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Advice from a Wastewater Expert


By PaintSquare Staff

Kevin Morris is a 25-year veteran of the coatings industry, specializing in water and wastewater facilities; he currently works as Market Segment Director, Water & Wastewater, for Sherwin-Williams Protective and Marine Coatings. He has worked in water and wastewater for the past 16 years, and is an SSPC Certified Concrete Coatings Inspector and instructor for the SSPC Concrete Coatings Basics and Concrete Coatings Inspector programs, in addition to being a NACE Level III Certified Coating Inspector.

Kevin Morris
Images courtesy of Sherwin-Williams

Kevin Morris has 25 years of experience in the coatings industry, including 16 in water and wastewater.

Morris spoke with PaintSquare Daily News editor Andy Mulkerin about his background in water and wastewater, and specifically some of the unique factors and challenges associated with wastewater structures.

How did you first get into the coatings industry?

It started in college, as a part-time job. My father was a state trooper, and was hanging wallpaper on the side. Somehow there was a conversation between them and the local Sherwin-Williams store, and they said, “Hey, they’re looking for a part-time employee where he’s at for school.” One thing led to another, and now I’ve been here 25 years.

And how did you end up in this particular area of specialization, water and wastewater?

I started as a protective coatings rep in Augusta, Georgia, and realized real quick that there was a lot of opportunity in water-wastewater. Then I moved back to North Carolina, and had a contractor who had just started a business about two months prior to me coming back, and he wanted to focus on water-wastewater, and I had another contractor who was looking into getting into manhole rehabilitation work. And that began the whole focus and infatuation with water-wastewater.

If I’m a contractor who’s new to working in wastewater, what are the most significant things about the field that I might not know?

I think the thing that I would tell everybody is: The market has definitely shifted. There’s not as much opportunity for paint application work in new construction, as there is in the rehabilitation market. And the rehabilitation market definitely takes a slightly different skill set. You’ve gotta be confident in your ability to do concrete restoration, as well as coatings and linings work.

What’s the average age of the structures that would be undergoing rehabilitation?

They are 50-plus years old, so they have met or exceeded their design life cycle in most cases.

Why aren’t new facilities being built—do you think they should be?

No, I don’t think so. If you look at the industry, what was happening years ago, number one, the waste stream was not as corrosive as it is today. And there were not a lot of coatings and linings applied to these concrete structures in the wastewater market segment years ago as there are today. As the waste stream is becoming more septic, more aggressive, more corrosive, they’re having to install coatings and linings to extend the life cycle.

Wastewater facility

"As the waste stream is becoming more septic, more aggressive, more corrosive, [wastewater facility owners are] having to install coatings and linings to extend the life cycle," Morris says.

If they had [coated and lined] originally, the industry wouldn’t be in the position where they are today, where they’re trying to make a structure last another 50 years. They’d be able to just apply another coat of paint or another coat of whatever lining system, and get [an] extended life cycle out of it. But because they didn’t coat or line in new construction, they’re having to rehabilitate. Which is causing significant concrete restoration prior to the application of coatings and linings, to prevent all that deterioration from happening.

What special needs or challenges exist with this particular type of structure?

In wastewater, there’s a fair amount of structures that are below grade or at least partially below grade. We’re talking about 85 percent of what’s coated and lined in wastewater is a concrete structure; the wastewater plant is typically the lowest lying piece of land in a community, so that they can gravity-feed the sewage to the plant, and then a lot of those structures, when you get there, are below grade, to allow for entry and/or transferring the sewage from one structure to the other. With that in mind, we have to contend with water infiltration in a lot of cases. There may be a high water table—these things are buried—or they’re on grade and don’t have any kind of vapor barrier under them. So understanding how moisture moves through concrete and how to stop active water leaks, and how to contend with moisture vapor emission issues is one of the critical things. The other thing is, in water-wastewater, due to the corrosive nature and just being concrete and dealing with some deterioration, is the film thicknesses of the coatings and linings we install in that segment today are much thicker than what they are in a lot of other protective coating market spaces. We are commonly 100-125 mils for lining systems on concrete.

From the perspective of someone who’s an owner of one of these structures, or someone who’s specifying a rehab job, what are some of the most common mistakes or misunderstandings that you see?

The most common thing I see as a mistake from an owner perspective is that they put these projects out to bid as if they are painting contracts, and they don’t have a process in place to properly qualify bidders. And they wind up in a lot of cases with the lowest bidder, who is not qualified to do the work they’re hiring them for. If you wanted a shorter answer: Owners don’t see the difference between high-performance coatings and linings, and painting work. So they’ll allow the guy with the ladder strapped to the roof of the Camaro to bid a lining project just like they’d allow him to bid painting the drywall in an office. That’s the biggest one—not having any mechanism in place to qualify bidders or specify that coatings and linings are a specialty application above that of painting.

The other thing I see as a common mistake [is] they’ll forego the expense of a third-party inspector, to save money, and in the end it’s costing them money.

What conflicts do you see arising on these jobs?

A couple of things: One is somewhat alarming and concerning in the industry—that owners and/or their consulting engineers are asking manufacturers to play the role of an inspector on the jobsite. So they’re trying to shift risk and liability to a manufacturer by asking us to be the inspector, and because we have a stake with all three parties—the owner, the engineers and the contractor—they’re not getting the unbiased opinion of a third-party inspector. That issue definitely comes into play.

The other thing that probably makes everybody’s job harder in the scenario is that they try to tie [the manufacturer] to these things, but we’re not a party to the contract. So if we want to address something as it’s occurring, we’re being tied up in the spec, but not party to the contract, and no one wants to talk to us when we’re trying to remove a headache. So the one thing I would tell everybody they can do to make life easier is engage all parties. Have an open line of communication between the material supplier, the contractor, the owner and the engineer. We all realize as a supplier, we’re not a party to the contract, but we definitely can make it an easier project, if there’s open lines of communication and we’re doing it upfront, instead of after it goes bad.

What trends exist right now in terms of materials in this field? Is the use of polyurea on the rise in wastewater applications?

I would tell you that polyurea has not been growing; polyurethane, however, has. I guess the term gets interchanged in our industry sometimes; you’ve got polyurethanes, you’ve got polyureas and you’ve got hybrids. Hybrids are really polyurethanes that have been modified with some amines. But the use of elastomeric urethanes and urethane liners has definitely been on the rise, and one of the driving factors that has generated that has been the fact that the bulk of what we’re coating and lining is concrete. And sometime during the design life of that concrete, it’s going to crack. Having something that has elastomeric properties to it allows you the ability to bridge those cracks. What we have seen with polyureas—and I know that there are new generations where this may not exist, but with previous generations of polyurea technology, when they are in these service environments, they’re exposed to hydrogen sulfide gas; there could be some elevated temperatures, say in a digester; microbial growth or biogenic corrosion; and we have seen that polyureas in that exposure environment will become embrittled over time. Polyurethanes have not seen that same effect.

Wastewater coating

"The use of elastomeric urethanes and urethane liners has definitely been on the rise," Morris explains. "And one of the driving factors that has generated that has been the fact that the bulk of what we’re coating and lining is concrete."

Polyurethanes give you the flexibility. They can give you the high film build that the industry is looking for. And they’re an excellent corrosion barrier from the standpoint of low permeability, good flexibility, good impact resistance and excellent abrasion resistance—the things that we may see that we need overcome in applications in the wastewater industry.

Anything else you’d want readers to know about the wastewater industry in general?

The one thing that I think is critical that owners tend to do, and we as humans do it: You buy something that’s a particular brand, and it works, and you tend to stick to it. I would say that owners need to be open and have discussions with everybody. I know you’re going to have stronger relationships with Sherwin-Williams versus whoever, or the other way around. But they tend to be closed off a little bit, and are not accepting of new technology and new ideas. The way the coatings industry is changing, I tell people, we’re not that different from the electronics industry today. There is new technology that comes out every day, and we’re all looking for a better solution to the problems that they have. But that reluctance to try something new may be costing them more money. Be open, hear everybody out—don’t be so stringent that you force everybody to put a square peg in a round hole.

And the other thing that kind of dovetails with that is, it’s the same thing when you see projects out there and it’s the “or equal” clause. If you want somebody to give you an equal, then you are assuming that what you have specified is accurate to begin with. You’re assuming a lot of liability. They best way to take an equal is to say “Here is what we intend to coat, line, rehab, whatever—what is your recommendation?” Equality is extremely hard to justify in the coatings industry, because we all take a different approach to solving the problem or generating the product that works the best. And you’re going to have some variance. Hear everybody out, listen to what they’ve got. Case histories may be the better judgment versus critical performance comparison—and you will actually lower your cost for doing the job, and probably not eliminate products that would give you the same performance as what you specified.


PaintSquare Staff

In this occasional blog series, PaintSquare staff writers speak with industry experts on life in the coatings industry, and the advice they'd like to share with others based on their years of experience.



Tagged categories: Industrial coatings; Personnel; Program/Project Management; Protective coatings; Concrete coatings and treatments; non-potable water; Polyurea; Polyurethane; Wastewater Plants

Comment from Jim Criss, (9/14/2017, 7:54 AM)

Great point on the "or equal" clause, assuming original spec is correct and opening the conversation to ask for current product recommendations.

Comment from Steve Crandal, (9/25/2017, 12:54 PM)

Excellent. About time. When's the 2 day Conference or Committee meeting.

Comment from Justin Beitzel, (11/21/2017, 8:37 AM)

Kevin, thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience. When specifying a coating or lining for water - wastewater facilities, how much thought goes into downtime of assets for the preparation and application of a new system?

Comment from PRASHANT SHAH, (4/22/2019, 12:38 AM)

I agreed, the polyuria is failed. But if the concrete is contamination with hydrocarbon then non of the coating will work. We had experienced that we blasted the concrete and applied new coating, but within 2 days its peeled off.

Comment from PRASHANT SHAH, (4/22/2019, 12:41 AM)

It was new polyamine cured phenolic epoxy we used but its failed. which paint is good against hydrocarbon/sour water services in concrete pit ?

Comment from John Davis, (3/29/2021, 7:36 AM)

This is a well-written article. I am currently studying about concrete and I think I'll study wastewater too!

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