What No One's Telling You About Paint and VOCs

What No One's Telling You About Paint and VOCs.jpg

We've shared plenty of information about paint, from how to choose the perfect color to why you'd want to look for paints with lower VOCs, but here's something not many homeowners are aware of: even paints labeled as "low-VOC" can cause significant damage to your health and the environment. Let's break it down. 

First of all, let's be clear. Opting for lower VOC count in paint is definitely healthier than just grabbing whatever color you like without checking the label. But as with many sustainable and eco-friendly options, lowering VOC levels in paint doesn't necessarily make it completely healthy. Though they do contain fewer volatile organic compounds, paints labeled as low- or zero-VOC do contain VOCs. What's more, the number used to classify these paints as healthier is measured before the addition of pigments and certain additives, which can contain additional VOCs. And some of the dangerous chemicals added to paints aren't considered to be VOCs, so they're not taken into account when determining the safety of the paint. 

Even when the paint you've chosen has the lowest possible levels of VOCs, those compounds will still off-gas into your internal environment. Though this small amount of toxicity may not show up immediately, this is another situation similar to that metaphor we use when talking about the commanding position and clutter. Even if you don't notice, like a stone that has water dripping on it for years, it will eventually begin to affect you in a negative way.  

And, as Joel Hirshberg notes in his article, The Truth About Paintreducing the level of VOCs in paint only does so much for the environment. It is not the most ideal solution. He mentions that when we reduce the use of VOCs, we only slow down the process of contaminating our environment, since our atmosphere can only completely absorb waste if it is healthy and biodegradable. As many of these chemicals are not, even in small amounts, they ultimately return to the atmosphere where they remain forever. 

With this information in mind, most experts agree that seeking out the healthiest possible paint option is worth the effort and cost. In most cases, this option consists of natural paints and finishes. These paints are composed only of natural ingredients, like water, plant oils and natural minerals. In these paints, manufacturers use 100% natural materials for each of the primary components, which would usually be chemicals. For instance, The Real Milk Paint, a popular option, contains casein, hydrated lime and plant-derived fillers, all of which are natural and non-toxic.

There are a number of companies who produce natural paint for healthier environments. This list from eartheasy is a great start, but as always, do your own research before choosing the best paint for your needs. In fact, if you're handy enough, you can even make your own natural paint! What better way to KNOW your indoor air quality is safe?

by Anjie Cho


Bamboo Isn't Just a Fad

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As a licensed and practicing architect, I regularly take continuing education courses to stay up to date and maintain my certification. My most recent course detailed the perks and benefits of using bamboo in remodeling, renovation and building, and it's pretty incredible what using bamboo can do for your holistic space and for the environment. Let's take a look at why bamboo is hopefully here to stay. 

Bamboo is Environmentally Friendly and Sustainable

Using bamboo to build dates back at least 2,000 years in Chinese culture, and there are 1,400 different species of bamboo, all of which can be used differently. It's such an amazing untapped resource that fully engaging in a bamboo-based industry could provide jobs for up to one billion people worldwide, all without providing any unnecessary strain on our environment or ecosystems. 

Unlike the harvesting process of typical trees, harvesting bamboo does not fully release its carbon dioxide supply into the air. This is no small detail, since deforestation is one of the main contributors to global warming through carbon off gassing. Instead, the root structure of bamboo stays alive and holds onto almost 50% of the carbon it sequesters, which can be up to 60% more than fir trees.

Bamboo also releases 35% more oxygen than typical fir trees, helping to give back more to the environment, and since it is harvested more selectively, it doesn't wear out soil, which prevents the need for relocation, a common issue in traditional wood harvesting.  

Bamboo is a rapidly renewing resource, and due to its tight hold on carbon and the fact that it travels via sea and train for much of its journey to us from Asian countries, it's actually a carbon negative product, which means that yes, it is more sustainable in every way than traditional wood. All of this, without even mentioning that relying on bamboo for building can not only avoid the devastating effects deforestation has on some indigenous species, it can actually help us to provide more solid economies for these people while we still have everything we need in building supplies. 

Using Bamboo Adds Nature to Your Space

Recent research shows that using natural wood in indoor environments actually has positive impacts on our health, much like that of spending time out in nature. In fact, using natural wood like bamboo for our building needs can lead to decreased blood pressure, lower levels of stress and increased emotional wellness! Talk about benefits!

What's more, some other studies have shown that physical contact with wood products, as opposed to other materials like aluminum and plastic, actually produces positive physiological responses. We feel safer when we're surrounded by nature, even if it's in our homes and not outdoors. These studies also show that imitation wood doesn't have the same effects. 

It's not difficult to see why choosing bamboo for renovations and other indoor needs is a good move all around. In fact, we'll share even more benefits soon! With plenty of perks and almost no downside (as long as you get quality, properly aged product!), bamboo is potentially an amazing tool to move us forward in sustainable, eco-friendly building and green design. Would you consider using it?

by Anjie Cho


Beyond Paint and Wallpaper: Trends in Wallcoverings

photo credit: Philip Jeffreis http://boston.webstercompany.com/Wallcoverings/Phillip-Jeffries

photo credit: Philip Jeffreis http://boston.webstercompany.com/Wallcoverings/Phillip-Jeffries

Wait! Before you open that can of paint to freshen up the look of your room, let’s talk about wall coverings. A coat of paint is the traditional wall finish go-to, but it’s not your only option. Consider one of today’s trending wall coverings either as an accent wall or for the whole room.

Braided Hemp Wallpaper

Hemp wall coverings are a great, natural alternative. Created by weaving highly durable hemp fibers, this wall covering is a great eco-friendly option! You’ll find it’s typically hand-woven and dyed with natural materials. Even if you select a natural color palette in this wall covering, hemp’s textured finish will bring a new level of interest to your walls. 

Metallic Wallpaper

Perhaps you hear wallpaper and you flash back to floral prints. Today’s wallpaper has come a long way since then. Don’t be afraid of going metallic. Today’s choices range from a subtle metallic thread woven into natural fibers to varnished metal leaf hand-applied to high-quality paper. If you’re not quite ready to make the total commitment to metallic, consider it for an accent wall. 

Leather/Faux Leather 

You have a few different options when we talk about leather or faux leather wall coverings. You could select a simple traditional leather finish or suede option. Alternatively, you’ll also find textured options with stitching or other patterns. You choices don’t end there! If you’re not sure a full room or even a full wall of leather is right for your room, consider using leather tiles as a mock-headboard or other wall feature. 

Bamboo or Cork Tiles

Like hemp, bamboo and cork are eco-friendly decorating choices made from sustainable materials. With tiles, you’ll have a variety of design choices starting with how you lay out your wall. Will you go with tiles placed in horizontal lines or a herringbone pattern? Which material is right for you will be based, at least in part, on where you plan to use it. Bamboo requires a dry space, which rules out use in a bathroom or basement. Cork, on the other hand, can be ideal as a kitchen backsplash or bathroom wall. If you seal the cork properly, the tiles are water-resistant.

by Anjie Cho


Selecting Wood Floors: What You Need To Know

Hardwood floors bring character, warmth and comfort to a room. From species to finish, you have a lot of choices to mull over. And there’s more than just the look to consider. In fact, before you start to narrow down your style choices, you’ll want to consider these things:

What type of wood flooring?

When it comes to wood flooring, you have two primary choices: solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. The first is just what it sounds like. The second is a veneer layer sitting on a core of plywood. Before you decide which type of wood floor is best for you, however, you need to consider several of the following factors:

What will be underneath? 

Your sub-flooring is likely one of three things: concrete slab, plywood or particle board. This will help determine whether you use solid hardwood or engineered hardwood. For example, if you have a concrete slab, you’re going to want to focus on engineered hardwood. 

What level of your house are you flooring?

If you’re looking to put a wood floor in a finished basement, go with the engineered wood. It will hold up better with the moisture. Similarly, stick with the engineered wood floor if you’re planning on using it for a bathroom or other area of the house where moisture may be higher than normal. Otherwise, solid hardwood is a viable option. 

How hard are you on your floors?

High-traffic rooms and homes with kids and pets are better suited to harder wood species. Red Oak is considered the ‘hard’ hardwood floor of choice for its durability and cost. Among other popular wood species choices, hickory and maple are harder than oak, while walnut is softer. When selecting your flooring, do your research and understand how well your desired wood type will hold up to the wear and tear of your lifestyle.

What’s your style?

Now’s the time to look at the big picture. Consider the other elements in your room. What color are the trim, cabinets, and wood furniture? Will the room’s natural light be enough to balance dark wood floors? Is your preferred style more modern or traditional? Do you prefer exotic wood varieties? Is your eco-friendly side interested in exploring reclaimed wood or bamboo? Armed with the facts about your subfloor and room use, you’ll be able to pick the right look for your style and budget.

by Anjie Cho


Decoding the Temperatures and Colors of Lighting

Have you ever wondered what the numbers and color descriptions on your light bulb packaging mean? Not only is there a legitimate reason for describing lights in terms of color, there is a science to determining what color lights your home or work space need.

The light that we use for our spaces, referred to as white light, actually is not simply white at all. Instead, the color of our light ranges from red to bright white, almost blue, depending on how much electricity it uses. The more electricity, the brighter and more whitish-blue a light will appear.

A British scientist named William Kelvin discovered this characteristic in the late 19th century using carbon and heat, so we currently measure these temperatures in Kelvin, or K, a concept generally called correlated color temperature (CCT).

For the most part, a light source is either on the “warmer” or “cooler” end of the Kelvin scale, though this can be somewhat confusing. When you think of a red color, do you imagine warmth or cold? Warmth, right? For this reason, even though red lights register at a cooler temperature on the Kelvin scale, they are referred to as “warm.” The same goes for “cool” blue lights, which are actually the hottest on the scale.

What does this mean in terms of numbers? A warm bulb, one that gives off red light, typically measures at about 2000K-2800K, at the lower end of the Kelvin scale. For cooler bulbs, like the blue bulbs I mentioned earlier, the temperature averages around 5000K-6000K. The lower the number on the Kelvin scale, the “warmer” the white light color will be.

So what can we do with this knowledge? Studies have been conducted that show the shades and temperatures of lighting in a room actually affect the ability of the people in that room to accomplish certain tasks. For example, reading under a “warm” light is not a good idea, as this lighting is essentially the same as reading by candlelight. Instead, studies show that brighter, cooler lights, sometimes up to 6000K, are best for reading or completing work tasks. On packaging, this light is sometimes referred to as “Day White,” as it puts off a brighter light, more similar to the light we see during the day. At the same time, using a cool light in your family room might not provide the most relaxing atmosphere.

You can see why it is important to use the right lighting for each room in your home, depending on what that room is primarily used for. Each temperature in Kelvin is best for a specific set of activities.

For office work, or any room or area that requires a high level of detail and precision, it is best to use colder lights, or those ranging from about 5000K to 10000K. This lighting is also ideal for rooms like bathrooms, where you may put on makeup or do other everyday tasks that require good lighting.

For more relaxing spaces, like the bedroom, living room or even the dining room, it’s acceptable to use a much warmer bulb, even as low as 2700K. This is ideal lighting for maintaining calm, watching television, meditating and a variety of other casual activities.

Ideally, for most average rooms where you may do a variety of things, aim for lighting somewhere in the middle of these two. It isn’t necessary to have an extraordinarily bright light for all activities, but sometimes dimmer lighting can cause problems, for instance when reading or studying. A medium temperature bulb, around 3500K, provides a balance for a wide range of everyday tasks without creating strain.

Not only does proper lighting save energy in areas where bright light is unnecessary, it can go a long way toward holistic living and wellness, from preventing depression to enhancing eyesight to promoting relaxation or focus. When you shop for lighting, whether for your home, office, outdoor areas or even home offices, be aware of what temperature and color bulbs you are buying to ensure that you properly light each area of your life.

by Anjie Cho