In addition, you can choose the color pigment to add to the clay, the color doesn’t rub off and there aren’t any oil-soaked rags to dispose of. Plus clay is easy to rework or repair. Finally, there isn’t an ionic charge, which means pet hair and dust won’t stick, and clay can even keep the mirrors in your bathroom from fogging.

Teague tried American Clay in 2006 after using traditional oil-based finishes for more than twenty years and fell in love with the product, especially its environmental benefits. “You can literally tear down your walls and bury them in your garden,” she says, adding that the clay’s binder is a milk protein and the product comes in recyclable cotton bags. American Clay is made with recycled aggregates and pigments, including the marble dust that gives the finish a slight shimmer. American Clay costs $65 for a fifty-pound bag—which provides two coats for one hundred square feet of wall space—at Your Home, Your World. The pigments are sold separately and range from $13 to $40.

Green Paneling

Other environmentally sound wall and ceiling options include paneling made from sustainably harvested wood, green wallpaper or recycled wallcoverings. Gonzales says bamboo is a terrific choice and is rapidly gaining popularity. Rather than waiting eighty years to cut down a tree, bamboo is about six years old when it is harvested.

Gonzales warns homeowners to be wary of big-box stores selling bamboo for extremely low prices; it probably was harvested when the tree was too young, which makes the wood too soft. Also, quality bamboo manufacturers use the lower six feet of the tree, while inferior products may be made of other parts of the tree that are too soft.

Cork is another option for ecofriendly wood products, Gonzales says, coming from only the bark of the tree and other recycled cork products. A cork tree’s bark is harvested every nine or eleven years, making it a highly renewable resource like bamboo. Cork and bamboo products are available at Your Home, Your World for between $5.40 and $6.95 and between $4.25 and $6 per square foot, respectively.

Green wallpaper

Brand names such as Surface IQ® and Second-Look Recycled Wallcoverings® have all the benefits of wallpaper but produce fewer or zero VOCs because they have few or none of the toxic components of standard wallpaper. Regular wallpaper is coated in vinyl, one of the most toxic plastics, which releases vinyl chloride (a suspected human carcinogen). The adhesive and the dyes used in standard wallpapers also release VOCs.

Carnegie Fabrics manufactures Surface IQ, which the company touts as “the most significant wall covering technology in fifty years” because it “eliminates the vinyl, chlorine, plasticizers, heavy metals, formaldehyde and dioxin” found in conventional wallpaper. Surface IQ is available locally through Deb Evans in Andover, Massachusetts, for $22.50 per linear yard.

Second-Look is the first recycled wallcovering introduced by a company manufacturing vinyl wallcoverings. The company says the manufacturing process is completed “without compromising the original aesthetic appeal and durability of the wallcovering.” Second- Look also states that the “wallcovering is manufactured with at least 20 percent recycled content and a minimum of 10 percent post-consumer.” The result is a product that emits fewer VOCs and reclaims materials that would otherwise be placed in a landfill. Capitol Paint in Concord carries Second-Look for $16.95 per linear yard.

It has never been easier—or more necessary—to rework you home into a greener and safer living space. Builders, designers, manufacturers and retailers are recognizing homeowners’ needs and desires to be subjected to fewer toxins. As a result, there is an entire industry of eco-friendly home design, and as it grows, our world gets healthier.