Donnachadh McCarthy: The Home Ecologist

Eco paints have come a long way – and once you've used them, you'll never go back


"Acid yellow, lime green and Spanish rose? You can't be serious?" Such were the cries from friends when they heard I was planning to re-paint my living room. I had discovered the fun interactive tool on the website of the organic paint company Ecos, which allows you to paint the different walls and ceiling of a virtual room in the various colours from their range. While admittedly I did tone down the acid yellow a tad, I was thrilled with the results. The yellow paint especially means the downstairs bursts with exuberance when the sun is out.

OK, you may not be convinced about my interior design credentials, but the same friends have all now accepted that their fears were unfounded. Almost without exception they loved the new colour scheme and indeed one from the ranks of these doubters, who lives in a designer minimalist habitat, claims I have invented a new aesthetic that he is rather jealous of.

Still unconvinced? Well, rest assured. Organic paints have come on in leaps and bounds over the past decade, and they also come in more subtle colours. My first experiences with them, over 10 years ago, involved messy mixing of pigment powders and base paint. Some of the external gloss paints were also disappointing as they crumpled into dust within a year. However, the clever souls at Ecos Paints have put an end to all that with hardy long-wearing gloss paints and a wide range of beautiful ready-mixed colour emulsions . They even have the British Allergy Foundation stamp of approval.

I became interested in alternatives to petrochemical-based paints after reading about their health risks. The industry uses a wide range of chemical compounds such as pigments, extenders, binders, solvents and additives. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified painting as an occupationally related cause of cancer, having found numerous scientific studies showing a higher incidence of cancers among professional painters. The British Coating Federation is also concerned about the issues associated with VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds – solvents widely used in paints that evaporate when being used and even when the paint is dry) and laudably developed a labelling system to warn consumers about the VOC contents of the tin of paint they were buying. It varies from "Low" (under 8 per cent) to "Very high" (over 50 per cent). Have a look at the paint tins in your cupboard to see where yours rate.

But even the lowest amount of VOCs seems unnecessary once you've used organic paints. A friend who recently switched to organic paints, was so pleased with the lack of chemical fumes that he swore never to use petrochemical paints again.

The mainstream paint industry faces a range of environmental challenges. It is based on non-renewable petrochemicals, creates large waste streams during production, and some VOC's are greenhouse gases.

A recent visitor said to me, "Donnachadh, you are always banging on about how green your house is, but you never talk about how beautiful it is." Now there is a visitor who will be asked back again, soon.

* For more information visit

Donnachadh McCarthy works as an eco-auditor and is author of 'Easy Eco-auditing'.

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