ISSUE 12  |  Spring Forward

Palette & Paints: 5 Favorite Eco-Friendly Stains

March 27, 2014 1:30 PM

BY Meredith Swinehart

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On Tuesday, Erin called our attention to the beauty of the color-stained garden bed in Trend Alert: Stained Raised Beds. She noted that untreated lumber is still the gold standard for building raised garden beds, both for environmental and edible garden health. But we love color, and we love the idea of protecting the wood in your garden beds so it lasts as long as possible.

We asked the experts for recommendations for adding color to raised garden beds and for extending the life of the beds while being sensitive to the fact that we’ll be eating out of them (no toxins, please). We were reminded that naturally water-resistant wood like redwood or cedar may not need to be treated at all, though these wood species still will benefit from added protection. Second, we learned that the quality of wood treatment products varies widely; we use only stains and treatments vetted by people we trust. Here are our experts’ picks:

Above: Berkeley, Calfornia-based Ecohome Improvement is a font of knowledge about environmentally friendly building materials. I spoke with co-owner Nina Boddeker, who suggested using a nontoxic product intended to make wood more water resistant: Internal Wood Stabilizer from the Portland, Oregon company Timber Pro Coating. The stabilizer is a clear liquid that penetrates deep into wood and hardens, but is invisible from the surface. It’s free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and is specifically designed for use in sensitive outdoor environments such as edible gardens, animal shelters, and locations near water sources. This product earned a second vote of approval from Seattle Urban Farm Company, a member of our Architect/Designer Directory.

Above: Seattle Urban Farm Company co-founder Colin McCrate has had success with LifeTime Wood Treatment for extending the life of wood in garden applications. Entirely nontoxic and manufactured in Canada, LifeTime requires one application and no maintenance. LifeTime isn’t ideal for adding color, however: on initial application, wood will become gray-brown depending on type and character, and over time, treated wood will take on the silvery appearance of untreated aged wood. For sourcing information, visit LifeTime.

Above: Boddeker suggested using a Timber Pro Coatings stain if you want a colored finish; they’re low-VOC, non-flammable, and are made from plant-based oils mixed with a small amount of acrylic for increased durability. Consider using the company’s Internal Wood Stabilizer on the interior of garden beds for maximum protection, and a stain on the exterior for color. Stains are available in 70 colors and a variety of formulas; see an example of the semi-transparent stain in Ebony in Palette & Paints: 8 Colorful Exterior Stains. For purchasing information, contact Timber Pro Coatings or Ecohome Improvement. Photograph (L) courtesy of Timber Pro Coatings. Photograph (R) by Meredith Swinehart.

Above: I discovered goat milk paint on my last visit to Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, California (read From Goat to Table: Harley Farms on the California Coast for the whole story). Goat milk paint is as non-toxic as it sounds: it’s biodegradable, VOC-free, even edible. Note that if you desire a precise look, this might not be the right stain for you. It has a rustic character right from the start, and will continue to develop a patina over time. Goat milk paint was also a recommendation of our friends at Star Apple Edible Gardens. It’s available in nine colors, and a 4-Ounce Sample Jar is $12 from Harley Farms.

Above: Rubio Monocoat is the environmentally friendly stain that Ecohome Improvement sells more than any other. Boddeker reports that the Belgian product is true to its name–it really requires only one coat in all applications, and it has a beautiful matte finish. Monocoat is plant-based, VOC-free, and comes in 34 colors and 14 additional mixing shades for custom combinations. A 20-ml Color Sample is $8.55 at Monocoat.

For more design that’s easy on the environment, see Eco-Friendly Paving Solutions; Tap-In: Use Water More Efficiently; and on Remodelista, 10 Easy Pieces: Eco-Friendly Paints

Looking for the perfect shade of Black, Gray, or Green exterior paint? Browse all the posts in our Paints & Palettes archives.