Written by Alyson von Massow
VOC’s, or volatile organic compounds, are a family of chemicals that are emitted by a variety of household products. Studies show that they negatively impact the quality of the air inside and outside buildings as well as contribute to ground level smog. They can also significantly increase the risk for respiratory and heart diseases. Oil-based paints, which emit VOCs, are commonly used by property managers and/or homeowners.
In September 2010, legislation limiting the concentration levels of VOCs in all architectural painting products was passed by the Government of Canada. Because of this, 47 of the 53 paint coating categories were deemed non-compliant as they no longer meet the new VOC rules. This means paint companies can no longer manufacture or import oil-based paints into Canada. All existing stock of non-compliant products must be sold by September 2012. There are now restrictions set on the oil-based paints commonly used by property managers. Paints that once were used for painting walls or trims, no longer meet the new restriction of less than 250 grams per liter of VOCs.
These new regulations do not mean that oil-based paint is completely unavailable. Some non-compliant coatings will still be available for use; however they will be highly restricted and primarily designated for industrial purposes. Non-compliant products can be used in 5 situations: if the substrate is metal with exterior exposure, if the substrate is immersed in water or chemicals or is chronically exposed to interior condensation, if the substrate is exposed to chemicals or harsh fumes, if there are repeated abrasions or heavy scrubbing to the substrate, or if there is repeated exposure to temperatures of 2500oC and over. This means that oil based paints can still be used in situations such as on outdoor handrails for businesses, door frames in patient rooms or schools, or commercial kitchens (all of these being areas subject to heavy scrubbing with harsh cleaning chemicals). But oil-based paints that were traditionally used for corridor walls do not meet the VOC requirement as detailed in the Act.
Non-compliant coatings can no longer be used on substrates such as interior metals, wood trim (interior or exterior), school classrooms, storage areas, or residential walls and trim. Due to the durability and moisture resistance of oil-based paints, they were traditionally used in these areas. In these circumstances, unless meeting the requirements of the above mentioned situations, non-compliant coatings are not suitable and their usage will result in heavy fines. If, for example, corridor walls of a high-rise condominium were previously coated with oil-based paints, they cannot be re-painted with oil-based paint. This presents the problem of verifying whether or not your substrate is coated with an oil-based paint and if so, how to re-cover it with acrylic. It was once the rule that one must re-paint over oil paint with more oil paint, the new legislation no longer allows this.
To determine whether or not a surface is covered with an oil-based paint, first check if the paint can be chipped. Oil-based paint is generally quite brittle and comes off in chips. This paint also breaks down in the sun, producing a chalky residue in higher quantities than acrylic paints. To be entirely sure of whether the paint type is oil-based or not, the best procedure is to do a chemical swipe. Nail polish remover containing acetone or methyl hydrate will dissolve acrylic or latex paints on contact. If when the painted surface is wiped with a cloth soaked with the chemical and paint comes off (not just chalk residue), then the surface is a latex or acrylic paint, and if nothing comes off, it is oil-based.
Due to advancements in current paint and coating technology, you no longer need to completely remove oil-based paint in order to re-paint with acrylic. New high quality primers which form a tight bond with the slick oil-based coating are necessary for covering oil-based paint. Before priming and to ensure that a tight bond can be formed, scuff-sanding is recommended. An excellent bonder and primer for almost any conversion is UMA (Urethane Modified Acrylic) manufactured by XIM. It can stick to almost any surface and passes VOC rules. With a high quality primer in place, you can use high end or low end paint, depending on the durability required. It is important to use paint with a high concentration of acrylic. 100% acrylic paint is much more durable, scuff resistant, and washable as opposed to vinyl acrylic paint. The higher acrylic content forms a better bond with the primer and the substrate. Sherwin-Williams produces a high quality acrylic paint, A-100 Exterior 100% Acrylic, which is excellent for theses conversions.
Canada’s new legislation restricting VOCs does not have to inconvenience property owners and homeowners. With proper surface preparation, primer, and paint, coverage over oil-based paint with acrylic paint is possible. By not following the above simple procedures, a property manager can easily fall into the trap of allowing the wrong paint system to be applied. An incorrect application whether it is the coating itself or the preparation technique won’t take long to fail. A freshly painted site with immediate peeling issues will not make a property manager look good. To avoid this problem entirely and ensure proper application, property managers can turn to Connoisseur Painting Limited for knowledgeable and professional expertise.
Alyson von Massow is a member of CPL condominium design interiors / Connoisseur Painting: a refurbishment and painting firm based in Oakville, serving the Golden Horseshoe and GTA condominium marketplace for over 20 years. For more information and to view a showcase of projects, visit www.cplgroup.ca.