Not so invigorated by new paint smell? You might be sensitive to VOCs, which off-gas for weeks after paint is applied. VOCs like ethylene glycol can trigger skin rashes, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. “From paints to countertops and more, with every decision, we asked: ‘Will this have off-gassing? What is it made of?’” Filicia says, noting that he chose low-VOC paints and materials for Riverhouse.

- AFM Safecoat’s new zero-VOC Ayurveda Essence line is intended to help you find balance through colors that suit your personality. From $38.90 per gallon.

- Yolocolorhouse divides its no-VOC palettes into categories like air, grain, and petal. There’s also a “little Yolo” line, and tinted or white primer. Yolo, $39.95 per gallon, little Yolo, $10.95 per gallon.

- Envirosafe’s no-VOC paint comes in fast-drying satin, flat, and semigloss finishes. $29–$45 per gallon.

- Mythic Paint has no VOCs and is also, the company claims, free of carcinogenic chemicals. It comes in subtle earth tones. About $38.95 per gallon.

- For a timeless, gentle look, the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company’s Safepaint combines milk protein and lime with pigments. It arrives as a powder and you add water. $45.95 per gallon.

- Benjamin Moore’s Aura line meets California’s strict low–volatile organic compound (VOC) standards and ranked third in performance among 21 green and conventional paints in a March 2008 Consumer Reports test.  $54.95 per gallon. 

TIP: According to Paul Marquis of Green Home Solutions, milk-and-clay-based paints often don’t need a primer. How­ever, they should not be used in humid bathrooms or basements, which are more likely to sup­port mold growth. 


The fading, yellow wallpaper in your grandmother’s kitchen is most likely toxic PVC vinyl, which can also trap moisture, encouraging mold growth. Nowadays, one can choose breathable, natural materials.

- The wallpaper paste should be chemical-free, too. Try Ecofix.

- Brilliant, hand-printed, natural fabrics and grasscloths from Brooklyn design studio Twenty2 can vitalize a room. $32 per yard.

- Juicy Jute grasscloth from Phillip Jeffries is not only a renewable resource that provides great texture but it also comes in vivid vegetable-dyed hues. About $28 per yard.

- Innovations carries PVC-free wallpaper but only sells “to the trade,” so ask a decorator pal to order. 

TIP: Choose wall­-coverings, flooring, and other products that are free of PVC vinyl, a nonrecy­clable plastic that can release phthalate chemicals, linked to hormonal and respiratory problems.

Story by Brita Belli, Brian Clark Howard, and Tracy Tullis. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Continue reading this series

Green remodeling: Walls, paints and wallpaper
Green remodeling. In part two of our four-part guide, we explore paints and wallpaper.