It seems that we have always wanted to decorate our surroundings. Cave paintings may have been made by early Homo sapiens as long as 40,000 years ago, using ochre (yellow), iron oxide (red), manganese oxide (brown), and charcoal (black).
When it comes time for you to spruce up your cave a bit, you should consider what you are putting on your walls, and what your family is breathing in.
Most wall paint has four components: pigment, binder, solvent, and additives.
- Pigments make colour, of course, but they can also provide toughness, texture, special properties or lower cost. They can be natural from plants, sands, and different soil types, (various clays, calcium carbonate, mica, silicas, and talcs) or synthetic (calcined clays, blanc fixe, precipitated calcium carbonate, and synthetic silicas).
- Binders carry the pigment, and it provides stickiness, binds the pigments together, and strongly influences such properties as gloss potential, exterior durability, flexibility, and toughness. An early binder was made from egg and called “tempera.” When it dried, it hardened and stuck onto the painted surface. Egg tempera was used in early Egyptian sarcophagi decorations. Prominent egg tempera artists include nearly every painter of the Italian Renaissance before 1500 AD. Then it was superseded by the invention of oil painting.
- Solvents control curing properties, flow, application properties, and the stability of the paint while liquid. These volatile solvents impart their properties temporarily—once the solvent has evaporated or disintegrated, the remaining paint is fixed to the surface.
- Additives can modify surface tension, improve flow properties, improve the finished appearance, increase wet edge, improve pigment stability, impart antifreeze properties, control foaming, control skinning, and act as catalysts, thickeners, stabilizers, emulsifiers, texturizers, adhesion promoters, UV stabilizers, flatteners (de-glossing agents), and biocides to fight bacterial growth. They are everywhere.
Solvents and additives are often volatile organic compounds (VOCs), organic chemicals that easily evaporate at room-temperature conditions. VOCs include both man-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds, and many are dangerous to human health or cause harm to the environment. VOCs are typically not acutely toxic, but instead have compounding long-term health effects. Because the concentrations are usually low and the symptoms slow to develop, research into VOCs and their effects is difficult.
Since people today spend most of their time at home or in an office, long-term exposure to VOCs can contribute to sick building syndrome. In offices, VOCs result from paint, new furnishings, carpeting, wall coverings, and office equipment such as photocopy machines, which can off-gas VOCs into the air, even after the smell is gone. Studies show that leukemia and lymphoma can increase through prolonged exposure to VOCs in the indoor environment.
You can buy paint without any VOCs. One brand is Unearthed Paints. (UnearthedPaints.com).
Another brand – not presently available in north America – is Mythic Paints. They report that, in 2007, a leading, independent laboratory service performed side-by-side tests comparing Mythic paint and other leading paint brands – both their eco-friendly and premium lines. Tests focused on subjective performance including thickness, sheen, sag resistance, flow and leveling. Mythic paint was found to be equal to, if not better than competitors’ paint. Then they tested for resistance and durability with the ‘Scrub Test’ – the industry’s gold standard in paint performance testing.
Mythic paint substantially outperformed in these tests by 1.5 to 8 times the durability of the competitors. However, it is not appropriate for metal or damp basements.
BioShield has distributors in Canada.
There is also Boomerang recycled paint (www.boomerangpaint.com), which is what we used in our house and loved it. Laurentide Inc., the Quebec-based manufacturer, has been making its paint from the dribs and drabs left at the bottom of paint cans for the last 12 years.
Boomerang latex paint (low-VOC, in 16 colours) is a top quality product that can be used in most rooms wherever a durable, washable, low-luster finish is desired. The colours are beautiful, and it is the best paint to apply that we have ever used. Plus, it is about half the price of chemically laden paint.
So, when you have the urge to redecorate your cave, be mindful of the impact on your health and the environment and look for non-VOC or low-VOC recycled paint.