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As with other maintenance tasks, painting been complicated by the need to do more with less — less capital outlay, less time and fewer people per square foot. As a result, today’s tool kit for painting often goes well beyond paints and coatings. It is packed full of items that help crews get the job done faster and more efficiently.
Maintenance managers are looking more closely at products — including airless sprayers, personnel lifts and low-odor coatings — that can do just that. Such tools give managers and their crews options for applying paints and coatings, often saving precious time and keeping down costs.
L. Ray Dudley’s planning is driven by one fact: “State governments are having to do more with less people.”
Dudley, assistant director of facility services for the building maintenance department at Louisiana State University (LSU), has a crew of 67 employees to handle painting, roofing, elevators, carpentry, sheet metal and plastering. He keeps in mind ways to reduce labor hours when it comes to painting LSU’s facilities, which total more than 10 million square feet.
For example, Dudley recently retired a regular boom lift and replaced it with an articulating lift. The articulating lift features greater and more precise maneuverability, which allows workers in the bucket applying paint to get where they need to be faster.
Dudley’s wish list features another piece of equipment that would address the same issue: a scissors lift for crew mobility.
“A scissors lift would allow my staff better access to areas without having two people on the job,” he says. He would also like to get newer panel trucks, on which he already relies, for transporting materials.
“Panel trucks allow staff to lock equipment in vehicles without coming back to the central shop to pick a piece of equipment up,” he says.
Thomas Geissler, paint supervisor for Western State Hospital in Tacoma, Wash., also considers transportation essential for successful paint application.
“We need to be able to get where we have to be right away — no waiting,” he says.
Geissler has seen his crew shrink from eight people to three in recent years. Together, the crew handles all façade-related repairs, including painting, glasswork and signage. To keep up with the maintenance of the 1,200-bed mental health facility, which spans 1.75 million square feet, the crew uses a bucket truck with a personnel lift, as well as four trucks, which gives every worker a vehicle.
When it comes to applying paint, Dudley is a fan of airless sprayers, which allow for a more uniform coat of paint and eliminate the need for brushwork and cutting in.
To atomize paint, conventional compressor-powered spray guns use high-pressure compressed air at a very low volume — typically 40-80 psi at 6-8 cfm. For comparison, airless sprayers use a piston-driven pump to force paint out the gun at up to 5,000 psi so the paint virtually self-atomizes. Because no air is involved in the process, the systems create very little overspray, and areas being painted are not filled with paint-laden mist.
The amount of paint airless sprayers deliver is determined by the size of the gun tip used and the amount of pressure applied. Tips range in size from 0.009 inch, which is recommended for the application of thin stains, to 0.035 inch, recommended for applying the thicker elastomerics.
Airless sprayers are available as gas-powered portable units and as electric-powered units. The latter type of sprayers are more suitable for indoor projects because they are quieter and give off no emissions.
Geissler has included airless sprayers in his tool stock but adds that his workers now use high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) systems more frequently.
“You really cut down on paint overspray with HVLP,” Geissler says. “You’re not using the high pressures like with other sprayers, so the paint doesn’t bounce off the walls at all.”
When a worker activates the trigger of an HVLP system, the paint is released from the fluid tip and is atomized externally by the HVLP air stream. The technology allows for faster application and creates less overspray. Prior to the arrival of HVLP technology, the most accepted method of increasing the rate of application was to increase the pressure of the sprayer. But increasing pressure tends to increase overspray and particle rebounding.
HVLP systems are used to meet Southern California air-quality standards for products containing volatile organic compounds (VOC). In some cases, standards require application pressures below 10 psi. HVLP systems can operate on pressures as low as 0.1 psi.
Low- or no-VOC paint offer another alternative to reducing the release of VOCs into the air. Most major paint manufacturers now offer low-VOC paints and coatings, and six major manufacturers produce no-VOC paints.
For Jack Burgess, the choice of paints if obvious.
“I would say the most important factor currently is using no-VOC paint for our work,” says Burgess, assistant director of maintenance services for the facilities management department at Duke University, which owns 91 buildings encompassing 3.5 million square feet. “Building occupants have varying degrees of sensitivity to odors. Using no-VOC paint reduces occupant complaints about smell and reduces the need to schedule paint (jobs) on overtime.”
Paints containing VOCs smell more than low- or no-VOC paints, causing building occupants discomfort. As a result, their use limits the times when paint crews can work and increases health risks. Young children, the elderly, people with asthma and people with compromised immune systems tend to be particularly vulnerable to these effects. Unfortunately, as Geissler points out, paints with reduced levels of VOC are not always the best performers.
“It’s a compromise,” he says. “Low-VOC paints don’t cover as well, so you maybe won’t get the one-coat coverage, and they aren’t as tough. But they’re getting better every year.”
When specifying low-VOC paints, managers should double-check their VOC content. Standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) call for no more than 250 grams per liter (gm/l) of VOCs for low-VOC latex paints and no more than 380 gm/l in low-VOC, oil-based paints. But these standards were established primarily to reduce ozone formation in the outside air, not to improve the quality of indoor air for health purposes.
So organizations interested in maintaining indoor air quality often go beyond the EPA standards. For example, the Austin, Texas, Green Building Program requires painters to use coatings with no more than 150 gm/l of VOCs. The program encourages the use of even lower VOC levels, particularly for buildings with occupants who are at risk of developing health problems if exposed to VOC gases.
Program fact sheets also remind painters that “less toxic” does not mean “non-toxic.” Managers and workers should make sure that rooms being painted are well ventilated, even when using low- or no-VOC paints. Often, the safest policy is to apply paint when occupants are not using a room.