Q: How do I choose the best nontoxic finishes to decorate my home?
A: Among the initial questions I ask my customers, one of the most important is "How green do you want to be?" Many people will admirably respond, "I want to be the greenest!" However, their response may not hold up once careful consideration of their priorities is made. The most suitable finish for an individual is not always the greenest. For instance, sometimes it's the specific toxicity that really counts, while, for others, performance is the highest priority. Sometimes, upon deeper investigation, health and eco-conscious customers find they want a different 'level' of green than they originally thought.
So, I have begun using a tool called Green Levels to help customers choose the best finish for their project. It can also be used as a general guide for all green building materials (not just finishes) and puts the options into four easy-to-grasp categories:
Level Four--Not green
Level One--The most sustainable, nontoxic, earth-friendly level. This level is a choice for people who are willing to do whatever it takes to have completely natural finishes. These coatings consist primarily of plant-based resins, minerals and elements. Petrochemical-free materials like earth paint, earth plasters, Venetian plasters, clay plasters, lime wash, mineral paints, plant oils, tree resins, milk paints, and flour paints fall into this category. Some products here far surpass performance of regular paints with long lifecycle factors (plasters, oils, inorganic minerals and tree resins), and others have shorter lifecycles but can be very non-toxic and sustainable (lime wash, milk paint and flour paint). Level One finishes are not always the easiest to apply, but they're definitely the most fun to use!
Level Two--These finishes are the choice for those who want greener, envirosocially responsible finishes but feel that cost and performance are nearly as important. Level Two coatings tend to be primarily nontoxic but not necessarily petrochemical-free. They balance performance, ease of application, cost and health. Examples include oil-based paints with a few more driers, 100 percent pure nontoxic acrylic, nontoxic solvents like citrus, propylene glycol or alcohol ester (Texanol), nontoxic anti-microbials and nontoxic fillers. These are easy to use, high performance coatings that can be tinted to specific colors. They...