Green Remodeling Projects: Part VII – Paints and Plants
Welcome to the last part in our series on how to make your home greener. Over the last several weeks, we’ve taken a look at remodeling tips you can apply to your basement, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room and yard, and now we’ll be tying everything together. Most homeowners paint walls that aren’t wood or covered in wallpaper, and that contributes to big part of making your home eco-friendly. It also requires you to set aside a couple days to do it, which is why we’ve included plants in this section, too. Interested? Read on.

Going VOC-Free


You’ve no doubt heard of “VOCs”, or volatile organic compounds. And while you may not have an exact idea of what it is or does, you’ve probably heard that they’re not terribly good news.

They’re not bad in the way asbestos is, but they’re not really great either. What VOCs are are the vapors that are emitted from some of the solvents used in the paint-producing process. These vapors, like anything we breathe, get into our lungs and can have negative, long-lasting effects. But as we said before, they’re not terribly, terribly bad, and their effects can be ameliorated by fresh-air ventilation. It’s when your home doesn’t have that that VOCs tend to be a problem.

What Level of VOCs is Acceptable?


Ideally, the paint you use should be VOC-free, but that’s not federally mandated and so you’ll have to seek it out yourself. Before you head to the hardware store, though, make sure you know the right numbers to look for:

  • A low-VOC paint has less than 50 g/L before tinting
  • VOC-free paint has less than 5 g/L before tinting
  • Always ask at the store if they’ve added their own VOCs to the colorants, as there may not be a label for that (or if they can tint the paint with low-VOC or VOC-free colorants)

    As a Rule of Thumb

    If you can’t remember specific numbers or just want an easier method when picking out paints, give this list a quick memorize:

  • Water-based latex paints use less VOCs than oil-based alkyd paints
  • Flatter sheens equal lower VOCs
  • Lighter colors mean less VOCs because there’s less tinting involved
  • Milk paints have raw, organic ingredients in them, which means that tinting or no tinting, they’re VOC-free

    Using Plants to Greenify Your Home


    Buying plants to make your home more eco-friendly is one of the cheapest, easiest, simplest and prettiest ways of going about it. They’re available everywhere, don’t require any labor other than setting them down, and only asked to be watered on a regular basis.

    Depending on the plant you get, though, you may have to dust them occasionally, such as broad-leafed plants or tropical-like plants with glossy leaves. But beyond that, they’re a super easy way to ensure your home is green both literally and figuratively. Here are the top plants to invest in.

  • Dracaena Janet Craig: If you’ve got photocopiers or other similar products in your home, this plant will help remove a chemical emitted by them called trichloroethylene.
  • Dwarf date palm: You may not have a photocopier, but you most likely have paint, caulking, adhesives, floor coverings and wall coverings. What this plant does is remove xylene from the air.
  • Peace lily: It blooms inside with pretty white flowers, masterfully disguising all the chemicals (benzene, toluene, xylene) it’s removing from the air everyday.
  • Hedera helix: Also known as English ivy, this is an excellent choice for pet owners, especially if your furry friends are a bit incontinent. This plant will remove fecal particles and formaldehyde aerosols from the air.
  • African violet: With furry leaves and intense purple flowers, African violets need very little maintenance, happily freshening the air inside. Tip: Check to see they’re free of mealybugs before buying.

    Amy Wright
    Amy Wright is the Lead Editor of Remodeling Central. When she isn't playing with her dogs she is trying to remodel a classic Chicago style brownstone with her husband.