Remodeling–Without The Headaches


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Martin Ziolkowsky

When a raccoon falls through the ceiling inside your house, you have to make some changes. Making the outside of the house less raccoon accessible was step one. Step two was to fix the damage done inside.

Martin Ziolkowski, a Verona-based contractor who did a stunning job modernizing his own house on Cumberland Avenue, took down what remained of my old family-room ceiling and rebuilt it with no fuss, no muss and minimal disruption to our use of the room. He also corrected several construction mistakes made by the original contractor 50 or so years ago, who apparently owned neither a measuring tape nor a level.

Then it was on to painting. Rich DiGeronimo, a Verona dad I’d come to know through Verona Junior Wrestling, owns  Red Star Paint & Decorating Center in Montclair, and I’d heard through the grapevine that he carries low-VOC paints in a wide range of colors.

VOC stands for “volatile organic compound”, which is a windy way of saying the chemicals that gives you headaches when you paint. Paint products are the leading source of VOCs and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are the leading cause of indoor air pollution. Since we all spend more time inside buildings than out in the great outdoors, the health hazards created by VOCs have become a cause of concern. (The Verona Environmental Commission has information on VOCs in cleaning products here.)

Rich DiGeronimo

For about the last decade, paint makers have been trying to make low-VOC paints. I tried to like them, but their colors were limited to a handful of dusty, pastel shades that for some inexplicable reason were somebody’s idea of what an environmentally friendly paint should look like.

Until now. DiGeronimo’s store carries low- and no-VOC Benjamin Moore paints in every color you can think of. “And we can pretty much match any other brand’s colors,” he says.

The paints now account for 40% of DiGeronimo’s business. “They appeal to young mothers and parent with young kids,” he says, “which is pretty much everybody in Verona.” He should know, since his own kids are involved in almost every Verona sport, from baseball to football, swimming and wrestling.

Yes these paints are more expensive than the old stuff you used to buy. It cost me $42 to paint the ceiling of my family room. But I found some surprising savings along the way. The low-VOC brand, called Aura, is self-priming, so you save the cost and time of that step. The zero-VOC brand, Natura, needs a separate primer, but that comes in a zero-VOC version too. And since the paint was virtually free of fumes, I could move the TV and sofa back into the room before “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” aired that evening. DiGeronimo says that Aura covers very well, even in reds and the deep blue I was cajoled into using earlier this year to evoke a “Star Wars” feel in an upstairs bedroom. (Though most of the focus of low-VOC paint development has been on interior paints, Aura is available as an exterior paint too.)

“We have people here that can talk to you about what you’re painting and give you the right product for the job,” says DiGeronimo of his business, which he has owned only slightly longer than the 15 years he’s lived in Verona. “That’s what separates us from the box store. If you come to my store you’re going to see me again.” Either that, or on the sidelines.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].


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