Paint can be toxic, especially in a tiny space. It is very important to choose your paints carefully, otherwise you could be admitting dangerous chemicals into your Tiny House RV. For this article, I interviewed Matthew Connors: tiny house dweller, dad, off-grid homesteader and house painter!
The story of Matthew Connors, non-toxic painter
Matthew Connors owns New Leaf Professional Painting and specializes in non-toxic and earth based paint services. He also lives in a 450 square foot off-grid tiny home with his wife and two kids in New Hampshire.
Matthew’s decision to turn over a new leaf in the painting world was made when his daughter ran to hug him one day after work.
“I urged (my daughter) to not touch me until I showered and changed my clothes. I realized that was unhealthy for her and myself on many levels.” – Matthew
Matthew now only accepts clients who are willing to work with non-toxic paints. He chooses to do this not only for his own health, but also for the health and safety of his family, clients, and for those who come after us. Read on for the full interview.
Why is it important to pay attention to paints?
Matthew: I feel it is important to pay attention to not only paint, but any chemicals and materials. Many modern (I venture to say most) building materials, paints, cleaners etc. contain toxic chemicals. Buildings are closed spaces and we inhale fumes from chemicals as they evaporate, be it paint or household cleaners, or plywood. The smaller the space, the more concentrated the fumes and exposure increases.
The main issue with interior latex paint is not with the paint itself, but with the fumes released by the paint as it is drying and over time. The fumes are made of organic compounds, or VOCs, which are gases like benzene, formaldehyde and toluene. The actual gases depend on the formula of the paint. Generally, the more heavily tinted and glossy the paint, the more VOCs are released.
VOCs, especially formaldehyde, are blamed for causing headaches, nausea, fatigue and irritations of the eyes, nose and throat. The misconception many people have is that once the paint is dried and you can no longer smell it, then the danger is gone, which is false. These chemicals can be released for years, long after the paint is dry, and you will continue to inhale the toxins which have been associated to numerous health issues which include cancer and asthma.
And keep in mind that just because a paint says that it has low or even zero VOC’s, that does not mean that it is non-toxic. Not all VOCs are the same. There is a large amount of research and scientific evidence to support the idea that there is a significant distinction, in terms of health impacts, between naturally occurring VOCs such as orange oil, and synthetic VOCs. Even without VOC’s many paints still contain harmful biocides and fungicides.
Matthew’s 14X16′ tiny cabin is painted with non-toxic paints
What should be considered when choosing paint?
Matthew: First and foremost ask yourself: “Why am I painting?” Is it to protect a material such as wood or metal; is it simply to add some color; or is it because we have been told that paint is the best way to finish a house. The products chosen should match the reason for the paint, oil, sealer, etc. Sometimes paint is not necessary at all, or can lead to more problems down the road if not applied correctly.
Matthew’s off-grid homestead
What do you usually suggest for interior paint for tiny spaces? Do you have specific brands or labels?
Matthew: I recommend the same types of paint and finishes for all houses, big or small, with the exception of houses on wheels. For portable houses, non-brittle finishes such as washes and oils hold up better to the flex and movement. For all others, my first choice will always be a naturally derived product. I try to avoid latex paints whenever possible as they are, at their core, plastics derived from petroleum, even though they are generally accepted as non-toxic. I’ll reiterate that I do not care what isn’t in the paint, but rather what is in it.
I look to naturally derived plant and earth based paints first. They tend to vary with ingredients, but typically contain things like flax(linseed) or other plant oils, casein (a milk product), clay (for beautiful colors), lime, flour. These ingredients are ones that we humans can understand, and can even mix ourselves!
Some brands that I trust are: The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co. (they are local to me to boot), Bio-shield, Green Planet Paints, & Unearthed Paints.
* If you would like to book a consultation with Matthew, contact him at New Leaf Painting
* All photos provided by Matthew Connors