70s House Eco Renovation

Painting Walls - Bright Rooms Require Less Lighting

By Kenneth Barbalace

[Last update May 2, 2009]

Note: This is one in a series of articles documenting the eco renovation of our house. See the links at the bottom of this article for other articles in this series.

One of the first things anyone does when they buy an older home is paint the walls to reflect their own tastes. We were no different: light green and light blue paint and blue striped wallpaper just is not our thing. We had an additional challenge, in that two walls in the living room also had very dark paneling and dated wall scones that were below my eye level, thus causing me see bright bare bulbs that were kind of blinding.

Dark paneling and/or walls have two primary drawbacks. First, they absorb light meaning more lighting is required to adequately light a room, and second they make a room feel smaller. By removing the paneling and using really light hues of paint we could make the living room much brighter without needing to use as much lighting, which reduces energy consumption.

When I was removing the old paneling, I got lucky in that it was only attached to the walls with finishing nails along the edges of the panels. This meant patching the sheetrock behind the paneling wasn't too much of an ordeal. Knowing that building materials will always be needed for different projects, I did not throw the old paneling away; rather I stored it away in our basement for later use. I'm sure I will find some use for the old paneling in the future, although I doubt it will be for walls.

Environmentally responsible paints

Anyone who has painted rooms in a house is familiar with the pungent fresh paint smell; that smell is caused by something called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are not very good for your health, which is why paint cans always say to use in a well ventilated area. VOCs also aren't very nice for the environment as they are really chemical pollutants that are being released into the atmosphere. Thanks in part to raising awareness to this issue and stricter regulations at the state and federal levels, there are now low VOC options on the market. The paint we choose to use is Harmony and is by Sherwin Williams®. It is an interior acrylic latex paint with very little VOCs (6 g/L - 0.05 lb/gal). The paint cans for Harmony are made out of plastic, but are labeled with the recycling triangle number five. When I contacted our Public Works they said I could throw the cans in with our recycling, provided they were empty and dry.

Harmony by Sherwin Williams® was on sale and cost us just under $35 per gallon. It has rated yield of 350-400 sq/ft per gallon with two coats being recommended. What I liked best about the paint is that it had very little smell to it and most of the smell it did have dissipated very quickly, which is really nice when you are living in the house you are painting and it is too cold out to be leaving windows open. The paint dried very quickly and was dry to the touch in about an hour, which was really nice. We are by no stretch of the imagination professional painters, but as long as we were careful and didn't apply too much paint to the roller we were able to get around 350 sq/ft per gallon from the paint and was very satisfied with the results after two coats. The exception was when painting trim. The original trim color was darker shade of green than the main walls that just refused to be covered up. We ended up needing to put three or four coats of paint on the trim to get the green color covered and even then there is still a slight hint of green on some of the doors from certain angles. If we were to do it again, we would probably opt to prime the trim and doors first before applying the final paint.

Recycled paint rollers and pans

One of the pleasant surprises I found when buying painting supplies is that one can buy paint rollers made out of PET, which is recycled beverage bottles. The PET rollers I bought at Sherwin Williams were comparably priced to rollers found elsewhere, they worked really nicely and cleaned up easily with dish soap and water. I was also able to buy painting trays made out of recycled paper pulp much like is used for egg cartons. These trays have a very thin (thinner than plastic wrap) plastic membrane in the tray so that paint doesn't soak into the paper. These trays also worked very well and when the paint reached the right consistency could be pealed out of the tray easily, one just has to be careful not to peal out the plastic film. Although our original plan was to throw the trays into the recycle bin when we were done, they are still serviceable and have been put away for later use.

Painting costs

Painting is certainly a project where you can save a lot of money doing it yourself as long as you are careful. Low VOC latex paints like Sherwin-Williams' Harmony are not very smelly and are very easy to clean up. In the end we ended up using seven gallons of Harmony flat latex for the walls at $31.19 per gallon and three gallons of Harmony semi-gloss for trim and doors at $35.19 per gallon. Counting the PET rollers, Eco Pro pulp painting trays and two quarts of sample paint to make sure we liked our color selection, our total cost for painting was right around $350.

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