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Maintaining the roof, keeping a weathertight envelope and preserving the structural integrity of a building are generally at the top of a facility manager’s priority list. But what some may fail to realize is that painting exterior wood surfaces on a regular basis should be added to that roster.
An explanation of how paint protects a building might be as scintillating as watching it dry, but having a basic understanding of the process is essential.
Paint is comprised of several chemicals, one of which is considered the “vehicle.” The “vehicle” might be water or oil, and once it has evaporated from the paint or dried up as a result of weathering, what remains are the “solids.” The “solids” then have to protect the surface on their own. Higher quality paints contain a larger amount of solids, so the combination of a better paint with multiple coats will increase protection significantly.
Today, paints do not contain lead and that’s both good and bad news — good from a health standpoint, bad from a performance point of view. Modern painting systems typically last no more than five years for exposed woodwork, so unless the facility is on a five-year repainting schedule, the necessary protective coating may not be maintained.
Peeling paint and exposed wood is an indication that the wood is in decay. Wood is an inexpensive and easy-to-install material, but it requires more maintenance than other materials. All exterior wood elements of every building a facility manager oversees should be placed on a periodic painting schedule so they are coated every five years — this recommendation cannot be underscored enough.
Before the call goes in to a painting contractor, it is imperative that an inspection be performed on the building’s exterior. Buildings can exhibit a wide variety of surface symptoms; accurate identification of surface conditions is important in determining the right solution and ultimately the best paint job. Take note that problems are most frequent in areas with high direct sunlight, water collection or constant shade.
The initial signs that a building is in need of a new coat of exterior paint may seem to be simply aesthetic, but there’s typically more than meets the eye. If the color on a building has lost its luster, chances are it’s time to get the paint and brushes out or contact a contractor — it will be a much quicker and less costly job to re-coat than to wait for more serious signs to appear.
While early discoloration warnings can be easy to ignore, the telltale signs of drying wood are less so. Exterior wood that has started to crack is caused by the absence of adequate paint protection on the wood’s surface. Blistering, or bubbles under the paint film, occurs frequently on wood surfaces and is often related to intense weather conditions, such as heavy rains or extremely high humidity levels. Alligatoring — a patterned cracking on the paint surface that resembles an alligator’s scales — is another issue to watch for.
Wood that is so dry it has started to cup or warp is crying for a paint job, as are the most obvious signs of peeling, flaking or rotting wood.
Poor surface preparation or painting in unsuitable temperature or moisture conditions accounts for most paint failures. Construction errors, however, also can lead to a paint job’s shortened life span. Inadequate building ventilation, leaks and improper maintenance are also culprits.
A five-year plan is a rule of thumb for most wood exterior facilities. While that may seem like a quick turnaround, a lot of damage can occur in a short amount of time, particularly in areas of the country where severe weather plays a factor.
A facilities manager can get the most out of those five years if the highest quality of paint is applied. In addition to providing better coverage and being more durable, a high grade paint can cover unsightly defects and will retain color and sheen for a longer period of time, extending its life.
Selecting the right painting contractor is just as important as the right paint. It may seem like an easy task, but due diligence is necessary — not only to get a stellar paint job, but more importantly to ensure safety.
First impressions count. If a potential contractor is slow to call back about the job, it may be best to continue the search. It’s advisable to work with someone who recognizes the importance of prompt response throughout the course of the job. Ditto in regards to a painting contractor showing up when promised and budgeting time well. And to finish the job on schedule, avoid working with a contractor who has the reputation for excessive change orders.
It’s best to procure a full report on the painting team’s safety training, and it is essential to provide the contractor and painting team with information on particular hazards or potentially dangerous materials at the property. These precautions can help avoid an accident; what may have started as a routine paint job might turn into a series of lawsuits.
Once a painting contractor’s reliability and business practices are established, pricing should be addressed. While cost will naturally vary somewhat from contractor to contractor, most professionals consider four basic elements to accurately determine labor, material, time and ultimately price: building size; building height; number of windows, doors, awnings and shutters; and the amount of preparation necessary. A complete set of plans and specifications helps to ensure bids fall into the “apples to apples” category.
Keep in mind that preparation work can add significantly to pricing. This is a key reason why it’s so important to maintain a regular five-year schedule and not wait until a problem is evident. Pressure washing, scraping and sanding are commonly employed to remove surface contaminants such as chalk deposits, mildew and mold, and chipping or cracked paint. Depending on the amount of contaminant build-up or need for wide range scraping and sanding, prep work time can be significant, hiking the cost of a paint job substantially.
And while there may be a narrow timetable to get the job done, it’s not advisable to apply exterior paint immediately following rain, when rain is predicted or in foggy weather. It is also inadvisable to apply paint when temperatures are below 50 degrees or when the relative humidity is above 85 percent.
In addition to helping to protect the basic infrastructure of a building, a five-year painting schedule can increase a property’s curb appeal, assisting owners and institutions in better showcasing the facility to attract users, tenants and employees.
Michael S. Teller, A.I.A, is an architect and principal at the firm of CBI Consulting Inc., with offices in Boston and Miami.