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Deciding on a Water Friendly Dock Paint? Here's Your Guide! written by Shannon Hazlitt

05/20/2020 11:26 AM | Kaitlin Fello

For those with lake properties on Seneca Lake, boats tied to pilings and leaps off the end of docks into the chilly waters below are welcome signs of warmer weather. However, the many activities docks are used for and Mother Nature can take their toll. Painting a dock can make it look more pristine and newer, however, it can also have a negative impact on a lake’s water quality.

Paints include heavy metals that can be harmful to aquatic environments. Experts say these metals can work their way up through the food chain, first posing a health risk to aquatic organisms like fish and then people when they consume the fish. Human health issues caused by heavy metals can include immune deficiencies and pregnancy problems.

Luckily, there are some straightforward tips you can follow to minimize the environmental impact of painting your dock:

Choose a lighter color - Lighter colors hold up better with the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, said Ian Smith, the Seneca Lake Watershed Steward, via a recent email.

Use paints lower in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - When it comes to oil-based paints versus water/latex paints, however, things get a bit trickier. Oil-based paints are slow-drying and made up of small pieces of pigment in a drying oil while latex or acrylic paints are made from acrylic resin and water.

Water-based or latex paints can be better for the environment because they can be lower in VOCs than oil-based paints, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). VOCs are the molecules that vaporize as the paint is drying and they can cause a number of health issues from dizziness and headaches to more serious kidney and nervous system damage. The EWG recommends looking for low-VOC paints or “Green Seal-11” certified paints, which means they are lower in VOCs and other toxic ingredients.

However, New York is one of several states—including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland—that has put in place VOC restrictions. Now there are oil-based paints available on hardware store shelves that are much lower in VOCs than in the past.

In addition, Smith said durability can be an advantage of oil-based paints, particularly for painting structures like docks. The superior lifespan of oil-based paints coupled with the extra exposure to sunlight and water that docks take, make oil-based paints/stains superior (if applied right and legal in your state).

Apply paints and stains properly - He also stressed the way paints and stains are applied to docks might be even more important than the product brands and ingredients and offers the  following suggestions:

  1. Never apply paint near the dock’s waterline or to the pylons below the plank.
  2. A brush is one of the most lake-friendly tools to apply dock paint, however, a roller is better than a sprayer.\
  3. If you are looking for a “gold star” in dock painting techniques, staple a plastic drop sheet on the underside of the dock while you are painting.
  4. You can lengthen the life of dock boards by flipping them, and if you decide to go this route, it’s better to paint and stain the boards on land.
  5. It’s important to also remove old paint and stains while the boards are on land in a controlled setting instead of over water, as stain strippers can be particularly un-environmentally friendly.

So, for your next dock-painting project, keep the above in mind so your dock not only looks great but also helps preserve the beautiful and necessary aquatic environment it enhances.

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