Paints, Stains, and Coatings

General Recommendations

  • Use products with low or no-VOC content and water-based formulations whenever available and appropriate to the use.
  • Choose products based on their total lifecycle cost, including durability and embodied energy.
  • Use products with a high recycled material content when appropriate for durability and air quality.
  • Select products that can be recycled and recycle unused paint.

Notes on Use
Paints, stains, and coatings have manufacturer-recommended methods of application, including requirements for substrate preparation and primers. Materials used to prepare substrates (cleaners, strippers, sanders, fillers, etc.) may also have VOC components. These must be considered, along with those associated with paints and coatings, to safeguard workers and future occupants.

Options and Analysis

Product Type VOC Level (g/L)
flat topcoat 50
non-flat topcoat 100
primer or undercoat 100
floor paint 100
anti-corrosive coating 250
reflective wall coating 50
reflective roof coating 100

Expected Product Life
Higher grade and performance paints last longer (up to 20 years for interior, and 15 years for exterior). This results in less gross material use over time, lessening the impacts of material consumption. Lower grade paints may last only 2-6 years and require repainting sooner.

Energy Consumption
Paints and coatings are primarily petroleum-based and have high embodied energy from the process of creating them. Paints produced locally, if environmentally responsible, reduce transportation impacts. Paints can significantly impact the amount of energy required for lighting spaces and can improve daylighting performance if dark, light-absorbing colors are avoided.

Paints, stains, and coatings have many components, including toxins that are emitted during production and installation, urea formaldehyde, and other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Many of these are additives used to improve performance or appearance, increasing durability or ease of application. The coatings industry has worked hard to develop non-toxic products. Some of these formulations are base only. Pigments added for color may add VOCs. Non-toxic or low-toxic versions are preferable. In general, alkyd-based or alcohol-based paints contain higher levels of VOCs than do latex or water based paints and should only be used where other considerations (stain or chemical resistance, high performance durability, or special sheens) are of higher importance. Using recycled content products, which may have more VOCs than virgin products, can be successful if the spaces are properly ventilated and the product is covered with a low-VOC surface coating.

Future Recycling and Waste Generation
When disposing of unused paints offer them, if unopened, to reuse centers, salvage enterprises, or charitable organizations. If opened, send them to your local recycling program.

1 GS-11: Green Seal™ Environmental Standard for Paints and Coatings. 2nd ed. Green Seal. Washington, D.C:12 May 2008. 28 Jul 2008.
2 "MPI Green Performance™ Standard Products." Specify Green Website. 2007. 28 Jul 2008.