Perfect Paint: The Best First Impression

12/01/2014 |

Avoid problems with proper surface preparation and the right choice of coatings

A facility’s interior paint is an instant indication of a building’s upkeep and character. Common problems like adhesion and durability age a building’s
appearance and lead to costly remedies. What kind of impression is your paint making?

Common Paint Problems
Industry experts agree that adhesion, durability, and improper surface preparation are the most frequent paint issues encountered by facilities professionals. If the paint does not adhere properly to the substrate, paint failure is imminent. Adhesion problems – delamination, bubbling, or blistering – can be caused by improper paint application, defective materials, or, more often, a chemical reaction between the coating and the surface.

Issues with paint durability also plague the buildings industry. “Inconsistent application creates issues with durability,” says David Kyle, executive vice president at Master Painters Institute (MPI) in British Columbia, Canada. “Trades will often apply the minimum they need to make the job look satisfactory. Even if the requirement is three coats, frequently only two will be applied.”

Cutting corners like this and using poor quality products based on price alone contribute to poor performance and a shortened service life.

“There’s no doubt that durability is a main concern,” says Rick Watson, director of product information and technical services at Cleveland-based Sherwin Williams. He finds that most durability and performance issues boil down to choosing an incorrect product. “Typically, standard commercial finishes are used in most areas, but some areas really need a higher-performing, pro/industrial type of finish.”

Improper surface preparation is also a root cause of headaches in paint performance.

“Getting walls ready for paint is critical to a successful and durable outcome,” says Rusty Martindale, general manager, Segment Division, at San Carlos, CA-based Kelly-Moore. “An accurate estimate is that 85–90% of a successful paint job is the surface preparation. Facility managers must ensure that painting contractors remove any grease, grime, nicotine, and other contaminants. It is a mistake to paint right over a wall surface before it is properly cleaned, repaired, and prepped to receive the paint,” Martindale explains. Yellowing is another problem to anticipate.
Solutions and Best Practices

“ Zero-VOC acrylic is in demand. These coatings apply easily, have terrific coverage and durability, clean up fast, and offer a return to service within a
few hours with no paint odors remaining. A shorter application time means getting a space back into
service quicker – and time is money.”
                                                              — Rusty Martindale, Kelly-Moore


Adhesion: When it comes to solving adhesion difficulties, prepping the surface is essential. “Prep, prep, and more prep,” says Martindale. “I cannot overemphasize the importance of proper surface cleaning and preparation, which includes any needed repairs and spot or full priming of the surface.”

Bob Cusumano, president of Palm Beach Gardens, FL-based Coatings Consultants, Inc. (CCI) and PDCA technical advisor, would agree. He says surface preparation is “the key to good adhesion. It is important to remove all surface contaminants and ensure that existing paint layers are well adhered. Appearance only can be misleading; adhesion testing should be performed.”

Sanding, etching, and abrading a surface can make proper adhesion more likely, but thorough adhesion testing is of utmost importance. Testing according to the ASTM D3359 standard can help determine the best next step in the painting process.

Durability: “Matching the proper paint system to the expected exposure is the key to achieving the desired level of durability,” Cusumano explains. Understanding what kind of coating you need is complicated, but not impossible. Knowing what you expect the paint to withstand is important.

“Washability and scrubbability go along with the durability aspect,” says Watson. Washability is the ease with which washing will remove dirt from the paint’s surface without causing damage. Scrubbability is being able to scrub painted surfaces with a brush, sponge, or cloth without causing damage. Understanding the difference will help you choose coatings that are right for your building and will prove durable over time.

Yellowing: If yellowing of any painted surface occurs (including walls, window sills, and trim), it is most likely that oil-based products were used. “Over time, this type of coating will yellow without light,” says Martindale. “Sunlight actually keeps the coating close to its original light coloration.”

While all alkyd paints (oil paints with alkyd resins) will yellow to some extent over time, CCI provides this list of tips:

  1. If you use an alkyd trim paint, use a product you have found to be a low-yellowing paint. Read the manufacturer’s data regarding any cautions about its use.
  2. If you paint with unfamiliar products, do ammonia tests to give some indication of their tendency to yellow.
  3. When using an alkyd trim paint, apply the latex wall paint first. Make sure that the rooms are well ventilated and have had ammonia fumes removed before the alkyd paint is applied.
  4. Be sure to avoid using cleansers that contain ammonia.
  5. Consider using latex products, acrylic epoxies, hybrid alkyd/latexes, and new generation alkyds.

Identifying the Source of Damage: When you notice coating failures in your facility, quick action is crucial. “Proper testing before applying paint is the best method of preventing problems,” says Cusumano. “But there are many situations, such as water intrusion damaging interior paint, where early detection and remedial action will minimize the problem.”

Conducting semi-annual inspections or coating evaluations is recommended. “Coatings are typically damaged by other building systems failing, so assessing these issues before the substrate gets to the point where it needs remediation will prevent issues from getting worse,” Kyle says.

A proactive approach to paint maintenance reduces costs for repairs and keeps facility managers aware of the underlying structural issues. “Conducting semi-annual reviews of paint conditions is probably one of the best ways to keep on top of any issues,” says Watson. “After a big storm, or at a quarterly review, building managers doing inspections may notice a missing top cap or a cracked parapet wall and know they need to take care of that.”

Choosing the Correct Paint
While satin and eggshell sheens work well for many commercial interiors, there is no easy prescription for paints. Specifying the right paint system is just as important as surface preparation. Experts repeat again and again that there is no best paint.

Color, sheen, durability, washability, scrubbability, LEED or regional environmental requirements are factors when choosing coatings for your facility.

“The right product is dependent on the type of substrate and its condition, as well as exposure or use of the area where the coating will be applied,” says Kyle.

MPI provides a free guide to choosing the correct product on a project-specific basis at

“You have to match up the product and the system based on the exposure requirements and the substrate, whether it’s drywall, wood, or metal,” says Watson, who recommends using an architectural account executive to work through the specification process.

Getting an expert’s opinion on coatings for your facility is a smart move.

“Seek the advice of a professional, a PDCA painting contractor, or a technical representative of a paint manufacturer,” adds Cusumano.

Ultimately, spending a little more money upfront to purchase a high-quality product is a better choice. Consider the lifecycle of your coating products, and heed expert advice on proper specification and application.

“ Odor-reducing capabilities, antimicrobial capabilities, and lowering the VOC content – those are the current breakthroughs of finishings and paints. Another trend is new formulations of acrylics that are offering higher performance as opposed
to your standard architectural/commercial-grade products.”

 — Rick Watson, Sherwin Williams

“Several quality levels exist from all manufacturers,” says Kyle. “On areas where severe conditions exist, products that are designed to stand up against physical wear and aggressive conditions will pay dividends in the long run.”

Tips for Professional-Looking Paint Jobs

Use these best practices from the Master Painters Institute to ensure a quality paint job

Cutting: When cutting-in, always push the tool away from your body while breathing out. If you pull the tool toward your body, your heartbeat alters the movement of the tool direction, as will the upward pull of your rib cage and shoulders while inhaling.

Sponging: This technique is useful when drywall filler or spackle needs to be made smooth and even with the surrounding surfaces, but sanding would create unwanted dust. A damp, firm, flat sponge can be used in place of sandpaper to obtain satisfactory surface readiness for painting without creating a lot of dust. Rub the sponge against the surface with a slow and steady pressure, occasionally emptying the excess dust from the sponge.

Textured Ceilings: Most texture sprays used on ceilings are sensitive to water but not solvent. If a latex paint is used the first time the texture is painted, the perimeter area cut in with a brush must be allowed to dry thoroughly before proceeding with rolling the remainder of the surface. If this is not done, and you roll into an area that has been softened by the water in the paint used to cut in, areas of texture may peel back to the primed drywall. This problem does not occur if you paint a textured ceiling the first time with alkyd flat. Future repaints can be done with alkyd or latex.

Jenna M. Aker is a contributing editor for BUILDINGS magazine.

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