If you read our last article, and you’re worried your next project may run afoul of limits on volatile organic compounds (VOCs), take heart. Low and zero-VOC options are out there. And they won’t necessarily break the bank.

In this post, we’ll discuss some of the low or no-VOC ‘green’ coatings options that should be considered for project specs if VOC emissions have the potential to become an issue. But first, a brief recap of the issue at hand.

The solvent portion of the coating is that component that keeps it in a liquid state so that it can be easily applied. After the coating has been applied, the solvent evaporates as the coating dries on the substrate. Unfortunately, many solvents contain what are known as VOCs, which contribute to the buildup of ground-level ozone and are tightly regulated by both the EPA and states.

But, as we mentioned above, alternative products do exist. Some contain no solvents, some contain relatively few, and some even contain solvents that are not considered to be VOCs and therefore are not as heavily regulated. Here are some of those options:

Plural component coatings

Plural component coatings contain separate elements that are stored apart until only moments before they are applied. These elements are heated separately to reduce their viscosity. They are mixed only immediately before hitting the spray gun they are applied with. Because drying is designed to occur so quickly after being mixed, fewer solvents are needed to facilitate the drying process. This leads to drastically less, and in some cases zero, VOCs emitted.

High and 100% solids coatings

High solids refers to coatings that have been manufactured to contain fewer solvents, and 100% solids coatings are those that have been manufactured to contain no solvents at all. Both are great options for reducing VOC emissions, especially in indoor and confined space jobs where VOCs could present serious safety concerns for working crews. While it is true that these products are often associated with a higher unit price, they also tend to achieve more coverage for a given volume when compared to products containing a higher percentage of solvents.

Water-based coatings

It’s possible for water to act as a coating’s solvent. Traditionally, however, these products have been associated with longer drying times and trouble curing in especially humid environments. This is changing, though. Hybrid formulations and other ingenious chemical methods are addressing some of the problems that have kept water-based coatings from being viable options. Quicker and more reliable curing water-based coatings are certainly worth investigating for projects where VOC emissions are a concern.

Exempt solvents

Some viable solvents, such as acetone and methyl acetate, are considered to be exempt from rules governing VOC emissions. Exempt solvents are usually classified that way because government agencies have determined them to “have negligible photochemical reactivity,” which simply means they do not react much to sunlight, an essential element in creating ground-level ozone from VOCs. This is not to say that any solvent found on a list of exempt solvents will be suitable for a project. Other qualities of each solvent may disqualify it for use completely. This is simply one more option worthy of investigation if VOCs could indeed become an issue, but of course project specifications and the relevant government regulations will have the final say in all projects.

Let’s talk

These are a few ‘green’ coating options that can be considered during the spec writing phase of a project if it’s suspected that VOC emissions may cause an issue. None of them are perfect and some will no doubt not be suitable for a given job. But options are out there, and if you think VOCs might be a concern for your project, we’d be happy to hear from you. Contact us here.

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