Product Trends: Improving Indoor Air Quality

New technologies with paints, caulks, and sealants eliminate emissions while maintaining high performance and increasing sustainability.

December 06, 2013

New performance technologies such as advanced flexibility and zero-VOCs make spray foam and latex viable options for many interior and exterior applications whether the remodeler needs a caulk or a sealant.

Green building and remodeling have continued to surge in most aspects of the home, and paints, caulks, and sealants are no exceptions. As regulations tighten around volatile organic compounds (VOCs), manufacturers are taking it one step further and addressing indoor air quality on a larger level.
 

“One trend I’m seeing has been more of an emphasis on indoor air quality,” says Mark Stypczynski, R&D director for Liquid Nails. “Rapidly becoming the next phase in green building is better air quality and an emphasis on lower emitting materials.”
 
Paint, caulk, and sealant manufacturers are finding innovative ways to address emissions while maintaining and improving the performance and ease-of-use of these products.
 

Controlling emissions
“VOCs is where the conversation started, but it’s really moving to emissions of all kinds,” says Carl Minschew, vice president of color innovation and design for Benjamin Moore. “We’re looking down the road farther and seeing that what we really need to do is control emissions, which controls more things than VOCs.”
 
One compound on Benjamin Moore’s radar is ammonia in paint.

Choosing the Right Color
When looking to update a room with a fresh coat of paint, the color options seem endless. The off-whites never go out of style, but paint manufacturers have found growing popularity in softer colors and updated neutrals.
 
“We’ve seen a real shift away from very neutral neutrals,” says Carl Minschew, vice president of color innovation and design for Benjamin Moore. “Our color trend card reflects the movement from neutrals to a very nuanced palette of very subtle greens and blues and pinks and lavenders.”
 
Benjamin Moore’s 2014 color of the year, Breath of Fresh Air, has light blue undertones meant to pair with anything. Glidden Paint’s choice for its 2014 color of the year also represents a nuanced color—yet not a traditional neutral—fitting for many different spaces.
 
“Our selection for 2014 is a soft yellow reflecting optimism, one that will add radiance to any environment,” says Barbara Richardson, color marketing manager for Glidden Paint. “It has a subtle warmth and delicate crème tone that welcomes renewal and conveys the spirit of pause and refresh.”
 
The four color palettes Sherwin-Williams has created for 2014 also represent these more subtle colors, although some of the shades add a more colorful dimension.
 
“We’re seeing a softening of color to a degree,” says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. “We’ve got really only one palette that has brights in it and really even those bright are not as saturated as they’ve been in the past when we’ve had neon colors in our trends that were super saturated.”
 
Although softer, subtler colors have moved to the forefront, homeowners are still not tied down by prescriptions and rules when it comes to paint color. Manufacturers encourage customers to mix and match from different palettes and incorporate furniture and accessories into the color conversation as well.
 
“There’s not really a set or a prescribed order of things anymore,” says Kathy Andersson, manager of color marketing of product finishes for Sherwin-Williams. “It is all about expressing yourself, changing things up and an eclectic sort of feel, so it’s really just being experimental and doing what feels right to you.”
 

“Ammonia isn’t a particularly dangerous material,” Minschew says. “But we think taking it out is a good idea whenever we can, and we do.”
 
Formaldehyde is also on the radar for paint companies. Sherwin-Williams has addressed these concerns by enhancing its Harmony products with new technology.
 
“We have formaldehyde-reducing technology and those are the odors that can come from different material finishes whether it’s upholstery, carpeting, or things like that,” says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. “We’re able to actually improve indoor air quality by the technology that’s in Harmony.”
 
Similarly, Behr is also looking to improve the quality of the indoor environment by eliminating exposure to harmful chemicals.
 
“The wetting and dispersing agents we use are being converted to versions that are free of both ammonia and VOC,” says Colin Jaffe, senior vice president of pro sales for Behr Process Corp. “And the preservatives in Behr products are formaldehyde- and heavy metal-free.”
 
Low- or zero-VOC products are also prominent in the caulks and sealants market, although some materials make this distinction fairly easy to achieve.
 
“All polyurethane foam products that are cured have really low potential of adversely impacting indoor air quality, so there’s a low risk when applied correctly,” says Kaethe Schuster, remodeling market manager at Dow Building Solutions.
 
Dow manufactures Great Stuff, foam insulation that expands to fill gaps and cracks and bonds to a variety of substrates.
 
In addition to polyurethane foam, latex—which makes up the majority of caulks and sealants—can ease the concern of VOCs.
 
“A huge benefit and advantage to having a latex sealant is that VOCs aren’t a huge concern in that area,” says Tim Bilbo, senior product manager of caulks and sealants for DAP. “That type of technology is very low-VOC.”
Painting high performance
 
Improving indoor air quality is just one part of the equation for paints, caulks, and sealants. They must also have the high performance and durability factors homeowners want.
 
“Now low-VOC no longer means that you’re sacrificing performance,” Minschew says. “You can actually get the same or better performance from low- or zero-VOC coatings using newer technologies that weren’t available before.”
 
For Sherwin-Williams, one of these new technologies can be seen in its Emerald paint that offers stain resistance with a lower sheen finish.
 
“Typically we would tell people to use a semi-gloss or a gloss paint if you want it to be really washable, but Emerald gives it that ability to get a very durable and very washable paint that’s also very stain-resistant,” Jordan says.
 
Color retention is also an important component of durability and extending the overall life of the product. Behr’s Marquee exterior paint and primer offers advanced UV-protection that provides color retention and a fresh look long after painting, according to Jaffe.

Sealing energy efficiency
Caulking or sealing gaps and cracks is a relatively easy way for homeowners to increase the energy efficiency of their homes and save money on their energy bills, but not all caulks and sealants perform at the same level.
Owen’s Corning’s EnergyComplete Sealant is a foamed-in-place air sealing solution. It creates a flexible gasket between the lumber and drywall that can save homeowners up to 33 percent on heating and cooling bills, according to Owens Corning.
 
EnergyComplete also reduces the chance of mold growth and acts as a first line of defense for insects, but for this and the other sealants, air transfer is the main concern.
 
Dow’s Great Stuff actually does not offer only sealing but does provide some R-value. “Spray foam actually blocks temperature movement, whereas most caulks and sealants do not or do not to the same extent,” Schuster says.
 
The thermal resistance not only blocks loss of heat but also the loss of cool air depending on the temperature.
 
Latex does not have as pressing of VOC concerns as other caulks and sealants, but it does have performance challenges that many manufacturers have addressed over the years.
 
“In the past, if you mentioned a latex it was strictly a caulk; it didn’t have much movement capability,” Stypczynski says. “Now what we’re seeing in the past decade is with higher performing latexes, you’re able to build a formula that has the characteristics of a sealant.”
 
These characteristics include greater flexibility, which is particularly important outdoors where the environment is much harsher with temperature extremes and weathering.
 
This new technology, paired with latex’s inherent characteristics such as easy cleanup, makes it a viable option for many applications.  
 
“If you have the ease of cleanup combined with the fact that it’s paintable and then add in the durability, the flexibility, [and] the longevity that you would see in some of the other technologies, it’s very appealing to lots of consumers,” Bilbo says.
 
Some of the other technologies such as hybrid sealants have grown in demand as PVC molding and other newer building materials expand. Hybrids such as silylated polyurethane polymers (SPUR) and silane terminated polymers offer strong weathering performance and flexibility but can be painted unlike tradition silicone sealants.
 
“The remodeling marketplace has also seen the introduction of better performing, color-matching, and sustainable finishing sealants that work on a variety of materials,” says Mike Bozich, vice president of business development for OSI/Henkel Corp., which manufactures the OSI Quad advanced formula window, door, and siding sealant.
 
Unique to the industry, OSI/Henkel color specialists work building product manufacturers to ensure a perfect color match.
 
Today, finding the correct paint, caulk, or sealant involves looking at emissions such as low- or zero-VOCs and establishing which performance aspects are most important.

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