A painted wallI’m sorry for all of the late and low-content posts, but the end is in sight! We plan to put up trim and paint over the next two days and move into the house this weekend. And not a moment too soon. We’re getting pretty tired of being stretched between two (or more, with house-sitting) places.

Right now, we’re focused on paint. We went to the local paint shop to meet with the designer on Monday and she was very helpful. I’ve been taking copious pictures, so we printed up copies of some good ones of the rooms we’re painting as well as our couches. The blue of the couches turned out to be a problem, since they’d combine with most strong colors to be overwhelming but white is just too boring for us.

We were a little worried that there’d be no low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints available in the colors we wanted, but Benjamin Moore’s Aura line is low-VOC and works with the lighter half of their color line. We’re not the only ones to run across it. Reading reviews leads me to believe that it’ll be a great paint. Not only is it more environmental than most paints (although not the most environmental), it should last 3-4 times as long as a cheap paint, the color is supposed to be amazingly vibrant, it’s self-priming, touches up well, and dries quickly.

The plan is to check out the different finishes and then order the paint at the Benajamin Moore event at the paint store tomorrow. Maggie will report back once we’ve actually used the stuff.

The drawbacks are that it’s expensive (although it doesn’t seem out of line compared to other premium paints) and that it’s only low-VOC rather than no-VOC, especially when pigment is added. We’re not the only ones wrestling with green remodeling. Tearing stuff out has been reasonable. We’re re-using most of the trim and we’re passing the old carpet along to a local woman who can use it for pond beds or mulching.

Painting, on the other hand, is pretty ridiculous. In addition to the paint itself, we had to get roller covers (plastic, basically), caulk (not the most environmental thing), insulation (pretty much the worst thing environmentally), plastic paint trays, and a big plastic drop cloth. We’ll be able to use most of it again, but it’s still disheartening to see how much waste this will produce.

To be honest, we probably could have gotten better stuff if we’d looked harder. The alternatives are so overwhelming, though, especially given our time constraints. If we had weeks to look, we’d probably get some samples of no-VOC paint and try them out to see how they work. Without that time, we’re just not willing to try a no-VOC paint and have it end up not working well for us.

Still, it’s easier than it would have been even 5 years ago and it seems to be getting better. And my next project (installing a ceiling fan) will be leisurely enough that it’ll green enough to make up a little bit of the difference. this!

9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Andy said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 8:28 am

    Somehow what is normal in a house now is amazingly unnatural. I don’t know how drywall and paint evolved to where they are today, but it seems completely out of nature and just a convenient option. There are natural options like earthen plasters that take more time to cover a wall, but when you plan on staying somewhere for years, I think it is worth the extra effort for a 100% natural option. Even a low-VOC paint is probably made with very toxic processes, and plenty of VOCs released during it’s production, and that paint is eventually going to a landfill, whereas a natural plaster can just be broken apart and returned back to the earth.

  2. 2

    Jessica said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 10:17 am

    Hi, Will. This is my first time reading your blog…it’s cool you guys are trying to go green in your new home! I am an editor for Natural Home magazine, and we actually have tons of articles that might help you guys. First off, there’s no reason to think that a zero-VOC paint wouldn’t work for you…zero-VOC paints behave exactly in the same way as conventional paints, they just cost a bit more. There are also a lot of greener insulation options out there, as well as some caulks with zero VOCs. I’m not trying to discourage what you’re doing…it’s just as much as you can do with your time and resources. But if you need some ideas, check out our many, many past articles. Here’s one on paints:

  3. 3

    Tim said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 11:56 am

    Hey, just discovered your site! I’m just starting out and trying to do a lot of the same things (I’m sure I’ll have questions!)

  4. 4

    Linnea said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

    I wish I’d saved it, but I got a coupon for American Clay sometime this past winter. They have some good stuff.

  5. 5

    Maggie said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

    Andy –
    I think natural plaster would be cool but I got frustrated really quickly trying to find information on where to get it and whether it could be applied over “commercial” plaster and I also got the impression that it can be pretty tricky to work with. I have worked with cob in the past and it’s lots of fun but frequently has cracking issues. Will found some quotes for natural plaster and they were about ten times as expensive as the fancy paint we’re buying – which would be $2000 instead of $200. It doesn’t seem feasible right now with our time frame and budget but I’d love to consider it in the future. If you have specific recommendations, please let us know.

    Jessica –
    Thanks for the link! There are so many choices out there, it gets pretty overwhelming. I would like to play with milk paint sometime in the future but it sounds like it has a sort of antiquey look on most finishes that I want to see in person before I commit to painting a room with it. There’s also the issue that our plaster walls were previously painted so we’d have to do some prep work (and I always wonder if the “bonding agents” are as eco-friendly as the paint). I love the idea of no-VOC paint but I couldn’t find any in Bloomington. We could order some on-line but the idea of buying paint sight unseen seemed a little strange. The prices also seemed pretty high. But I’ll see if I can’t do some more research before our next remodeling (although I’m hoping it’s a long way off!).

  6. 6

    Andy said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 11:10 pm

    The strawbale house I lived next to was all earthen plasters, and the finished layer had almost no cracks, and those were tiny also, and could be fixed in a minute. With most cob/strawbale structures I have seen, depending on how the plaster is applied and what mixture is used, the cracking varies but is not bad. But I have also heard that this is a natural thing, usually happens once when it first sets, and can be filled in once and usually not needed again. I believe the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage videos had a good explanation of it, you can find them on YouTube somewhere.

    I have seen some cob/SB places with one layer of plaster, which cracked a lot, but the ones I have seen with 2 differing earthen plasters were much higher quality, easier to clean if needed, and not cracky.

    As for finding quotes on plasters, I didn’t even imagine that was possible. It’s so rare in this country that I would think just finding the right ratios of material and pricing them out separately would be best. It’s usually just 2 different grains of sand, chopped straw, and clay. The one I helped out on just had ratios of how many bucketloads to put in the mixer, turn it on for about 10 minutes, and the sludge that came out was an amazing plaster that stuck easily to the straw walls. I imagine that you could adapt an old plaster wall to accept new plaster by gouging it (to increase surface area) and then just applying the new plaster.

    I don’t know how much you are painting, but I know the cheapest of cheap Walmart paints around here are about $11 per gallon. Are you only doing a small section for $200 of good quality paint? It seems like your options can be torn into 3 sections: price, ease, and environmental. Obviously the cheap paint is easy, but probably doesn’t last and has wonderful chemicals in it. The expensive paint is pricey but has less chemicals and is still easy. A natural plaster is not nearly as easy, although I wouldn’t say it’s hard either, it just takes more time, the price can range wildly depending on the source, but it is the only option that really has an environmental record worth advertising.

  7. 7

    Will said,

    July 25, 2008 @ 11:14 am

    Andy: I’m pretty sure you have to price plasters if you want a specific color. At least, I don’t have any idea how to color it myself.

    We’re painting two rooms (in two different colors). One is 350 sq feet (so two gallons for two coats) and the other is about 200 sq feet (so 1 gallon for two coats).

    I’d add “quality” to your breakdown of options. We’re very sure about the quality of the paint we’ve got. We’re less sure about the quality of a colored plaster, although it is something we’ll try to experiment with in the future.

    I’m not sure what you mean about an environmental record worth advertising. There are several types of paint that are just as good as plaster environmentally (although the paint we’re using isn’t).

  8. 8

    Andy said,

    July 26, 2008 @ 8:53 am

    About the pricing, the plasters I have used were simply sand, clay, and straw. I’ve never colored them or seen colored natural plaster. I think that would take away from the natural part.

    Paint is paint. Low-VOC, no-VOC, unless I know what the ingredients are it is neither environmentally-friendly nor natural. I’m almost positive that even a no-VOC paint still requires chemical processing with plenty of chemicals I wouldn’t want to handle, but maybe I’m wrong. Natural plaster I would not have any worry about.

  9. 9

    Will said,

    July 26, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

    I think it depends on how you color it. The type of plaster you’re talking about would be hard to color since it’s so dark. Maggie has had some trouble with cracking of natural plaster in this climate, which is one reason we’re concerned about it.

    Milk paint is made from milk casein, clay, earth pigments, and lime. Now you know. 🙂 It has a different finish from latex- and oil-based paints, which is one reason we didn’t want to jump right in. It also spoils (since it’s primarily whole milk), so you either have to get it locally (and there’s nobody around here who does it) or buy a powdered version online. Or, of course, try to make our own, but we didn’t feel like we had the time to experiment.

    I also hear good things about Mythic brand paint, which is supposed to be no-VOC and non-carcinogenic. They advertise it as good for the environment, people, and pets. But of course, they don’t list their ingredients and there’s nobody local who sells it to ask, so I can’t evaluate that claim directly.

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