My wife and I are a week away from closing on our new home and already thinking about wall colors and finishes. In sustainable building, colors and finishes are an often overlooked, yet valuable consideration. Just about everyone knows that white reflects light, such as heat from the sun, yet here in Coastal New England, rich, saturated colors are very popular. Those colors translate to more summer heat, but they hardly pay off during our gray, sometimes sunless winters. Never-the-less, smart building (i.e. a good envelope, quality insulation and efficient design) can overcome these natural challenges. Here in New England, we take pride in our architectural heritage and our colors.
Inside the home, color and finishes can have a worthwhile contribution to your homes sustainability. There are three major categories to consider: light, heat retention and humidity. First, light.
For decades now, builders have been siting homes with little concern about solar orientation, light and general health. Gridded neighborhoods and home orientation have been the standard for little apparent reason other than neatness and order. As a result, few homes have an abundance of the most economical natural resource out there; light from the sun. If yours’ is one of these homes, choosing light colors (whites and off whites are best of all) is your most affordable option to bringing light into the house. Light colors will reflect the sun’s rays as it enters your house and reduce your dependence on light bulbs. As well, the human eye depends on contrasts of light and color to see. Darker colors tend to reduce these contrasts, causing yet more dependence on artificial light. But us New Englander love deep rich tones, right? Am I saying not to use any color at all. Certainly not. Just think about where you place it. Well chosen accent walls will provide the rich colors many people love, while leaving plenty of space for natural light support, and yes, a greater sense of space.
Heat, not coincidentally, responds to color. While dark colors conduct heat, light colors reflect it. Just how much is minor, but every little bit counts. If your home is a typical timber framed home, that dark color conduction transfers directly into the studs behind your wall and from there to the exterior of your home. Eventually, the surfaces that we warm in our home will do that, regardless of color, especially in a typical timber frame house, but white paint will slightly retard that process.
Finally, some paints are not paints at all – they are aggregates. One of the most popular right now is American Clay (www.americanclay.com ). Another is Eco-House silicate paint (www.eco-house.com ). American Clay is essentially a colored clay aggregate that is applied, not painted to your wall. One characteristic that has made it loved by applicators is the products response to moisture. Clay loves to absorb water. Homeowners who have this in their full bathrooms often comment on how dry their towels have been since applying this wall coating. That is because the clay sucks the heavy loads of moisture after a shower right out of the air. And when the air does dry out in your bathroom, the clay aggregate, being natural, obeys nature’s magic trick of always trying to achieve balance; in this case the clay slowly releases the moisture – at a healthy, balanced rate.
Think hard about the colors and coatings you use. There are many factors of sustainability and health to consider. If you choose the wrong color, you’ll want to paint again, and there is nothing “green” about that.