An Intern’s Search for Knowledge – Reflective Coatings

Jake's HeadshotBy Jake Anderson, Green Seal Summer 2013 Intern

One day as I was reading up on Green Seal’s standard for paints and coatings (GS-11), it struck me that there is so much I don’t know about the paint industry. GS- 11 lays out environmental, health, and performance requirements that must be met by wall, anti-corrosive, and reflective coatings and floor paints that bear the Green Seal of certification. Surely, this all sounds good to me and other environmentally conscious consumers, but my first question is: What on earth is a reflective coating? 

First off, let’s delve into the uses for these mysterious coatings. Primarily used on roofs, reflective coatings reduce the amount of solar energy that is absorbed by a building and helps to reduce the need for air conditioning by keeping the building cooler. In addition to roof tops, reflective coatings are used on stovetops, in fireplaces, and on car mufflers.

But what makes these reflective coatings so–for lack of a better term–reflective?

The pigments in these coatings have reflective properties and don’t absorb solar radiation energy. This means that when sunlight hits the pigment particles in the coating, the heat is not absorbed and thus bounces off of the surface. These pigments can also withstand harsh elements and are not affected by high temperatures.

This allows the pigments to be used on exterior surfaces and withstand the brunt of the unforgiving sun. Inorganic pigments (not made with carbon or hydrogen) which are used in reflective coatings are also insoluble. But why does this matter? Insoluble pigments are resilient to leaching out of coatings and won’t wash away with the rain, which means reflective coatings are even safe for the environment!

Using these coatings can reduce the Heat Island Effect (which causes temperatures to be hotter in cities because of our everyday activities) and also reduce air pollution because there is less need for A/C.

Learning all about coatings really “whet my palate” for learning more about the history of regulating paints and coatings. I know that Green Seal began certifying paints and coatings in 1993, but ever since the 1920’s there have been regulations set on these home-improvement products.

The Dry Color Manufacturers Association (DCMA) (now the CPMA) began by placing environmental and health regulations on paints about 9 decades ago. More surprisingly, measures to reduce lead components began in the 1920s too, but the US government didn’t take action until the 1960s. Chlorine is now used to make specialty pigments (those bright or unique colors that we all love) and produces fewer waste by-products compared to its hazardous predecessor, titanium dioxide.

Some pigment manufacturers have limited their use of harmful heavy metals (e.g., lead and chromium) also, but others defend their product by saying that they are necessary to produce these “specialty” pigments.

I am glad Green Seal’s standard on paints and coatings led me to answer the questions I had and solve the many mysteries of the paint world. Paints and coatings surround us everywhere we go and I’m glad I was able to paint a bigger picture for all of us (pun intended).


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