The Role of Paint and Coatings in a Green Building

April 1, 2009

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Despite the current economic crisis that plunges the construction business ever downward, the “green building” trend is taking off. Even when new construction projects are in a decline, there is increasing interest in green building methods and materials. Building owners want to save on construction and post-construction costs and are becoming increasingly aware that once the building is operational, tremendous cost-savings will come in the form of lesser utility bills and maintenance costs. As a result of this mindset, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) estimates an average return on investment of 20% on green buildings. 

For building owners and occupants, cost is not the only advantage of a green building. Increased health and safety is also a major benefit. The reduction of natural resources consumption needed to operate the building, as well as the lesser amount of pollution that the building is giving off, are also important aspects in sustainability. 

For commercial painting contractors, the demand for greener buildings cascades down to the demand for greener paints and coatings, raising the need for paint and coating products that are not only providing beauty and protection, but also help create an environmentally- safe environment.

In response to the growing demand for environmentally-safe building products, paint manufacturers have been redesigning their existing paint formulations and developing new paints that are eco-friendly and compliant to environment standards and regulations. Even raw material providers have been teaming up with paint makers to further advance the “green” paint technology. 

A Forest of Green Paints

One product of the “green” trend is a latex paint reformulation that removes toxic solvents in the manufacturing process, releasing zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxins to the environment. Another advancement in paint is a water-repellent exterior coating that prevents dirt particles from adhering to the painted surface, making cleaning and re-coating projects easier and more economical. 

Raw material paint suppliers have also joined the green initiative by enhancing the properties of emulsion polymers to allow the production of low-VOC, low-odor, APE-free, UV-resistant paints without the need for harmful coalescent agents. Another breakthrough in coating enhancement speeds up paint application time and reduces wastage, thereby lessening serious health risks to commercial painting contractors. Yet another is the development of IR reflective pigments that reduce heat transfer in surfaces, resulting to heating and cooling cost reductions. 

Green Construction Certifications

Dictated largely by the growing awareness of consumers over eco-friendly buildings and materials, the momentum is encouraging commercial painting contractors towards qualification tests and certifications that ensure their compliance to environment-safety standards. 

Currently, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings systems is the most popular basis for defining the standards of a “green building”. LEED looks at various factors such as energy and water usage of a building, the source and quality of building materials used in construction, as well as the overall quality of the building environment. 

The LEED system allows point earnings for green and sustainable projects, be they new or existing constructions, or commercial or residential in nature. Since 1990, LEED has rated nearly 3.9 billion square feet of commercial property or 7% of the commercial construction market, and the figures are still increasing. For residential projects, LEED has certified around 1,000 properties out of 13,000 that have been registered so far, according to USGBC figures. 

LEED also has a specific rating system for paints and coatings, the Indoor Environmental Quality Credit 4.2, that focuses on reducing VOCs in architectural paints, coatings and primers. The goal of the rating system for paints is to accredit high-performance paints that have low-emission capabilities, leaving as little environment damage as possible. 

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