DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR, PAINT PROBABLY offers the best value in a house. Consider how much a gallon costs and how much area it covers—about $22 and 400 square feet to 450 square feet; that works out to about five cents per square foot. Where else do you get more bang for your buck? Its low cost, however, in no way diminishes the flexibility and importance that paint can play in your homes.

The easiest and cheapest way to create drama in a room is with paint. “Color, sheen, pattern, and texture can be combined to create a number of interesting and individual looks for the home,” says Debbie Zimmer, paint color and decorating expert for the Spring House, Pa.–based Rohm and Haas Paint Quality Institute, a consumer education organization. Color and patterns can visually change the perception of a room's size, she says, and texture can make a boring space come alive.

Manufacturers say it's time for builders to move beyond white and beige. Colors that would have been unheard of 10 years ago are now becoming acceptable as more and more consumers are willing to experiment with them. “People are exploring the use of color more because there is a lot of self-expression going on,” says Tim Bosveld, vice president of marketing at Los Angeles–based Dunn-Edwards. “They are becoming more comfortable with color in their homes.” Home improvement programs and shelter magazines, he says, have helped make home buyers more at ease with dark colors and patterns.

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GREENER SHADES: A completely clean-air formula interior paint, Eco Spec contains no volatile  organic compounds (VOCs), no solvents, and is environmentally sensitive. The  manufacturer says the paint also dries fast, allowing a space to be painted  and inhabited within in two hours. It comes in primer, flat, eggshell, and  semigloss. Benjamin Moore. 800.344-6620. www.benjaminmoore.com.
GREENER SHADES: A completely clean-air formula interior paint, Eco Spec contains no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), no solvents, and is environmentally sensitive. The manufacturer says the paint also dries fast, allowing a space to be painted and inhabited within in two hours. It comes in primer, flat, eggshell, and semigloss. Benjamin Moore. 800.344-6620. www.benjaminmoore.com.

CLASSIC COVER: ProClassic high-gloss waterborne interior acrylic enamel is formulated to meet  or exceed standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)–certified  buildings, the company says. The manufacturer says the  low-VOC product also dries quickly to a hard, durable finish that is excellent  for windows, doors, cabinets, and high-traffic areas. Sherwin-Williams  Co. 800-321-1392. www.sherwin-williams.com.
CLASSIC COVER: ProClassic high-gloss waterborne interior acrylic enamel is formulated to meet or exceed standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)–certified buildings, the company says. The manufacturer says the low-VOC product also dries quickly to a hard, durable finish that is excellent for windows, doors, cabinets, and high-traffic areas. Sherwin-Williams Co. 800-321-1392. www.sherwin-williams.com.

EURO RAILS: ECO is a water-thinnable, urethane-alkyd product that combines the advantages  of acrylic and oil paint, the manufacturer says. Designed for windows, doors, trim, cabinets, and  shutters, the product should be applied and left  alone to self-level and dry for the best finish. It does not off-gas or release  odors into the environment, the company says. Fine Paints of Europe. 800-332-1556. www.finepaintsofeurope.com.
EURO RAILS: ECO is a water-thinnable, urethane-alkyd product that combines the advantages of acrylic and oil paint, the manufacturer says. Designed for windows, doors, trim, cabinets, and shutters, the product should be applied and left alone to self-level and dry for the best finish. It does not off-gas or release odors into the environment, the company says. Fine Paints of Europe. 800-332-1556. www.finepaintsofeurope.com.

HOME PLATE: Custom Home's high-build interior latex paint is a low-odor and low-VOC paint  that offers cost-saving benefits for builders, the company says. Because  it is formulated to be applied with an airless sprayer, the product allows  builders to increase productivity by up to 20 percent to 30 percent, the maker  adds. It is available in two finishes: interior flat and satin. ICI Paints. 800-984-5444. www.icipaintsstores.com.CAPTIONCAPTION
HOME PLATE: Custom Home's high-build interior latex paint is a low-odor and low-VOC paint that offers cost-saving benefits for builders, the company says. Because it is formulated to be applied with an airless sprayer, the product allows builders to increase productivity by up to 20 percent to 30 percent, the maker adds. It is available in two finishes: interior flat and satin. ICI Paints. 800-984-5444. www.icipaintsstores.com.CAPTIONCAPTION

Manufacturers know what's hot because they see what's flying off the shelves, but they also forecast what colors are likely to be a hit with buyers. Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams recently released its forecast for 2007, outlining the color trends that will be a springboard for decorating schemes next year. Escapism and balanced living are in vogue, the company says. Influences from faraway places such as Asia and Africa yield rich, saturated shades such as deep wine, ginger, leathery brown, and brassy colors, while interest in the environment and botanical-inspired motifs call forth the deepest blues, washed aqua, bronzed gold, plum, and sun-warmed yellow.

The number of colors that are available these days is nothing short of amazing. The average manufacturer offers more than 1,000; Dunn-Edwards alone has 1,696. In order to make it easier for consumers to choose among them, companies often offer them in groupings of complementary colors.

Right now, how paint smells is as important as what it looks like. And indoor air—tainted with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from carpets, building products, and paints—has the potential to be more polluted than the outdoor air, the EPA says. As a result, more manufacturers are offering odor- or VOC-free paint.

Dunn-Edwards' Ecoshield is one of the latest on the market. “We saw a demand for products with little or no odor that are durable with similar performance properties as traditional products,” Bosveld says.

Glidden Professional Paints, a brand of Cleveland-based ICI Paints, also has responded to customer demand with Custom Home, a line of products that targets the new-home construction market. The High Build interior latex and exterior latex flat paint feature low odor formulations; the company also offers Lifemaster 2000 solvent-free and no-VOC interior latex paints.

Manufacturers also realize that builders want to increase productivity, save money, and increase customer satisfaction, so companies are introducing tools to help do just that.

“Our research suggests that builders want paint that goes on faster and that has high hiding properties,” says Rich Stewart, brand manager for Glidden Professional Paints. The company now offers nine popular colors in ready-mix containers so that builders don't have to wait for mixing at the store. It also offers more-sprayable paints that go on faster. Finally, the company offers builders consumer home kits containing samples of each color used in the house, a list of the colors, and tools for touch-ups so that home buyers will know what color to buy when Rex scratches the wall with his paws.

For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog, at www.builderonline.com or www.ebuild.com.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.