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Painting is one of the most popular home improvement projects, but often homeowners avoid painting indoors in the winter because they think they need to have all the windows open to air out the rooms to get rid of the toxic smell. The toxins in paint that contribute to that strong odor are known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs can also be dangerous to your health, especially if you have asthma or allergies.

But over the past few years, the paint industry has taken great strides to make sure the toxins in paint are no longer an issue, so painting in the winter can move to the top of the project list.

“Virtually all Benjamin Moore paints we sell these days have zero VOCs,” said Brian Eisbrenner of Shelby Paint and Decorating, (586) 739-0240, shelbypaint.com. “In the old days, it would take a week or two for the smell of the paint to go away, but with these newer paints, you can’t really tell a room was just painted.”

Eisbrenner said Benjamin Moore has gone the extra step with environmentally friendly paints such as its Natura line, and the company has even developed its own Green Promise designation so consumers have assurance that its eco-friendly paints meet and exceed the strictest industry standards.

In addition to Benjamin Moore, virtually every major paint manufacturer these days has zero-VOC paints and is focusing on making their products more environmentally friendly, including Behr, behr.com; Sherwin Williams, sherwinwilliams.com; Glidden, glidden.com; and Valspar, valspar.com.

While manufacturers have made it more environmentally friendly to paint indoors during the winter, they have also made it easier to choose colors that fit your decor. In addition to visiting the paint store to get color samples, most of the manufacturers have a section on their websites to help with color selection, and many even have smartphone and tablet apps to assist homeowners, such as Color Snap (Sherwin Williams), Color Capture (Benjamin Moore) and Color Smart (Behr). But Eisbrenner said homeowners are also getting paint color ideas these days from social media sites.

“We see a lot of customers go on Pinterest and Instagram to see examples of paint projects and then want to find a similar color for their home,” he said.

Eisbrenner said while vibrant colors have been popular in the past, one of the most popular color trends lately has been various shades of gray, such as putty. But he added that with the popularity of social media, color trends are changing rapidly.

“While grays seem most popular now, we can see another hot color trend develop before you know it because of all the examples available online,” he said.

The good thing is that with so many colors to choose from, you can paint a room to match the furniture, flooring or even your favorite watercolor hanging on the wall.

If you haven’t painted in a while, you will also notice considerable improvement in performance in addition to the added environmental friendliness with these newer paints, and that can come at a cost premium. However, since painting is often a DIY project, you can save money on labor and put it towards the best paints for your project. This is how you move to the front row of the home improvement class!

Paint can be used to spruce up other things in the home, such as kitchen or bathroom cabinets. Newer products like Satin Impervo by Benjamin Moore or ProClassic from Sherwin Williams are waterborne acrylic enamel paints that have fewer odors than oil-based paints often used for these projects and even offer soap and water clean up.

Painting old kitchen countertops has also been made easier with a product like Giani Granite Paint, gianiproducts.com.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail askglenn@masterhandyman.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.

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