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Commercial Painting

Approximately $7.6 billion was spent on architectural coatings in the U.S. in 2003 according to the National Paint and Coatings Association, Inc. Architectural coatings is “paint” in layman’s terms. The $7.6 billion represents the cost of paint alone sold for buildings and does not include application costs. Nor does this figure distinguish between paint used for commercial buildings and residences, or new construction versus repainting. Since the paint itself typically represents about 10 percent or less of the cost of a total paint job we might conclude that a heck of a lot of money is spent on painting buildings in the U.S. every year.

Why paint?

The two most common reasons for painting are to beautify and protect. Paint gives a variable and often unattractive surface an attractive and uniform appearance. Painting protects the underlying surface - be it wood, metal, or ceramic - from the ravages of ultraviolet deterioration, rain (especially acid rain), physical abuse, and a host of other environmental and human factors. Thus, painting can maintain or increase the value of your commercial real estate in two ways: it can make it more attractive, thereby increasing street appeal for potential tenants or buyers, and it will preserve the integrity of the physical asset. When you spend a part of the $7.6 billion on repainting an existing building, you will want to spend that money wisely to ensure the paint job is economical, durable, and gives the best value.

Three keys to a good painting job: preparation, preparation, and preparation!

Painting should be part of a planned maintenance schedule not a panic reaction to a failed coating system. The old maxim “Don’t wait until you are thirsty before you start digging a well” applies to building maintenance too. Don’t wait until a system has failed before you address its maintenance. All painted surfaces should have a regularly scheduled program of inspection, caulking, and minor repairs and touch-ups. Exterior surfaces should be inspected every year. A log of the inspection and any maintenance should be kept as well. Correct minor problems before they escalate.

Because the greatest expense in painting is labor, especially surface preparation, a well-maintained surface will cost less to repaint than one where the paint is flaking or where the substrate is beginning to fail. Schedule the painting to take advantage of good weather, optimum contractor’s availability, and other building maintenance.

Plan for regular inspections of the work during the course of the job. Pay particular attention to surface preparation; as noted, because this is the most labor-intensive part of painting, it is the area that a contractor will be most tempted to skimp on. Painting over a poorly prepared substrate is a complete waste of money. Having a qualified engineer inspect the work will cost a fraction of the total project and will go a long way to making sure you get the job you are paying for.

New technology

In addition to applying paint properly, new coatings are becoming available for a variety of specific purposes. Imagine being able to change the color of a room by literally flipping a switch. New developments in paint technology are making this and many other futuristic ideas possible of not yet commonplace.

Synthetic polymers, part of the binder in paints, are being routinely created. Here are a few recent developments:

  • A new low-VOC (volatile organic compound) urethane coating system provides corrosion protection and weatherability to painted outdoor metal structures.
  • A Tennessee company has developed a line of waterborne polymers that combine decorative appearance features such as color, gloss, and hiding with resistance to water/humidity, dirt, cracking, abrasion, and corrosion.
  • A 100% acrylic siding stain with a low-temperature feature that allows it to be used down to a temperature of 35º F.
  • A water-based, heavy-duty floor varnish that dries in minutes and cures in hours.
  • A paint for use on vinyl plastic surfaces that dries to the touch in 10 minutes and covers with one coat. Designed for painting vinyl-clad windows and can work on vinyl siding.
  • A two-component acrylic polyurethane coating that dries to a hard finish that resists chipping, cracking, peeling, chemical fumes and spills. It has excellent color, gloss and corrosion protection. It can be used for exposed metal structures as well as to coat reinforcing bars for concrete that is exposed to harsh elements.
  • A water-based primer that dries clear and was specially developed to bond to both interior and exterior surfaces, including glass, tile, laminates, and most plastics.
  • Radiance Low-E interior paint that reduces the amount of heat inside a room from escaping in the winter; while in the summer, it can block infra-red energy from the sun.
  • A silicone rubber-based paint barrier that, once cured, other paints will not stick to. It’s great for building exteriors and railroad boxcars. With a simple cleaner you can remove graffiti easily.
  • Another development includes two polymers in the paint. One detects microscopic cracks as they develop in the paint film, and the second is a microscopic tube of paint that then fills the crack. This development is to combat corrosion by preventing water from getting through the paint. Currently, the microscopic tubes of paint cost $1 million per pound, so this development hasn’t met the competitive price requirement yet.

The specification

From the above, it should be obvious that a successful paint job involves more than taking a brush or spray gun and applying any old paint. The key to a quality job starts with a comprehensive painting specification and scope of work before going out for contract bids. Have this document prepared by a professional engineer. Specify surface preparation, the paint system to be used, methods of application, dry film thickness, and exactly what is to be painted. If you have special needs, the engineer may be able to identify products specifically designed to serve those needs. It is a good idea to have both a written specification and scope of work even if the work is to be done in-house. Preparation of a scope of work and specification represents a tiny fraction of the total painting cost yet is a major factor in ensuring a high-quality cost-effective paint job.

Volume 16, Number 3

August 2005

Copyright © 2005

The Engineering Advisor is intended to enhance your knowledge of technical issues relating to buildings.  For additional information on any subject, please feel free to call us.  Our commitment is to provide you with timely, accurate information.