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Q. We’re ready to deal with inconvenient truths. Can you tell us something about green alternatives to regular paint?


A. Paint that contains few V.O.C.s (volatile organic compounds) or none at all is generally considered green, given that V.O.C.s readily evaporate into the atmosphere and damage the ozone layer. Examples of products that emit V.O.C.s include gasoline, mineral spirits, alcohol, and nail polish.

Many companies, including Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams, and Pittsburgh Paints, have developed high-quality low- and zero-V.O.C. latex paints that dry quickly, cover easily, and result in a washable wall. You’ll notice they lack the strong odor commonly associated with paint. They come in a huge range of colors (though not the darker ones) and they cost a few dollars more per gallon than conventional paint.

The painting contractors we spoke to love this gentle-decorating innovation. George Markoutsas, vice president of marketing and business-development manager for The ABL Group (1550 Berkeley Rd., Highland Park, 847-579-1600; theablgroup.com) says his firm’s painters were developing respiratory issues and problems with their throats and eyes before the company switched (though not exclusively) to nontoxic paint two years ago (“to protect our employees and our customers”). The new paint is good, he says, not just good for you. “Our guys find these paints very spreadable,” he adds. “And there’s no splattering.”

Another option is zero-V.O.C. clay paint. It’s made of earthy things like porcelain clay, cellulose, and chalk, but it comes in many colors other than earth tones. A company called BioShield (800-621-2591; bioshieldpaint.com), based in Santa Fe, sells eye-popping reds, pinks, and oranges, an impressive turquoise, sophisticated blues and indigos, as well as an encyclopedic range of browns. You apply it the same way you do latex paint, and can paint over previously painted walls, on drywall, plaster, or masonry.

Clay paint costs $32 to $44 a gallon and dries in six to 12 hours, says Amrita Reitz, Bioshield’s vice president of sales and marketing. One caveat: though your brushes and rollers can be cleaned with soap and water, clay-painted walls shouldn’t be washed frequently. If you want a very washable wall you should seal it with Wall Glaze #15, also available from Bioshield.

Clay paint is available locally at Wolfson Earthen Finishes (312-520-0207; rawstrawchicago.com). Founder and principal artisan Anna Wolfson doesn’t sell a line of paint but she will custom-blend paint in a range of colors, and she is sensitive to issues of origin. “I can make a paint of materials that are all from within 30 miles of home or I can get amazing blue clays from France,” she says. Wolfson sells a gallon of clay paint for $20 to $40.
 

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