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Have a problem? There's a coating for that.

Coat 'N' Cool: This two-part, water-borne epoxy coating refects solar radiation, reducing heat transfer and lowering cooling costs.

Once upon a time, paint (in residential use) had a simple task to do: be colorful. Sure, it protected wall and trim from moisture and decay and reduced maintenance costs, but its mission was largely decorative.

Paint is still primarily aimed at making surfaces attractive, low maintenance and durable, but manufacturers have been making giant leaps in creating specialty products that address specific problems. The category is so hot that, after repeated requests from contractors, added a Specialty Coatings forum in its chat room.

The dominant specialty category over the last 10 years is easily products with low volatile organic compounds (also known as low VOC). Organic compounds are necessary ingredients in paint, helping with a variety of necessary features. "They keep the other components — pigment for color and a binder or resin to make the paint stick — in a liquid solution long enough for the paint to be applied, then conveniently evaporate so the paint can dry," Sheryl Eisenberg wrote on the Natural Resources Defense Council website.

VOCs, of course, are also bad news. They emit smog-forming chemicals and are a source of ozone formation. Luckily, the average paint uses less organic compounds than before, so low-VOC products technically aren't really all that "special." Still, that doesn't make the category any less important and vibrant. Plus, almost every manufacturer now offers low- and no-VOC products that in some cases work just as well as high-VOC products.

But paints have gotten even more specialized than low-VOC. Today there is an abundance of product options that address any number of issues or needs. San Carlos, Calif.-based Kelly-Moore Paint Co., for example, now offers Enviro Coat Reflective 1545, an architectural coating that is designed to reflect the sun's radiant heat and lower external wall temperatures.

"We wanted to create an eco-functional paint system designed for today's popular mid-tone and darker exterior trend colors to reflect radiant heat the way lighter colors already do," said Mark Zielinski, Kelly-Moore's VP sales. "Enviro Coat Reflective is especially suitable for homes and buildings in warmer markets."

Yorba Linda, Calif.-based Coat 'N' Cool manufacturers a similar product for roof applications. The company said the water-borne epoxy coating is specially engineered to reflect solar radiation — the visible and near-visible ultraviolet and infrared radiation emitted from the sun. "Reflecting solar radiation reduces both the exterior and interior temperatures of a structure, which may reduce the cost of energy used for cooling by 10% to 30%," the company said.

Not all specialty paints address environmental concerns. Some are practical. Earlier this year at the International Builders' Show, Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams launched Dry Erase 2K Waterborne Clear Gloss, a product that allows painting professionals to create dry erase boards for a wide variety of application in kids' rooms, play rooms or home libraries.

"This is an extremely versatile coating that lends itself to many add-on sales opportunities for commercial and residential contractors," said Karl Schmitt, VP marketing at Sherwin-Williams. "From transforming a wall into a working surface to providing a space for kids to scribble away with a standard dry erase marker — there really are no limits to the creative applications for our new dry erase coating."

Then again, some specialty paints are simply about having fun. The Asla Corp. in Los Angeles manufactures one product called Eclipse, a basecoat that changes from black to white or from blue to white when the surface is touched or it is exposed to heat. The company said the product can be applied as a single coat over existing colors, or it can be applied alone.

It's hard to imagine Eclipse being anything more than a novelty feature, but just imagine the impact a feature wall would have in a family or play room. But that's what happens when you use specialty products — you get special results.

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