Interior finishes come as one of the last stages of construction. Decisions about these materials are important for their potential effect on the health of the people who will in the house, as well as how much money they’ll spend to maintain it.
Choosing a Paint
Choosing a low/no-VOC paint is only half the battle. You also have to consider any tints that are added to color the paint. Choose the color you want first, then find out from the manufacturer whether the tints needed to make it add VOCs back into the paint. Pastel colors typically have the fewest VOCs and dark colors have more.
Low-VOC paints should be applied with plenty of ventilation, just like conventional paints. When possible, keep windows and doors open. You can keep fumes downwind by placing a fan in the doorway so it blows air out of the room, or an exhaust fan in a window. Work your way through the room so you’re always upwind of fresh paint.
Wood finishes, particularly solvent-based floor finishes, can be especially harmful to the health of children. There are a range of water-based products that perform almost as well without the potential hazard. But be aware, they don’t behave or look exactly like their solvent-based equivalents – they don’t penetrate the wood in the same way, so they don’t impart the same amber quality to bare wood.
Consider BonaKem for low-VOC floor finishes with various levels of durability and AFM Safecoat for VOC water-based finishes and very low-VOC, no formaldehyde Polyureseal BP® that can be applied as an alternative to solvent-based finishes.
Low-VOC Adhesives and Caulks
The highest concentration of known carcinogens are found in solvent-based adhesives. There is no reason to continue using these products. Virtually all major manufacturers offer urethane-based adhesives that are not only stronger but bond to wet wood, a problem for solvent-based adhesives.
Look for the VOC content on the tube or can, it should be less than 150 g/l and lower if possible.
No matter what kind of drywall you use it will need priming and painting. An alternative for indoor wall finishes is natural plaster, a popular finish material available in a variety of colors that’s applied to primed and sealed gypsum drywall, blue board, or other suitable substrate. Plasters are thought of as living finishes and may take some extra care to maintain if you experience a crack or chip in the surface. They are very natural, breathable surface covers that are often preferable for clients with chemical sensitivities, as they do not contain any VOCs.