The Eco Revolution

Posted by Terry Guilford on

I recall about 10 years ago it was predicted that eco products would grow to be BIG. By 2019, it has certainly proved to be the case. In our industry, products frequently enter the market- and in my opinion, this is good. Yet, in today’s blog, before we go into WHAT is available, we need to examine WHY it is important.

WHY it is important

I am going to break the “why” into two sections the first section is taken from a personal perspective and the second from a world perspective.

My Perspective

When I started floor sanding in Ireland 20 odd years ago, there were two dominant products used for wood floor finishing; acid catalyst lacquer (Swedish finish) and moisture cure polyurethane (MPU). This was standard fare at the time so when I was trained, I just did what everyone else did and used these products.

However, after a short while I noticed that I was suffering from colds and the flu more frequently than normal, so I went to see my GP. The first thing my doctor did was ask me what I did for a living. The GP explained the products I used to sand and finish wooden floors were the problem. “You see, solvents suppress the immune system and it doesn’t matter that you are wearing the correct PPE (personal protective equipment), you are still breathing in the solvents that are on your clothes or trapped in your van.”

Astonishingly, even 20 years after my GP told me this, I see that not only are these products freely available, some floor sanding companies are still recommending them – with no good reason to do so. Ironically, some of them claim these products are superior and more expensive than water-based products. In truth, they have some better (chemical resistance and ease of application) but in virtually every aspect they are inferior AND a lot cheaper – could that be why they want to use them? Surely not.

So, as an epilogue to this section, as soon as I stopped using solvent-based finishes, my health improved - immediately.

Now, some may argue about the use of solvents and deny they use them solely for cost reasons. Because of this, I was pleased to find and be able to quote the following directly from the final report of the Decopaint Study on the “Potential for Reducing Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Due to The Use Of Decorative Paints and Varnishes for Professional and Non-professional Use.”

This was the document used as the basis for EU legislation, which I will discuss next (ironically this study was conducted by the Dutch and Irish which makes me smile when I consider the products we had been using in Ireland).

“The main advantages of solvent-borne coatings have been; cheap raw material supplies, good appearance characteristics and good application characteristics for professional users. An important advantage has been the ability to use these products at lower temperatures and in between rainfall episodes. The conventional solvent-borne systems, however, have serious drawbacks. Conventional alkyds may suffer from yellowing indoors, necessitating their overcoating even when other functional characteristics are maintained. Outdoors, continued oxidative cross-linking may lead to embrittlement and eventual cracking, especially with varnishes. Odour and clean-up have always been a problem, although low odour alternatives are now available. The interior gloss advantage is lost for exteriors, as these materials quickly loose gloss outside.”

From a world perspective

Moving on to why a more “eco” approach is important from a world perspective let us consider what the European legislation states.

The Paints Directive

Directive 2004/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in decorative paints and varnishes and vehicle refinishing products and amending Directive 1999/13/EC ("the Paints Directive") aims to prevent the negative environmental effects of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) from decorative paints and vehicle refinishing products.

Basically, the above means that, due to depletion of the ozone layer and its subsequent climate and health consequences, the EU decided to restrict the use of solvents in all paints and finishes starting in 2007 (allowing time for manufacturers to react), with the VOC limits becoming tighter in 2010.

Hopefully, by now, you will be convinced that changing our habits is a good thing and what you want to know is what is available.

WHAT is available

1. Waterborne finishes Waterborne finishes are lacquers that use water to carry the protective element that remains on the floor once the water and other necessary ingredients evaporate. Some of the latest generation are totally solvent free, but most will have a small amount of solvent to make them easier to use (less than 140 grams of solvent per litre to comply with EU legislation).

Most modern waterborne finishes from major high-quality manufacturers are vastly superior to what was available 10 years ago. However, do watch out for manufacturers that use old formulas just to cut costs! The very latest products do offer a superior quality of finish and have the highest eco standards with some even reaching ‘Blue Angel Standard’ (‘Blue Angel’ is the world’s oldest eco standard having originated in Germany in 1978 and is also one of the most respected).

In our range of products, Pallmann Pall X96 lacquer and Pallmann Pall X325 are domestic quality ‘Blue Angel’ standard products whilst Pallmann Pall X Zero, although not ‘Blue Angel’ (due to it being a 2-pack product with an isocyanate hardener) is a commercial grade product and 100% solvent free.

2. Oils and oil-based finishes

Moving on now to oils and oil-based products, we have Pallmann Magic Oil which is (as near as damn it), a solvent free 2 component oil suitable for use in both domestic and commercial environments - giving a beautiful colour enhancing effect to your wooden floor. This innovative product was the first 2 component oil for flooring and is one of our best-selling products.

It must not be confused with cheaper single pack oils which do not cure - Magic Oil penetrates the wood and hardens it to form a protective barrier inside the wood within 12 hours of application. It is easy and quick to use but does require a high standard of sanding to look its best.

Finally, the very latest products in the Pallmann range are called Eco Oils…I wonder how they thought of that? These are very simple to use, roll on, 100% solvent free products. These come in Neutral (enhances colour like normal oils), Pure (keeps the wood the looking the same as if it had just been sanded but has no product on it) and White (yep you guessed it - gives a white tint to the wood).

There are a couple of things I have mentioned in relation to eco products, for example, stains, fillers and primers (touched on the latter above), but without going in to too much detail I will say that quality manufacturers have solutions for all these; Pallmann have Pall X333 colour system which is 100% solvent free and Pall X Kitt and Pall X Zero fillers which are low and zero solvent respectively.

So, what I ask you to think about is this - is your contractor really concerned about his own health? If they aren’t, they certainly won’t care about yours – they will put profit first. If you are concerned about your family and the well-being of the planet we live on, ask questions about the products being used! Good contractors buy from good manufacturers, the solutions are out there now – you don’t need to compromise the finish or durability of your floor to look after yourself and the planet.

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