PAINTING? Why Color Is Not Your Biggest Decision (VOCs: What They Are, And Why You Should Care)

PAINTING? Why Color Is NOT Your Biggest Decision

(VOC’s:  What They Are, And Why You Should Care)

This is a long post. It came from my not finding this information in a single, comprehensive  source.  For you and your familys’ health and well-being, please read it through, and share it with anyone else you know about to paint.


If you’re thinking about doing some painting around the house, you have a bigger decision to make other than color.  Not what you’d expect to hear from a Decorator and Stager, but it’s true. Good news, it’s an easy decision.

“VOC” entered most of our consciousness about 6 or 7 years ago, primarily as in paints that were marketed as low-to-no VOC.  You may even know VOC = Volatile Organic Compounds, or that low to no VOCs have fewer fumes.

At an AIA/ASID CE course I recently attended, and my eyes were opened a lot wider, let me share, in lay terms:

VOCs are carbon-based molecules that escape into the atmosphere,  many as off-gases from building and home products…that new vinyl shower curtain? new carpet? Yup.  Odors from upholstery, paint, even that much-treasured new car smell-all VOCs.

VOCs have several impacts in our lives, none of them good. Depending on the type, concentration and length of exposure, VOCs that are inhaled can be carcinogenic, cause serious respiratory and neurological issues, even death.

Studies show that interior concentrations of VOCs are anywhere from two to five times higher in homes than they are outdoors. Awareness is key, but better to avoid.  Minnesota Department of Health has compiled an excellent list of other sources.

Once outside, VOCs wreck another type of havoc. When they mix with nitrogen oxides (gases most commonly found in automobile exhaust) and sunlight, ozone is formed.

Ozone in the right amount blocks about 97% of the harmful UV rays coming from the sun, while regulates earth’s temperature. In the wrong amount,  ground-level ozone is formed, which traps pollutants and creates smog; or it goes to the upper atmosphere, keeping harmful gases in, while throwing our built-in thermostat out of whack.

“Global warming” and ” greenhouse gases” sound so…LARGE and impossibly complex. If you are  thinking “It’s just me, I’ll get what’s on sale, it’s only a couple of gallons”, keep reading.

Bob Upton is an Architect and Designer Representative for Benjamin Moore, and presenter of this AIA/ASID approved course.  According to Bob, in  a gallon of today’s typical latex paint, up to  1/2  of it can be solvents that evaporate when applied. Shockingly, that’s a big improvement on what most of us grew up with…when up to 2/3 of the gallon were these solvents!!

On their own, the enviornmental (no fumes, easy clean up) or economical (covers better, dries quicker, more actual ‘paint’ in each gallon)implications are startling enough; when considered together, you have to ask why even consider anything besides a no, or at least low VOC paint? 

Some more environmentally-friendly decisions are pricier than others, no VOC paint is minimally so, compared to decent quality regular latex paints.  Going forward, it will be the only thing I spec out.  And now that I see the economy moving again, watch for future posts on better choices on other home/building products.


Service, and education is the way to run and grow a business these days. . Sharing info that will help you live better, be smarter, healthier, or  keep some bucks in your pocket is what the refreshed  home is all about, and I respect and support business that do the same, so a few shout-outs, for an ongoing job well-done:

Westchester’s design trade has few better friends than Michael Murphy, and Murphy Brothers Contracting in Mamaroneck. On a regular basis they organize and sponsor to-the-trade CE events. I may not always write about them, but I attend many, and am always smarter for it.

Long before I knew of Murphy Brothers, I had several connections to  Majestic Kitchens and Baths, also in Mamaroneck.  The Luceno family has also extended themselves, hosting two events I attended, in their  beautiful, state of the art showroom.

LAST…there are a lot of paint companies out there… and sure, NOW they all want to help the designers; but ten, fifteen years ago, Benjamin Moore was the only one that did. IMO, they continue to bring the smartest products, and the most user-friendly services to the table for both consumers and the trade. Thank you, to Bob Upton and Benjamin Moore!