If I use “low VOC” or “No VOC” paints can I still have air quality issues?

We receive this question a lot from clients who may have air quality concerns after a renovation project. Many times people think they are doing the best thing by purchasing products with a label that states “Low VOCs” or “No VOCs”. After painting, they may notice a strong odor or even experience respiratory-related health issues. Understandably these people may be very frustrated because they thought they were taking an extra step, and also paying quite the premium, to avoid the chemical emissions from the paint. The truth is, many of those labels are extremely misleading.

Industry VOC regulations are different around the country, so in this post, I won’t be getting into specific requirements for different areas. The commonly referenced number for “low VOC” paint is less than 50 g/L, and for “no VOC” paint less than 5 g/L. A major issue with some of these products is how the term VOC is defined and chemicals that are exempt from being listed as a VOC.  The EPA exempts a number of VOCs that are not photoreactive (smog-forming). While this is important for outdoor air quality, these exempted VOCs can still cause indoor air quality problems.

Another hidden issue with these products comes into play when they are tinted or other additives are added to the mix. These products are not taken into consideration when a paint is advertised as “low” or “no” VOC, usually only the base paint meets those requirements.

Ventilation is key to avoiding IAQ issues with any type of painting. It is always best to have as much ventilation as possible while you are painting, and also afterward to allow for the VOCs to off-gas as much as possible.

Dylan McIntosh

Dylan McIntosh

Dylan McIntosh is a Senior Project Manager that performs indoor air quality assessments, industrial hygiene testing, and laboratory mold analysis. Mr. McIntosh holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology from the University of Illinois - Springfield. Dylan is an ACAC Council-Certified Microbial Investigator (CMI) and an Pan American Aerobiology Certification Board (PAACB) Certified Spore Analyst. In his words… “Throughout my life, I always had a dream of becoming an astronaut. That dream hasn’t worked out (yet) so I started a career in the next best thing, indoor air quality! In my free time I enjoy outdoor activities with my dog, cooking, and being involved with A Special Wish - Chicago; a local charity.”

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