The Green Building Movement Part 1 – Are You On Board?

By Joel Hamberg
President, Joel Hamberg Painting, Inc.

“What is the ‘green building’ movement?!” you say, “You don’t mean those trendy new paints and coatings? I don’t need another fad taking my time and attention! Anyway, I tried those six years ago; they were hard to apply and the performance was inferior!”

But is that thinking really justified? Just what has changed in this movement to give it momentum? Green building paint products may be defined as: low-VOC, no-VOCs, waterborne, low odor, Green Seal certified, or eco-friendly. (Wow, is that ever a mouthful!) Check your labels, for some of the best performing products in use now are considered “green.”

Green movement

Collective term for the individuals and organizations involved in efforts to protect the environment.

Why the movement?

  1. Health concerns for clients and applicators
  2. Environmental impact during:
    1. Production
    2. Application
    3. Disposal
  3. Specified by more and more:
    1. Designers
    2. Architects
    3. Homeowners
    4. Businesses

On the other hand

So, what can you do under all that pressure? Are you going to change? I hear your objections: “But I like my system now! Sure, it is taking a toll on the health of the painters. They off-gas for days and they make everyone else run out of the surrounding work area. But, these products work, and have worked for decades!” So did lead paint, but where are lead-based paints now? Just what hazardous products could you be using today?

  1. Alkyd oil undercoat
  2. Xylene-based primers & additives
  3. Oil enamels
  4. Lacquers & thinners
  5. Conversion varnishes with formaldehyde and isocyanides
  6. Two component epoxies with MAK or MEK reducers

Why do you need to adjust your attitude? Simply put, you are being required to do so. Federal and state volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) regulations are changing. Limitations on VOCs have been in effect since the 1970s, but federal rules limiting HAPs are relatively new. States and local jurisdictions have additional regulations.

Need help with regulation compliance?

To find answers to specific regulatory questions and plan efficient and cost-effective environmental compliance, link to at the Paint and Coatings Resource Center (PCRC)

Industry is bound by federal, state and local environmental regulations, some of which overlap.  In addition, most companies have distinctive facility or processes that complicate the process of complying with rules and making environmental improvements.

The PCRC has links to your state assistance program. Other tools include educational features, reference materials, calculators, searchable databases, links and interactive resources.

In the Northeast USA, Southern California and other parts of the country, it’s next to impossible for painters to purchase non-compliant products. You wouldn’t try to buy paint with lead in it these days, would you? Times are changing, so get ready to change your thinking.

Advantages of Going Green

What return will it bring to you as a contractor to invest in offering green products? Say good-bye to respirator fit testing, suffocating respirators or off gassing. You won’t miss getting lightheaded and headaches from fumes, will you? What a relief to your family to not be distressed by clinging odors on your breath and clothing! Have you noticed how many in the industry are becoming chemically sensitive from being exposed to current formulations? Your employees’ health, and your personal health are worth the cost of switching.

Speaking of costs, you and your workers won’t need to get in expensive “space suits” while using green building products! How about those costly disposal fees on your hazardous wastes? In a commercial setting, you may be able to forgo ventilation fans and containment tents.

Another advantage is quicker drying time. Think of how efficient you can be with scheduling when you have predictable drying times and less down time. Your customers will be so pleased to put their rooms back into use within hours instead of days!

Get on Board

How can you resign yourself to, or accelerate this green building movement? You want to know if these products will perform, if there is a wide choice of colors, if the price is reasonable, if they are compatible with various surfaces, and stable in cold weather. Paint manufacturers recognize those challenges, and have already formulated low-VOC and zero-VOC products to meet them. Learn all you can about the new products:

  1. What to look for on the label
  2. Tools & techniques for application
  3. Limits on open or “wet time”
  4. Drying length and humidity concerns

The green building movement started in a niche market, required by clients with allergies, health care industries, and environmentalists. But the practical advantages are gaining increased recognition in the mainstream market. The voluntary group Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a strong advocate. The dangers of current products are being documented in the medical and legal fields. Customers and specifiers may require you to use green products. Finally, technology is advancing to make the new products the premium choice.

So the industry is changing. We need to change with it. Get on board the green building movement, or be left behind!

The next article in the Green Building series, “Part 2 – Success Story,” will give you a recent case history of how these products produced a superior result in a 12,000 square foot restaurant setting.