Tag Archives: materials

More on Choosing Paint

A couple weeks ago I went through a run down of how to choose and environmentally friendly paint. Now I want to share a bit about what decision we made and how it is working out so far.

For some reason, the small town we bought our house in has about 50 different privately owned auto shop, but the only hardware store in town is a giant Menards. And this Menards carries 2 brands of paint – Dutch Boy and Pittsburgh Paint.

Pittsburgh Paint makes a Low-VOC paint line called “Grand Distinction”. And while the info online says it “contains considerably less VOCs than other leading paints with similar attributes,” they do not seem to actually publish the VOC levels on their website. It probably does say on the can, but *spoiler alert* this was not the paint I chose, so I don’t have the can around to check the levels.

Dutch Boy’s Low-VOC paint line is called “Refresh” and is Greenguard certified as being low in VOCs and low in other air polutents. The base paint contains 50 ppg VOCs. Refresh also claims to reduce household odors with “Arm and Hammer® technology”. But I’m honestly pretty skeptical about that. We’ll see.

low VOC paint

So far we’ve painted our living room and our front room with the Refresh paint, and I’ve been pretty pleased with it. There is very little odor while painting, and the little odor there is fades away very quickly – and I’ve been painting in the winter, so it’s not like I’ve got the windows open to help clear out any odors.

I’ve also been pleased with the coverage thus far. Now we’ve only gone from cream walls to white, but the ceilings took two coats of paint, and for the most part the walls only required one! We’ve got some color plans coming up, as well as painting our wooden cabinets, so I’ll report back on the coverage when I’ve seen how those projects pan out.

Melting Ice

As another wave of sub-zero temperatures weaves its way through the northern parts of the country, I thought it might be a good time to write about ice. And in particular how we deal with melting ice on roads and sidewalks.

melting ice

Salting the Roads

If you live in an area that experiences cold winter months, you probably are familiar with the go to method of dealing with ice on the roads and sidewalks: salt. Salt is an effective method of dealing with the ice for a number of reasons. It’s cheap, it provides traction on the ice, and it helps the ice melt.

Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water to about 15° F. So for us here in Wisconsin, where the average winter temperatures are in the teens and twenties, salting the ice on the roads and sidewalks gets them to melt, providing safe walking, running, biking, and driving surfaces for many months of the year.

However, salt is quite harsh on the environment, both man made and natural. It contributes to car rust and damages footwear (my poor boots!) and has a habit of getting everywhere. As the ice and snow melt and the water runs into the street drains, that salt is carried into our waterways. Increased salt levels in lakes, rivers and streams affect fish and aquatic plant life. Increased salt levels in the watershed affect drinking water quality, having both taste and health effects.

As you’ve probably experienced, too much salt makes you dehydrated. Well, it’s the same for plants. The salt that doesn’t wash down the drain after melting ice (or get tracked into your house) stays on the soil and dehydrates the grass, trees and shrubs living there. In addition to making the plants thirstier, salt can also cause root growth damage, making it more difficult for plants to get the water they need in the first place.

You can learn more about the environmental effects of salting the roads here.

Use Salt Smarter

Based on the amount of salt my apartment management uses to salt our sidewalks, one would think that you need enough salt on the ground to completely cover the ice. However, a little bit goes a long way. A handful of salt is enough to melt a square meter of ice coverage. And using more than that doesn’t speed up the melting process.

Sprinkling salt on your walkway before the snow falls can help the ice melt faster (or not form) while using less salt in the process.

Mixing the salt with water and spreading the slurry on the ice will help keep the salt where you want it, and also allow you to use less salt to melt the ice.

Alternative Options for Melting Ice

So what can be used instead of salt that will have less negative effects on the environment?

Sand  is good for traction on the roads, and sidewalks. It also absorbs sunlight, which can aid in faster ice melting.

Clay granule kitty litter can also be good for adding traction to icy surfaces. Be aware that clay is frequently strip mined, and that carries a whole other set of environmental consequences.

There is also a product called EcoTraction made from volcanic material that is supposed to be extremely effective at providing traction on the ice and is eco-friendly enough that it can be swept right into your lawn after the ice has melted.

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Choosing an Environmentally Friendly Paint

Probably one of the easiest and most affordable ways to refresh your space is to slap a coat or two of paint on the walls. However, walking into your local hardware store or big box home improvement store and coming to aisles full of paint cans can be overwhelming. I’m certainly no expert on all the types of paint and what exactly you should choose for your particular application, but I can tell you how to choose an environmentally friendly paint.

choosing an environmentally friendly paint

Oil Based vs. Latex (Water Based)

The first question to address when choosing and environmentally friendly paint is whether to go with an oil based paint or a latex paint.

Oil based paints are slower drying which can provide a smoother finish, as any pools or ridges will have a chance to settle before the paint is completely dry. Oil based paints also can have better coverage, which means fewer coats, and can hold up better over time. However, oil based paints require more harsh chemicals to keep the colors suspended in the paint. Not only do oil based paints require special disposal at a hazardous material collection center because of these harsh chemicals, but they also give off a lot of fumes. These fumes are dangerous to breathe in. Oil paints also require harsh chemical solvents for clean up.

Latex, or water based paint, dries faster, can be fairly easily cleaned with water, and resists yellowing over time (another common issue with oil based paints). Latex paint contains fewer hazardous chemicals than oil based paint, but still contains some and can release harmful fumes. Latex paint should not be dumped down the drain, or just put in the trash in its liquid state, but if it needs to be disposed of, it can be dried up by soaking it up with kitty litter, newspaper, or sawdust.

When given the option between oil or latex paint, the more environmentally friendly paint is latex paint.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

The harmful fumes given off by paint are due to volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are emitted gases that can cause a variety of health problems when breathed in. VOCs can be found in paints, household cleaners, adhesives, pesticides, and building materials among other things. In paint, the chemicals that make up VOCs are used to hold the dyes suspended in the paint. After the paint is spread, the VOCs evaporate out, and the color stays in the dried paint. The US government has created a standard of 250 grams per liter of VOCs for flat paints and 380 g/l for other finishes. However, California, a state that frequently enacts stricter environmental regulations, has capped VOCs at 50 g/l for all finishes. Paints that adhere to the California regulations typically label themselves as Low-VOC. (It’s important to note that in order for a paint to be labeled low VOC, it only has to contain less than the government standards. You should read the label carefully to see the reported number of VOCs each brand and finish of paint contains.)

More recently some paint brands have advertised certain paint lines as being no VOC. In order to do so, they must contain less than 5 g/l of VOCs. Some paint brands have also opted to get evaluated by third party certification programs such as Greenguard or Green Seal to set themselves apart as environmentally friendly paint choices. These certifications evaluate the paint on more than just VOC levels as well and award their labels to paints that meet their environmental standards.

To choose a more environmentally friendly paint, look for low- or no VOC paint options, or paints that have received Greenguard or Green Seal certification.

 Natural Paints

There are some paint options that do not contain the harsh solvents used in oil or latex paints. These paints are instead pigmented with naturally occurring materials such as clay, lime, linseed oil, or chalk. Natural paints do not contain VOCs, but they do come with drawbacks. The color choices are limited, drying time can be long, coverage can be not great, and they are typically significantly more expensive than latex paint. You can find information on making your own natural paint and a list of natural paints here.

If you want to make the most environmentally friendly paint choice, and your needs can be met by the limitations above, look for natural paints.

 

Related: Tell Me More About Greenguard Certification

Tell me more about Forest Stewardship Council Certification

forest stewardship council certification

Lumber is a pretty integral ingredient to how we build and furnish our homes. And luckily, when properly managed and harvested it is a sustainable and renewable resource. It is also an excellent natural carbon sequestration method. And seeing as how we can’t quite seem to figure out how to do that with technology, it seems like we should probably take advantage of Mother Nature when she does it for us. But you see that bolded sentence up there about managing and harvesting properly? That’s the kicker. How do we ensure that the lumber we are building with is managed and harvested in a sustainable manner? Well, that’s where the Forest Stewardship Council comes in handy.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a international not-for-profit organization devoted to responsible management for the world’s forests. It does this primarily through standard setting, certification, and labeling of forest products. The FSC was established in 1953 as a response to concerns about deforestation. It certifies and labels forest products which are harvested in environmentally appropriate ways, are socially beneficial, and economically viable.

How does lumber become FSC labeled

There are two types of certifications that the FSC offers, Forest Management and Chain of Custody. Both certification require evaluation by an independent FSC accredited certifier that the forest of chain of custody meets the principles and criteria that the FSC has developed.

The FSC maintains 10 principles to determine if a Forest can be certified:

  1. Compliance with all applicable laws and treaties, and all FSC principles and criteria.
  2. Tenure and use rights and responsibilities.
  3. Recognition and respect of indigenous peoples rights.
  4. Operations must maintain or enhance the long-term social and economic well being of forest workers and surrounding communities.
  5. Efficient use of products to ensure economic viability, and social and environmental benefits.
  6. Maintain the ecological functions and and integrity of the forest.
  7. A long-term appropriate management plan must be written and followed.
  8. Monitoring and assessment
  9. Maintenance of High Conservation Value forests.
  10. Plantations which are in accordance with principles 1-9

In order for lumber to be labeled by the FSC it must come from a forest which is certified in Forest Management, and it must follow a supply chain which has been certified in Chain of Custody.

What sorts of products are FSC labeled

More than just lumber can be labeled by the FSC. The label can also be used by paper products, furniture, jewelry, and medicines that were made by products in certified forests.

Want to learn about other environmental, energy, and sustainability certifications? Check out these posts:
LEED certification
Energy Star certification
Green Guard certification