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Read the fine print on green paints

Sun., Nov. 29, 2009, midnight

Q: I want to paint several rooms in my house this winter and would like to use paint that is healthful and safe for the ecology. How can I be sure I am getting that kind of paint?

A: Many so-called green paints, generally latex or water based, are available these days, including paints with leading brand names.

Manufacturers are aware of the popularity of green paints, which have little or no odor and don’t put harmful compounds in the atmosphere.

The main measure of greenness is the amount of volatile organic compounds in the paint – better known as VOCs. You are likely to find prominent labels identifying green paints as Low-VOC or No-VOC, including Behr (Home Depot), Valspar (Lowe’s), Easy Living (Sears), Kilz (Walmart), Sherwin-Williams, Olympic and Benjamin Moore.

The fine print on the back of the label on any paint container lists the actual VOC content, usually in grams per liter.

Top-performing green paints sometimes have as many as 150 grams of VOCs. A few brands have cut VOCs to 50 grams or less and a few have none.

Many green paints also display special endorsements or seals of approval from watchdog groups. Some seals you are likely to encounter on group-certified paints are the Green Seal, the GreenGuard and the GreenSure.

Whatever paint you choose, it is very important to read all the directions and to follow them carefully.

Also keep in mind that good surface preparation, including cleaning and sometimes priming the surface, is crucial to achieve a lasting paint job.

Q. Our kitchen base cabinets have wood handles glued to the wood drawer fronts. I would like to install metal handles that match the other cabinets. Is there a way to remove the glued-on wood handles without damaging the drawer fronts?

A. I doubt if the wood handles can be removed without some damage to the underlying wood in the glue area. There are several ways you can switch to metal, screw-on handles, though.

The simplest is to carefully remove the wood handles with a wood chisel and mallet, leaving a level space. Then choose metal handles with decorative mounting plates that cover the glue area.

A second method is to remove the wood handles as described above, then remove the finish and glue residue from the front of the drawers with paint remover.

Sand the drawer fronts until all traces of the glue is removed, then refinish and install metal handles of any design. Finally, the drawer fronts can be replaced with matching wood fronts – usually a job for an experienced kitchen remodeler or custom cabinet maker.

Q. My house was built in 1980 and I would like to test the popcorn ceilings for asbestos. How do I go about it?

A. You can buy a kit and test the ceilings yourself, or you can have the testing done by an expert.

Do-it-yourself asbestos-test kits are sold at some home centers or can be bought on the internet. One Internet source is A Pro Lab kit costs about $30 and includes a lab test of one sample.

For expert testing, check under Asbestos Removal and Abatement Services in your yellow pages. I also recommend visiting and reading Asbestos in Your Home (enter the title in the search space).

Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

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