Painting with a Different Brush

Local Painting Companies Show the Green Way Forward

Painting with a Different Brush
Minute Men Painters used low-VOC Land Ark finishes, made from beeswax and all-natural pine resins, on the interior beams and water-borne polyurethane on the interior doors and trim of this post-and-beam house in Acton, Maine. Painting with a Different Brush
Painting with a Different Brush
Minute Men painted this charming sky-blue bedroom in a house built by Gray Contractors on Rye’s Jenness Beach. Painting with a Different Brush

For Sean Sturk, co-owner of Minute Men Painters, the decision to incorporate and emphasize low-toxin or toxic-free paints in his company’s projects was made based on simple health concerns.

“We literally were feeling the effects of these [toxic] products,” recalls Sturk, who joined the Minute Men team in 2000, two years after its initial founding. “A co-worker of mine had no sense of smell, and we know that this is a result of years of working with toxic fumes. We grew the company to take the burden off ourselves physically, to decrease the toxicity of our products, and to learn as much as we could about them.”

Since then, Sturk and co-owner Chris Tufts have not looked back, transforming their company into one with sustainability-minded methods and products that continue to earn them as many accolades as referrals.

While the house painting trade is one that dates back to the Middle Ages, modern paint as we know it was not developed until the mid-twentieth century. Although advancements in the technology of paints, thinners, and other coatings meant better durability and a cleaner, more consistent look and feel, such progress belied a hidden menace: volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

Shortly after its founding, Minute Men transitioned to offering a wide range of low-VOC and VOC-free paints—many of them produced by Benjamin Moore, the New Jersey-based industry giant.

It is one thing to offer low- or no-VOC alternatives to customers who ask for it. At the very least, it makes for good business. But Sturk says his company is unique in employing these clean, green alternatives by default.

“We won’t use the non-green products unless we absolutely have to,” Sturk notes. “For us, it’s an easy case to make that it’s better for you, your family, and your home.”

And what of cost concerns? Sturk says that, with very few exceptions, the price of low- or no-VOC paints and their chemical-heavy brethren are virtually identical. The one exception Sturk can cite—a newer line of self-priming paints—is only more expensive because, unlike most paints, it does not require an initial priming job, something that customers who demand standard paints would have to pay for anyway. Moreover, VOC-laden paints have hidden costs, such as added labor for cleaning areas with traditional paints, which require more in the way of prep time and materials.

Prepping buildings, perhaps the most labor-intensive aspect of any painting project, is another area that Sturk has sought to render a little more eco-friendly. Here, Minute Men’s combination sander and vacuum stores up to 98 percent of the dust and silica created during the initial sanding process, while lower VOC patching compounds and water-based primers are used whenever possible.

Yet for all its trending towards greener pastures, the painting industry’s progress has not been without its drawbacks. Whereas the development of greener interior products and methods has accelerated, exterior painting still poses plenty of challenges. The reason, of course, is that exterior walls, sidings, and trim must bear the brunt of elements far more extreme than those confronted by their indoor equivalents. Thus, because of their durability, certain VOCs are still necessary unless, of course, you want to reapply a new coat every summer—not exactly the greenest approach in its own right.

Painting with a Different Brush
Sean Sturk, co-owner of Minute Men, says the company worked with low-VOC paint outside this home, built by EcoSound Builders. Painting with a Different Brush

Still, the relative dearth of green exterior products does not mean that sustainable methods and practices cannot be utilized. On exterior projects where lead is present, for instance, a proper scraping and use of certain products such as Xim Peel Bond prior to paint application can help preclude intensive sanding and prevent lead particulates from escaping into the air.

“Even though these products aren’t green in the traditional sense, they’re still helping to reduce waste and harmful chemicals from the prepping process,” says Jason DeVincenzo, owner of Any Season Painting. “We certainly use all the green products and methods we can on interiors, but when you’re a business that does 60 percent of its jobs outdoors—and more like 90 percent in the summer—having these methods is definitely helpful.”

DeVincenzo says that, combined with the slow but steady improvements in low- and no-VOC exterior alternatives, these products are helping level the playing field between green exterior and interior best practices, not just in terms of green qualities, but aesthetic appeal as well.

“We did a house back in the fall, and across the street you could actually see a house with scuff marks and scratches, where a painting crew had scraped all the paint off,” DeVincenzo recalls. “Once those owners notice the scuffing, they’ll want to repaint their house sooner, which will use more resources and which our customers won’t have to do.”

Sturk and DeVincenzo are members of Green Alliance, the Portsmouth-based green business union, which certifies and promotes sustainability-minded businesses throughout the region. While their advocacy on behalf of green products certainly sets them apart within their industry, both see the market trending ever more quickly in that direction.

“We are beginning to land certain contracts because of what we have to offer on the green side,” Sturk says. “We’ve consistently landed great contracts essentially because we offered the no-VOC paints at no extra cost.”

Regeneration Park, a refurbished office campus near the Portsmouth-Hampton border along U.S. Route 1, is a recent example of a client who sought out Minute Men specifically for its green credentials. Before that, Mombo Restaurant, located just off the grounds of Strawbery Banke, hired Sturk and company in their green remodeling efforts.

Likewise, DeVincenzo’s Any Season has managed to buck the brunt of the recession by partnering with eco-driven companies including Ridgeview Construction, a Deerfield-based outfit renowned for their post-to-beam green practices.

The scope and the scale might be far different when dealing with large commercial projects, but for Sean Sturk, the end goals are the same. “When we’re implementing green products into a business, we take the same pride and approach as we would in someone’s home,” Sturk says. “People might not be sleeping there, but a lot of them are working there, so we try to keep their overall health and wellbeing in mind.”

Companies like Any Season and Minute Men painters may be far ahead of the green curve. Yet that does not mean Sturk and DeVincenzo are content to rest on their laurels. To the contrary, both men remain wholly dedicated to keeping abreast of the latest trends and technologies, which will keep their companies continually working with a better, greener brush.