This is the final round of summertime weekend renovation projects on the apartment. And this week, I ponder the eco-aspects of interior finishes. There are tradeoffs of materials consumed, the durability of the finish, the human and ecological toxicity issues, and current hard costs. What are the right choices, from the perspective of the renter – or the landlord?
For example, finishing hardwood floors or painting walls is typically an additive function, which does not require the removal and disposal of existing materials. This, compared to roofing, carpet, vinyl floors. So one criteria for any finish would be the ability to restore the material and leave it in place.
So is there another option to paint? In my last house, we used a Venetian plaster mix, which was just a tinted a sheetrock mud. You only mix up how much is needed for the walls, and the remaining mud can be washed into the soil. American Clay has a similar wall coating, albeit more expensive and without the depth of color striation. A bit trickier for mounting pictures, as holes have to be drilled, but are also have the advantage being reparable with more of the same “mud,” and being very durable. A good sustainable choice, but perhaps not economically viable for a rental.
In truth, the durability is not so much related to the finish material on walls or woodwork, as it is to the condition of the substrate. For example, new houses are notorious for paint failures, where walls are coated with construction dust which prevents good adhesion. Similarly, remodeling requires the washing of the walls to remove oily film build-up on the walls. But this is a step which is not in the job description of the painters, and thus rarely gets done. That affects the durability far more than the warranty on the paint.
Landlords and property owners certainly have to weigh in current costs of materials, but it would seem that durability would be of equal importance. My vote for the best ability to withstand some level of wear and tear, be easily repairable / maintainable, and have the least impact on the environment is stained and oiled wood, plaster or milkpaint walls, and plaster ceilings. Classical and timeless – both from the past and into the future.