Get to know your paint options before your next project
Painting the office or school corridor is different from a home project. Instead of weighing the merits of this year’s hottest color, FMs have to prioritize longer durability, better resistance against abuse and the strength to hold up to washing and scrubbing.
The right paint for your repainting project is out there, but do you know how to find it? Determine what makes a product the right one with this guide to the types and ingredients of paint.
UNDERSTAND PAINT TYPES AND FORMULAS
Paints are typically categorized according to resin type and where the paints are used, notes Brian Osterried, Product Manager for PPG Architectural Coatings. Latex, oil-based or alkyd, and waterborne alkyd are the major categories of paints, and each will be marked according to where it can be used in your facility, such as interior, exterior, wall, trim or floor, he adds. Any one of them can be paired with a primer if needed, though some paints are advertised as self-priming.
“Interior paints are typically designed for the durability, washability, scrubbability and burnish resistance of everyday use and abuse inside buildings,” explains Rick Watson, Director of Product Information for Sherwin-Williams. “Typically, an interior paint doesn’t have to concern itself with sun, rain, wind, snow or temperatures that fluctuate significantly. The reverse is true on the exterior because those paints must have performance characteristics associated with fluctuating temperatures, dirt, wind-driven rain, hail and the sun beating down on it all day long. It’s not necessarily about coffee, tea and ketchup stains like it is on the inside. Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, primers really don’t have to stand up to the beatings that topcoats take – they just have to take care of sealing and providing good adhesion for those topcoats.”
Regardless of its intended application, all paints have four major ingredients:
Carriers (solvents or water): All of the other ingredients are suspended in this liquid, which evaporates after application and is not present in the final dried paint film, Osterried explains. Carriers allow the product to flow and level appropriately. Solvents are used as the carrier in oil-based paint, while water is used for latex products.
Binders (also known as resin): Ensures that the paint sticks to the surface and makes the film more durable. Binders are the “glue” that holds everything else in the can together, says Debbie Zimmer, Paint Quality Institute Director of Communications and Alliances for Dow Coating Materials, North America.
Pigments: These add color and opacity. Binders and pigments are the two biggest components in a can of paint, Zimmer notes: “Pigment is not the color that you get at the point of sale. The pigment is typically titanium dioxide, which provides whiteness, hiding and bulk.”
Additives: This category covers “miscellaneous ingredients that can provide a myriad of different characteristics, including mildew resistance, aid in application, improved adhesion and more,” Osterried says. Other common additives include stiffeners, which ensure a proper application consistency and help control spatter, and defoamers, which break up bubbles during mixing and application, adds Zimmer.
PICK THE RIGHT PRODUCT
Make sure you choose the correct paint for your project by first assessing how you need the paint to perform.
“Paint should certainly be tough enough to withstand scrubbing or washing the surface, but there are other questions you should ask yourself,” says Zimmer. “Is it in a waiting room where people are just sitting on chairs so it doesn’t have to be as tough as a bathroom application? Is it a hallway where there are a lot of people going back and forth and briefcases or computers are knocking into the wall? Describe the use of the space that’s going to be painted to your paint representative so they can help you determine exactly what product might work best.”
Reach out to at least two or three vendors with your requirements to compare product specifications, Zimmer recommends. This will ensure that you’re getting the performance you need in addition to a good price. Review Technical Data Sheets (TDS), Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and labels to shed more light on performance properties, usage and application recommendations, safety precautions, and product conformance standards. If what you find doesn’t quite fit what you had in mind, some vendors can recommend paints that address your specific needs, adds Watson.
“If our customers are saying ‘I have issues with a corridor’ or ‘I have problems with corrosion,’ we can specify the right products that are tailored for those projects,” Watson says. “Paint isn’t just one size fits all.”
Once you’ve chosen a vendor and product line, it’s time to look at color. There’s more to choosing a good hue than coordinating with nearby spaces or encouraging a certain mood – color also affects maintainability.
“In high traffic areas like hallways, select more neutral colors that are easier to maintain over time,” explains Osterried. “While bright colors can serve as a nice accent for entryways, lobbies or conference rooms, they may need to be touched up or repainted more often when subject to heavy abuse.”
CONSIDER VOC CONTENT
As you weigh your paint options, you’ll likely confront the question of whether to opt for a paint with a low volatile organic chemical (VOC) content. Common VOCs like texanol, butyl cellosolve, butyl carbitol, ethylene and propylene glycol are commonly used to help with film formation and drying, but also have the potential to create holes in the ozone layer and can cause headaches and other complaints for occupants, Zimmer notes. Green certification programs and other sustainability initiatives have responded by emphasizing the use of low- or zero-VOC paints to combat these problems.
However, VOCs can genuinely serve an important purpose, Osterried notes: “Low-VOC paints tend to have less freeze-thaw resistance than high-VOC or high-solvent paints and may not form films as well in environments below 50 degrees F.,” he adds. “They also tend to have less block and dirt pickup resistance due to the use of softer, lower-Tg (glass transition temperature) polymers, which are required for adequate film formation without the presence of VOCs.”
To determine whether you should use a low-VOC paint, Osterried recommends reviewing the VOC level requirements of your region or state as well as any green certification programs you might be pursuing for your facility. A low-VOC paint would also be a good choice for a closed space where occupants will be present during painting or soon afterward. However, even low-VOC paints may still emit odors, Zimmer warns.
“A lot of people equate low odor with low VOCs, but that’s not necessarily always the case. You can reduce VOCs and still have some odor in the can,” explains Zimmer. “It just might be a different kind of odor than you’re used to.”
A relatively new category of paints can actually reduce odors and formaldehyde from other sources, Watson explains. Look for laboratory results and certification by an organization like GREENGUARD or SCS Global Services to confirm airborne VOC reduction and low emissions.
SMART REPAINT STRATEGIES
With the right paint in hand, it’s time to get started. Survey the surface you’re about to paint and make sure it’s dry and free of any mildew, dust, dirt, loose rust or other contaminants so that the paint sticks properly. Depending on the material you plan to paint, surface preparation may also involve cleaning with solvents or commercial detergents, patching or filling imperfections, spackling or blasting with water or abrasives.
Next, consult the label to see what thickness and application method the manufacturer recommends. Most paints can be applied using your choice of a brush, roller or spray, but Osterried cautions that some are designed to work with one method – dry fogs, for example, should only be applied with an airless sprayer. Spray application is more common in new construction, Zimmer says, while repainting projects in existing buildings are usually tackled by hand brushing a few inches around corners and edges (also referred to as “cutting in”) and then using a paint roller to cover the rest.
“It’s best to start at the top and work down. Do the ceiling first by cutting in and then rollering the ceiling. Come down to the wall, cut in, roller the walls, and finish up with the trim and door,” explains Zimmer. “Most people will paint ceilings white and the wall surfaces some other color, so you want to get that clean, straight line between the wall and the ceiling – that’s where cutting in helps. It’s also necessary where the walls meet at the corners and next to the trim because a roller can’t get close enough.”
HOW PAINT INGREDIENTS IMPACT DISPOSAL
Is any paint left over after you’ve applied the last coat to your repainting project? Don’t dump it down the drain or pour the leftover liquid into the trash – make sure you dispose of it properly.
Disposal methods partially hinge on what type of paint you have. Solvent-based paints can lead to environmental contamination if they aren’t handled with care. Some recycling centers will offer periodic disposal days for solvent-based paints, Zimmer notes. If you’re not sure what type of paint you have, a good rule of thumb is to check the brush cleaning instructions on the label – a solvent-based paint will require white spirit or turpentine for cleaning, while a water-based paint can be cleaned up with warm, soapy water.
After you’ve taken stock of what’s left to dispose of, call your local waste disposal authorities. Different municipalities have their own regulations, so your first call should be to the city to see what they recommend for your surplus paint. Alternatively, many paint manufacturers will take back their own products (some even have paint recycling programs set up in their stores, notes Zimmer), and the American Coatings Association sponsors PaintCare, a paint recycling program available in nine states.