Category Archives: Products

Water Use, Reduce – Toilets

One of the first things we replaced in our home were the toilets.  We originally had one piece Toto fixtures that the previous owner had put in, which were fine, but for us, at 1.6 gpm, still consumed more water then we wanted.  Our logic?  Since a majority of toilet uses are for flushing non-solid waste, it seems very wasteful to use a whole gallon and a half of potable water (don’t get me started on the lack of greywater usage in this country) to flush when so little is really necessary to be effective.

What we found in our research was that it wasn’t just about it being a low-flow toilet alone, it had a lot of do with the technology, or lack thereof, of the toilet itself.

You see, ‘american’ toilets were originally designed to flush on large volumes of water.  The reason being? Siphon drains; that goose-neck looking curve along the back of your toilets drain.  You see, the water, when it flows down the drain, creates an air bubble that gets pulled down the drain, thus creating a suction, and therefore a swirling effect in the toilet.  This process takes a good volume of water just to create the air bubble and requires more water to ensure that the waste is taken down in the swirl it creates.  This is why older toilets used over 6 gallons of water per flush.  Can you believe that?  Just to flush our waste!  How dumb.

Then what happened is, regulations started requiring them to use less water. Starting in 1994, toilets were required to use 1.6 gpf or less.  Well, the issue was that that was significantly less water then the technology was designed to handle.  So what you had were toilets that didn’t flush waste very well, clogged easily or, as introduced in the late 1990’s, power assisted or air assisted in order for them to work… BAWOOSH they screamed… Scaring the crap out of you.  Very effective but startling.  There had to be a better way.

Well, for the last 20 years, there has been a company in Australia that has been making what is called Dual-Flush toilets.  These toilets have two flush options, one is 0.8 gpf (now 0.6) and 1.6 gpf (now 1.2).  This allows you to use less water to flush non-solid waste.  But here is the kicker, I have found through use at our house, that i have NEVER had to use the full flush mode for any reason.  The half-flush is enough to flush any waste down the toilet.  The reason is, they use a direct ‘S’ trap for the drain.  Very simple and it only requires enough water to push the waste up and over the trap.  And that trap is 4″, enough to flush a softball (not that i recommend this).

By putting in Caroma One-piece Dual Flush toilets, we were able to cut our water usage for toilets in half.  Even if you don’t achieve that level, it is at least a 60% reduction under standard usage.  You can get Caroma Toilets from Dana Jones at Sunstate Sales here in Phoenix.  You can reach them at (602) 484-7148.

Just remember that not all Dual Flush systems are the same.  The secret is in the less sophisticated but more intelligent trap design in the Caroma toilets.  Until the rest figure that out, it is Apples to Melons.  It is amazing the insight that Australians have about conserving water.  You should always start down under when looking for water conserving technology.

Tell Dana, i said hello.  He is a great guy and takes great care of his clients.

Paint… What to know: part IV

Another thing to be cautious of is the term Low-Odor.  Some manufacturers feel that if they can keep it from smelling, then people will think it is a better, healthier paint.  This is far from true.  Often times, these can be even more toxic then a standard paint because it is possible to add additional chemicals into the paint that will restrict the VOC’s from off gassing quickly and allow them to dissipate slowly over time.  Many of these chemicals are highly carcinogenic and should be considered a red flag before you buy.

We spent a great deal of time talking about VOC’s and Exempt solvents but there is more to paint that you should be aware of and that is Hazardous Air Pollutants.  HAP’s are known human carcinogens that are often found in traditional paints and are required to be disclosed on a manufacturers MSDS.  A MSDS is a Material Safety Data Sheet and is a requirement for any product that uses chemicals, even makeup, household cleaners and adhesives.  I would encourage you to read these prior to buying any product.  The only challenge is that many companies will list HAP’s as ‘trade secrets’ which means they don’t need to disclose them of the MSDS.  Just just be cautious and take the MSDS with a grain of salt.

So what can you do when buying paint… Lets recap.

  1. Look for a paint that is Zero-VOC paint (there is no reason to use low-VOC paints when Zero-VOC paints are readily available.
  2. Look for a paint with High % solids by Volume for better durability and better coverage.
  3. Before you buy, ask if they use Zero-VOC pigments (you will get a strange look from the clerk if they don’t know what you are talking about, in that case, the answer is no).
  4. Check the MSDS sheet to verify if there are any HAP’s.
  5. Regardless, paint in a well ventilated room.
  6. Look for Greenguard for Children’s and Schools Certification.  They test for many of these requirements and are by far the best standard available.  There is also a GreenWise Certification that is good as well.

So, i know you are asking, what did i paint my house with?  Well i have used a wide array of paints but the main ones used in my house have been:

  1. American Pride/Mythic – Same paint, different pricing… Look for American Pride and save some money.
  2. DuraSoy One- An amazing Soy based paint with recycled content and over 60% solids.  it is the consistency of yogurt, interior and exterior and is completely hydrophobic so you can use it wet locations as well.
  3. AFM Safecoat Naturals collection – Much more expensive but overall a great paint.

My first choice is always DuraSoy One.  A less expensive line that is of the highest quality, highest durability, Zero-VOC, No HAP’s, no exempt Solvents and is locally made.

I hope this helps you discover a healthier line of paint for your next project.

Paint… What to know: part III

Now you have learned about exempts solvent and their connection to VOC regulations, now lets look at some other tricks that happen in this VOC -hyper world.

As we have learned, manufacturers have to meet certain levels of VOC’s in order to be considered a low or zero VOC paint.  For low-VOC paints, it ranges from 50g/L to 150g/L (based on sheen, eggshell and semi-gloss being permitted to have more VOC’s) and in order to be considered a Zero-VOC paint, it must have less than 5g/L.  But the regulations are based on the measurement of VOC prior to pigments being added.  Pigments contain a high level of VOC’s and once added to the paint, if tested, you would find that this paint now exceeds those regulations.  This is especially true of Deep and Accent bases because it is necessary to add more pigment into those bases in order to achieve the desired colors.  Pastel and Medium base paints have minimal amounts of pigments added and therefore typically stay close to the original base measurements.  So the paint you buy may not be the paint you get unless the company you are buying it from has Zero-VOC pigments.  These pigments come from the same manufacturer, Degussa, they cost a little bit more, but are easy for anyone to order.  I can tell you with assurance that there are only a handful of companies using Zero-VOC pigments in the valley so it pays to ask them when you buy… or don’t buy.

The next thing to know about paint has to do with the Solvent and the Solids.  You can tell a lot about paint by looking at the % Solids by VOLUME of a paint.  There is another measurement, % Solids by weight which is more misleading as we will discuss.  So the % solids by volume will tell you how much of the paint is solvent and how much is solids.  You want a higher content of solids for two reasons… Solids are what is left on your wall after the paint is ‘dry’ (read: the solvent evaporates).  Reason one, solids are what gives you a durable finish that is resistant to scuffs and washing and therefore make it more durable and reason two, the more solids the better the coverage over other colors or the primer will be, therefore reducing the number of coats you will need to do.  There is a direct correlation to a low % solids and cheap chemicals and therefore cheap paint overall.  Just remember, cheap paint, cheap ingredients.  So look for high % solids in your next purchase… you want to look for paints 38% and higher.

We mentioned % solids by volume above.  This is a shady one because as we saw in the previous sections, manufacturers can use exempt solvents that are highly toxic like acetone and they are being encourage to do so, so they can meet the VOC regulations that exist.  But solvents like Acetone are lighter than water, which means i can replace an equal amount of water with Acetone and the % solids by weight will increase, even though i didn’t add any more solids.  Just another trick to watch out for.

Next we will look at Low-Odor and some final thoughts on paint.

Paint… What to know: part II

So the biggest conversation concerning paint today is about VOC’s or Volatile Organic Compounds which are compounds that are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids.   They occur as a wide variety of chemicals and most have short or long term ‘adverse health effects’.  They are typically 2 to 5 times more abundant inside your home vs. outside and they can be found a thousands of everyday items.  According to the  EPA exposure to VOC’s can cause ‘eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.  Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.’

But not all VOC are created equal.  You see, VOC regulations for paints, stains, adhesives, caulks, sealants and others, primarily come from the SCAQMD or the South Coast Air Quality Management District.  They have set the limits for the amount of VOC’s various products can have.  For instance, Flat paint is limited to 50 g/L of VOC’s to be considered a low-VOC product.  Now, the important thing to keep in mind, is where these standards came from.  SCAQMD set these standards over 30 years ago because, as you may recall, California had huge smog issues.  In their research to find the source of these pollutants, it was determined that household products contribute over 40% to the level of smog through the release of VOC’s.  This is because VOC’s when released, react with Nitrogen and Sunlight to create low-level ozone (another toxic substance for humans) and low-level ozone is a primary cause of, you guessed it, SMOG.

So, the chemical manufacturers association got together when they were putting these regulations together and convinced SCAQMD that while VOC’s are contributing to Smog, they shouldn’t regulate those VOC’s that don’t.  That is, there are VOC’s that don’t react with Nitrogen and Oxygen and therefore don’t contribute to smog formation.  These VOC’s are called Exempt Solvents and they are exempt from regulations and exempt from disclosure as well.  So this is the first lesson, VOC’s weren’t regulated because of human health concerns from the VOC’s but from the Smog that they contribute to.

These exempt solvents include chemicals such as Acetone, Methylene Chloride and other wonderful chemicals… which are carcinogenic.  They are toxic to humans and are not regulated or required to be disclosed all because they don’t react to produce smog.  Interesting Huh…

And, if that doesn’t perk your interests, the CMA (Chemical Manufacturer’s Association) even publishes white papers to their manufacturers on how to get around the VOC regulations by using the Exempt Solvents… you can read for yourself here.  And you can even note the ‘printed with solvent based ink’ at the bottom of the document just to get a taste of their humor.

Next we will turn to VOC’s in bases, pigments and what you need to know.

Paint… What to know: part I

There are a ton of paints on the market today and more often then not, we purchase paint with little understanding of how paint works or what is in paint that we should be concerned with.  In addition, there are numerous tricks that paint manufacturers play that you should be aware of and know how to either recognize or ask questions about.

Most paint that you purchase at stores today is referred to as ‘latex’ paint. I put that in quotes because it really doesn’t have any latex and is commonly based in either water or another solvent.  In addition to the solvents, there are pigments, resins and additives that round off paints ingredients.  Solvents allow the paint ingredients to be mixed together.  Like oil and water, they don’t mix unless you have a solvent that can break them down first.  The Resin is the ‘solid’ content of the paint… this is what is left on the wall after all of the solvents have evaporated.  The pigments are just that, pigments that tint the paint to the desired color… usually some combination of 12 colorants.  Additives are the ‘extras’ that are added to paint in order to keep it mildew resistant, allow it to level or smooth out on the wall, make it not smell (we’ll talk about this), allow it to stick to the wall, etc…  I call the additives, the dummy factor.

So, now we have all the ingredients out there.  We can look at the base paint itself.  Base is the white (off-white) paint that is in the can, prior to tinting.  There are several names but typically the bases are called, Pastel (for light colors), Medium (for, you guessed it, medium colors), Deep (for, there is a theme here, deeper colors) and Accent (for intense or rich colors, think bright orange).  There are some variations in the names and some manufacturers call them Bases A, B, C, and D but for purposes of reference, we will use those mentioned here.

So, now lets dig a little deeper… We’ll do that in part II.