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The Green Standard: A guide to VOC compliance

Building owners today are more aware than ever of their environmental impact and in turn are demanding sustainable initiatives and products from their builders,contractors and architects. As the end user's awareness of sustainable building practices increases, professionals need to be educated to keep pace with the needs of their customers. Additionally, as green building specifications are mandated on national and local levels, trade professionals must be competent in the standards that are influencing their industry.

While these specifications can seem challenging to understand and comply with, there are many benefits that make doing so worthwhile. Not only is specifying green products the right thing to do for the environment, but it can also increase the market value of projects,earn third-party validations, and create a healthier living and working environment for building occupants. What's more, specifying green products also demonstrates a commitment to the environment that more and more customers are seeking out and demanding.

The end user's interest and investment in green design trends will undoubtedly increase in the years to come. In fact, three-quarters of all Americans already express a concern for the environment (up 24 percent from 2004), and nearly half of all Americans have purchased eco-friendly products in the past year. Additionally, 60 percent of U.S. adults say that they are more likely to buy products from environmentally responsible companies, even if those products come at a higher cost. For the contractors who can understand these concerns and provide environmental solutions for their design projects, success in creating marketable properties will undoubtedly follow.

Today's Green Building Standards
There are hundreds of programs in existence today that help contractors meet their customers' green design needs by outlining green standards and providing environmental certifications for construction projects that meet program guidelines, touching on everything from the ground-foundations to roofing-up.

For instance, various energy providers and municipalities have realized the value of reflective roof coatings. Many energy companies offer rebates (ranging from 10 cents to 50 cents per square foot) for coating roofs with qualified products. Case in point, KST Coatings, Cleveland, has been involved with many of these programs, including an aggressive program managed by Florida Power an Light. This program offers substantial rebates to commercial and residential users for making energy saving improvements. They maintain a list of authorized installers and have requirements for minimum standards and training.

What's more, many cities in the U.S. have begun to promote roof coatings as a way to increase individual comfort, reduce urban heat island effect and curb energy consumption.

In Philadelphia, a program that coats roofs with Elastomeric roof coating has received significant media attention and provided a real benefit to residents. Reflective roof coatings can lower surface temperature by up to 90 F(32 C) and reduce cooling costs by up to 35 percent. In addition, these coatings offer a sustainable solution that helps avoid roof tear off and disposal. Urban areas can especially benefit as these coatings can make a substantial difference in reducing heat island effect.

In general, achieving certification through national programs and working with local municipalities provides contractors with third-party credibility, allowing them to market their properties with confidence in the environmental and sustainability practices their buildings offer.

Meeting the Standards
A key factor in meeting these green building and design standards is selecting the appropriate paint for the project. Air quality in residential and business spaces is a leading concern among both users of these facilities and regulatory agencies that mandate environmental standards for today's building projects. Paints that reduce the emission of VOCs and are low in odor help to improve indoor air quality and alleviate these concerns.

To be classified or marketed as a low-VOC paint, government organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency, require that the VOCs in paint are limited to 50 grams perliter for industrial applications. Green paints that meet these environmental standards have20 to 30 percent of the VOCs of traditional paints and because of this, can be applied in occupied spaces with minimal impact on daily activities. As a result, painting crews can work during regular business hours, creating more flexibility in scheduling projects so costly overtime can be avoided.

Low-VOC paints can perform on par or better as it relates to hiding and longer lasting performance compared to paints not currently complying with the latest regulations. These qualities translate to fewer coats needed to achieve a durable surface, which minimizes the frequency of costly repaints and the amount of waste and emissions, and makes the investment in these products beneficial for both contractor and customer.

To make a good thing even better, recent technological advances in environmentally preferred coatings have brought a new generation of performance-rich interior products to the market that offer even longer-lasting durability and high-end aesthetics, along with application ease. Some environmentally responsible paints also contain antimicrobial properties that resist mildew, bacteria and other microbes to help maintain a fresh appearance longer. In addition, these coatings prevent stains from penetrating better than ceramic coatings on the market, resist burnish marks,and withstand repeated washings and visible paint wear, making them perfect for high traffic areas and facility environments.

Beyond the many benefits offered by these environmentally preferred coatings, it is also important for contractors to recognize that these products do not come at a high cost. In fact, even with the high-quality surfaces these coatings produce, the cost of these paints is in the same range as other premium coatings on the market today, making them affordable for contractors and a cost-effective option for customers even amidst tough economic times.

What's more, design and color aesthetics need not be compromised when using green paints. Thanks to advances in paint technology, some leading paint manufacturers offer these types of coatings in an array of colors,including bold accent hues, in all sheens.

Steve Revnew is the director of marketing, product development at The Sherwin-Williams Co., Cleveland. For more information, go to