A Primer on Painting

Paints and coatings manufacturers point out the common mistakes facilities make during specification and application

By Renee Gryzkewicz  

With the many challenges maintenance managers face daily, painting rarely gets top priority. Paint is not as critical to a building’s operation as electricity, for example. Several cans of paint are far less expensive than many other purchases, and applying it requires less technical expertise than maintaining chillers or boilers.

For these reasons, managers might not consider painting as important as other projects and, as a result, might not spend the time and effort these jobs require to ensure success.

This approach has its drawbacks, though. Choosing a paint that doesn’t fit the application or applying it incorrectly can lead to higher costs and mistakes that take inordinate amounts of time to undo.

By identifying and addressing common specification and application blunders before starting a painting project, managers and supervisors can help optimize the performance of paints and coatings.

Specification Success

The first step in ensuring successful painting projects is specifying the right paint or coating for the job. Managers must determine the goal of the project. For many of them, high-durability paint is essential, particularly in high-traffic areas.

[Managers] are looking for washable coatings that last a long time,” says Steve Revenew, director of marketing for architectural products for Sherwin-Williams Co. “They don’t have the time to repaint.”

When seeking high-durability paints, managers should ask manufacturers if the product can withstand repeated cleaning without burnishing. Managers also might want to note the sheen of the product, since paints with a high sheen tend to be more durable. A high-sheen paint or coating, however, might not be able to deliver aesthetic qualities that a job requires, and managers will have to compromise on durability performance.

Paints with low odors and low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) also can be valuable to managers and their organizations’ bottom line.

“If [painters] are painting an occupied space, [managers] will want to look at coatings that are not only durable, but also have a lower odor,” Revenew says. These products can reduce costs because painters can apply them during normal business hours, eliminating payment for overtime. They also eliminate the need to relocate building occupants.

In some cases, managers might want the paint or coating to fix a problem, such as mold and mildew.

“When painting high-humidity areas, managers should seek products that are specifically formulated for mold and mildew resistance and can extend maintenance cycles,” says Angela Cunningham, brand manager of mold and mildew products for Zinsser Co. Inc. She adds that maintenance managers might want to consider mold- and mildew-resistant products for all areas that moisture is a concern.

“Every place in a building that has plumbing, has the potential for a mold problem, and a lot of building materials like wood and drywall are breeding places for mold,” she says. “Managers need to identify those areas, which can be places where, historically, mold and mildew hasn’t been a problem.”

Where the paint or coating must cover a stain, managers will need to identify the type of stain and specify a paint or coating that is formulated to cover it.

“Water-base products should be used to cover oil-soluble stains, like handprints or kitchen grease,” says Tim O’Reilly, Zinsser’s primer product manager. “Oil products should be used to cover water-soluble, stains such as nicotine. That’s one of those fundamental rules that many people don’t realize.” Managers in facilities with smoking areas need to be particularly aware of these issues and avoid water-based paints and coatings where nicotine stains are present.

“Water-based primers, even stain-blocking primers, are restricted in what they can do to cover nicotine stains,” O’Reilly says. “If there has been smoking in that area for years and you cover the stains with a water-based product, it is going to migrate that nicotine right up to the surface. This is because water-based products rewet the surface, causing the nicotine to bleed through. You almost have to use an oil-based primers over nicotine, severe water stains or smoke damage from fire.”

Managers also should consider how easy the product is to apply to substrates and if there are any difficulties in applying another coating over it.

“Many people ask whether a product is suitable for a particular substrate,” O’Reilly says. “We are asked about a lot of bizarre substrates that are not listed on the can because they’re pretty unique.” O’Reilly recalls a product that he thought was absolutely phenomenal until he discovered it was nearly impossible to cover.

“It was a water-proofing treating that had the most fantastic performance, until I realized it was silicone-based,” he says. “While it might have performed beautifully on that application for 25 years, it was almost impossible to apply a coating over the top of it because silicone doesn’t allow anything to stick to it unless it has been modified.”

O’Reilly adds that while this problem is not typical for most products, managers should ask manufacturers about possible reapplication problems.

Surface Preparation

Between specification and application lies the stage that manufacturers say is one of the biggest areas in which end-users make mistakes — surface preparation.

“The paint is the final presentation of whatever is underneath it,” O’Reilly says. “If what’s underneath it is choppy or splotchy in color, the top coat will only mask it, and the outcome will not appear as nice as it could. We receive a lot of questions regarding surface preparation.” Many of the questions about surface preparation relate to concerns about the warranty.

“They want to know what they have to do in regards to surface preparation to keep the warranty agreement,” Cunningham says. “In order to ensure the warranty covers the product, it is important that users follow the guidelines for preparation, particularly for specialty paints like those that resist mold and mildew. It could be a lot more costly having to clean up the problem as opposed to doing the preventive steps in advance.”

While new formulations in paints and primers have eliminated many adhesion problems, sanding might be necessary in cases such as repainting trim that was painted with oil-based enamels and solvent-based epoxies.

“It was real common to use oil enamels on trim because people grab those areas, and [oil enamels are] easier to clean, O’Reilly says. “But as these paints get older, they tend to turn yellow and become extremely hard, and nothing can grab on to it. It is difficult to get a latex coating to stick to them. If they’re not properly prepped, eventually it will peel because it cannot adhere to the hard and shiny substrate.”

In addition to helping with adhesion, primers can improve the performance of the top coating.

“If you have a coating system specifically for a substrate, painters should use the appropriate primer and the appropriate number of top coats that will provide long-lasting durability and optimize the life cycle,” O’Reilly says. “Using the right primer will make a difference in providing a longer life cycle of the coating.”

Application Matters

Common sense applies to many of the rules related to paint and coating application, such as not applying it too thickly and making sure the paint contains no particles. Another rule relates to using the appropriate application tool.

A high-quality brush or roller is a good investment, Revenew says.

“That’s really going to help optimize those performance properties built into the coating and help you get a good uniform film appearance,” he says. “If you use a poor-quality brush or roller, your chances of splattering increase, and some of the fibers from the brush or roller are more likely to get into the paint film.”

The size of the applicator is just as important, says Jeff Spillane, marketing manager for Benjamin-Moore & Co.

“If you rolling out an eggshell and use a 1 or 11⁄5 nap roller, you might create what we refer to as orange peel — a heavy texture to the wall — because the roller is too heavy.” Size is also important in other application methods such as spraying.

“When it comes to air spraying, you’re going to want to use the right tip size,” Spillane says. “If you use the wrong tip size, you could end up with an uniform coating with highs and lows.”

Managers might want to consider having painters use high-volume low-pressure (HVLP) sprayers.

“HVLP sprayers allow maintenance professionals to spray, for example, an elevator door where brushing it and trying not get any brush marks can take a lot of effort,” O’Reilly says. This type of application allows users to apply a very even coat without any marks. The sprayers are available in different sizes, making them useful tools for a variety of applications.

“I’ve even seen people paint their fingernails with them,” O’Reilly says. “They are extremely precise and very effective in an occupied area because they don’t have a lot of overspray. I’m a big fan of that technology. It makes sense for repair jobs, small jobs and jobs in occupied environments.”

Another application mistake is overworking a product.

“Sometimes painters brush a product over and over again on areas such as trim,” Spillane says. Overworking paint as it begins to set leaves streaking and brush marks.

While painting tasks might not be the most critical or technical jobs, managers still should give considerable thought to the process of specifying and applying paints and coatings. Depending on the amount of time invested early in the process, the finished work can create either an attractive or unattractive impression of a facility.

Price Versus Quality

Despite the desired performance, cost is the deciding factor in many cases for managers specifying paints and coatings.

“Price is always a factor in the decision-making process, and unfortunately, that is where the compromise on performance breaks down,” says Jeff Spillane, marketing manager for Benjamin-Moore & Co. “[Organizations] want a high-quality job that is going to last a long time. In the same turn, budgetary concerns cause them to compromise that quality sometimes. People don’t always look at the cost of a project based on its life cycle but just look at its initial cost.”

Adds Tim O’Reilly, Zinsser Company’s primer product manager, “It’s human nature to look at the price and think this is going to cost too much.” To determine the best value, managers should compare products and specify one that will provide the best performance over its life cycle.

“It really can save money over time by moving to a higher-quality coating,” O’Reilly says. A related misconception is that inexpensive paints and coatings perform as well as more expensive premium products.

“Just like anything, you get what you pay for,” Spillane says. “You can buy a gallon of interior paint for as cheaply as $5, or you can spend as much as $35. They’re both going on the wall and give the color you want. The main difference is [that] when you buy a high-quality paint, it is going to hide what’s underneath better and cover more square footage. The premium products will resist marring more than a cheaper paint. They are easier to clean, and you’ll be able to remove stains from them without harming the film.”

— Renee Gryzkewicz

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  posted on 2/1/2005   Article Use Policy

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