Project One-Eleven is our non-toxic home renovation project. We’re taking an old row house that’s been serving as an office and converting it back into a residence (where you’ll be able to come test mattresses and other Good Stuff!). Because we’re all about the Good Stuff, we are using non-toxic and sustainable products, materials, and processes as much as possible. We’re blogging about the process to share the joys and challenges of taking a non-toxic approach to home renovation.
Project One-Eleven is happening in a fairly old building (about 200 years old). In fact, by American standards, Lancaster, PA, itself is pretty old– one of the oldest inland cities in the United States. I hope you’ll all come visit once this space is complete!
Why Do Old Homes Have High Ceilings?
Like most of the East Coast, Lancaster can get very hot and humid in the summer months. Early builders designed homes with high ceilings, which allows hotter air to stay up, while slightly cooler air falls to the floor. This design was the air-conditioning technology of the day!
The ceilings in our property are 11-feet high (which is about three feet higher than those in most modern homes). We love the look of this, but one drawback is the labor involved in painting—to say nothing of how much extra paint we needed!
We were fortunate to receive donated paint for this project, and still the first estimate from a local painting company was between $20,000 and $30,000! That was beyond our budget, so we quickly decided to tackle the walls and ceilings ourselves, and to hire a pro for the trim (of which there is a ton in this place).
What’s Toxic About Most Paint
You’ve probably seen a lot of paints marketed as “low-VOC,” and while these are far better than regular paint, there still is a considerable difference between low-VOC and truly non-toxic. At the very least, you should always go with a zero-VOC paint. (Read Maia’s blog post on brands she recommends).
Conventional paint contains a range of toxins (including solvents, vinyl, phthalates, and formaldehyde) that are implicated in health problems ranging from headaches to asthma to cancer. The risks are greatest when the paint is drying, but off-gassing can occur for many months to some degree.
(If you already have a home painted with conventional paint, you might consider some more general ways to clean up the air in your home.)
Milk Paint Is Non-Toxic…But Does It Work?
We were thrilled when The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company offered to donate all the paint for our project, since we’ve long wanted to try milk paint and this family business seems to be the best of the best.
The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company makes their paint with milk protein (casein), crushed limestone, clay, earth pigments, and chalk, meaning it lacks all of the bad stuff found in most other paints, including solvents, phthalates, and formaldehyde. (Check out their Material Safety Data Sheet.)
The painter we hired was happy to use zero-VOC paint, but when we told him we were going with milk paint, he was nervous, since he’d never used it before and had apparently heard some horror stories. We agreed to get him something else to use for the trim, and decided we’d use the milk paint for the walls we were tackling ourselves.
I have quite a bit of experience painting, but Daylon and I were both nervous about mixing up paint from a powder, which is always the deal with milk paints. It did take us a few times to get the hang of the mixing, but once Daylon got this inexpensive tool, the mixing part was a breeze.
As for applying the paint to the walls? I’m thrilled to say that milk paint really works! Daylon has handled most of the painting, and thanks to those tall ceilings, we had to invest in a taller ladder and a pro-level extension painting pole that made the rolling go faster and easier.
Bottom line: The paint from The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company was easy to work with and looks great. I will definitely use milk paint for future painting projects.
Ecos Paint Is Good Stuff
As for the trim, Ecos Paint generously donated their 100% zero-VOC paint for our painter to use. (By the way, if you live in the Lancaster area and are in search of a good house painter, contact me for the name of the guy we used.)
Like The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company’s paints, Ecos is completely odorless, which is a huge bonus when you’ve got kids hanging around while the paint dries. This paint is free of solvents, turpentine, glycols, vinyl, formaldehyde, heavy metals, phthalates, and a bunch of other bad stuff.
Our painter says Ecos performs as well as the conventional paint he’s used to, and he in fact likes is better because it dries more quickly. We, of course, are happy that he’s not breathing in toxins while working for us.
I’d love to hear from your guys—what non-toxic paints have you used and how did you like them?
In the next blog we’ll discuss kitchen cabinets. You might be surprised to learn what we went with for this project.
Stay tuned and sane!