Architectural Coatings: All of the Above


Good looks or protection? What is the true purpose of a commercial architectural coating?

The answer is "both," experts say, despite much of the industry's persistence in dividing coatings technology into "architectural" and "industrial" applications.

So-called architectural applications (skyscrapers, for example) demand plenty of corrosion protection for rebar and structural steel, while so-called industrial applications (power plants, for example) confront architectural and aesthetic issues in areas such as office space.

In fact, the experts say, the exposure environment—and thus, the coating demands—of an industrial plant has much in common with the architecturally exposed structural steel in a high rise like the 100-story John Hancock Center in Chicago.

Breaking down that architectural/industrial wall, and raising awareness on the protective demands of high-performance commercial coatings, was a major theme of Tuesday's (Jan. 15) "Coatings Issues and Solutions - Commercial Structures," which kicked off the commercial coatings track of the Technical Program at SSPC 2013 in San Antonio, TX.

Hosted by Durability + Design, the track featured presentations and discussions on selection, specification, performance, and testing of high-performance coatings, as well as an update on the work of SSPC's Commercial Coatings Committee.

Selecting and Specifying

John C. Williams, FCSI, CCS, of HOK, fittingly embodied the "hybrid" theme of the day in his opening presentation, "Selection and Specifications for Architectural and Industrial Maintenance Coatings for Commerical Architecture." After spending 29 years designing power plants, Williams found himself addressing an architectural audience.

His presentation noted that architectural coatings were not a "one size fits all" scenario, especially when they must provide both corrosion resistance and aesthetics to a project.

John Hancock Center
Path2k6 / Wikimedia Commons
A structurally complex giant like Chicago's John Hancock Center demands more than a one-size-fits-all coatings solution, John Williams of HOK said in his presentation.
John Hancock Center
Path2k6 / Wikimedia Commons

A structurally complex giant like Chicago's John Hancock Center demands more than a one-size-fits-all coatings solution, John Williams of HOK said in his presentation.

Pigeonholing a project as "architectural" or "industrial" perpetuates a "misconception" that high-performance coating cannot satisfy aesthetic needs, or an attractive coating cannot perform, Williams said.

Such mindsets may limit specifiers and architects when considering coatings, especially for the many structures that have both architectural and industrial elements, he added.

All architectural materials are subject to abuse, Williams said. "All the things that people bump into, run their carts into" need protection. "We don't want to shortchange the coatings on these structures," he said.

Williams noted a Durability + Design poll from July that asked readers which coating characteristic was most important to them. Some 78 percent of readers put durability at the top of the list; Williams joined the 6 percent who voted for aesthetics. The "correct" answer, he said in hindsight, was both.

"These are hybrid projects and hybrid coatings," he said.

Coatings specification and design, therefore, "must include an evaluation of exposure factors without the bias of whether it is commercial architecture or industrial engineering." Among other issues, he noted, a "single painting contract for supply and application of all coatings may not always be possible."

Pretty Faces, Power Coatings

Cynthia L. O'Malley, PCS, of KTA-Tator Inc., built on Williams' presentation in her own, "No Place for Hipsters: When the Substance Behind a Pretty Façade is Required."

Commercial architectural coatings have "got to have it all: aesthetics, performance and durability," O'Malley said.

A company's brand image on a building façade requires protective paints and coatings that will perform consistently. Baseline characterization of coatings, a common practice used in industrial coatings, has yet to be widely implemented in the commercial building field but could ensure consistent performance from coating specification to application.

Even a suitable coating selected on the basis of its track record or testing performance may perform differently after application, due to an accumulation of seemingly trivial changes in materials, substitutions or new methods throughout the manufacturing process, O'Malley said.

She likened the process to the party game "Whisper Down the Lane," in which even a simple sentence can turn out very differently after being whispered along a series of people.

"Just a small change in communication when there are multiple steps in the communication can have a huge impact on the result," she said.

O'Malley noted that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the National Transportation Product Evaluation Program (NTPEP), and the North East Protective Coating Committee (NEPCOAT) have combined requirements for baseline characterization and performance evaluations that can be used to assess materials.

Cynthia O'Malley

Educational facilities have high public prominence in the commercial building sector. Coatings performance “significantly impacts the appearance and perception of the educational organization in the public’s view,” O'Malley said.

Elastomeric Acrylic Coatings

Modern Safety Techniques
Seymour Midwest

A presentation by Leo Procopio, of the Dow Chemical Company, offered a "whirlwind tour" of the use of "Elastomeric Acrylic Coatings for Use on Commercial Structures."

Procopio offered an overview of the principal applications of these coatings and described their key properties, advantages, testing methods and performance.

The coatings have three main applications: as low-slope roof coatings, as textured finish coats and liquid-applied water-resistive barriers in Exterior Insulated Finishing Systems (EIFS), and as coatings for concrete and masonry walls.

Accelerated Weather Testing

Allen Zielnik, of Atlas Material Solutions, offered a candid assessment of "The Quest for Success in Accelerated Weather Testing for High-Performance Architectural Coatings."

With a frank overview of the limits of current accelerated testing methods, Zielnik reported on a new protocol his company has been developing in conjunction with Bayer MaterialScience, BASF, Boeing, Ford Motor Company and Q-Lab Corp.

base painters
Rapid Prep, LLC
Atlas Material Testing
Atlas Material Testing

Several companies have teamed up on a new accelerated weather testing protocol.

The protocol, detailed in his presentation, was developed for automotive and aerospace applications but has tremendous protection for commercial coatings as well, Zielnik said.

Like the other speakers, he noted the demands on today's high-performance commercial coatings, saying their exposures were similar to those of automotive coatings. Many chemistries used in architectural and automotive coating systems are similar, and the new protocol has been used with 20 different automotive systems, Zielnik said.

Commercial Committee Update

Rounding out the day, KTA-Tator president Ken Trimber, who heads the SSPC Commercial Coating Committee, offered an overview of the committee's progress.

The committee was established in October 2011, and Trimber said work had been advancing through several subcommittees, as detailed recently in Durability + Design. Various subcommittees are examining guidance for using thin-film coatings as air barriers, a standard for moisture meters on concrete floors, and other issues.

Tarps manufacturing, Inc.
NLB Corporation

"These groups have done a tremendous amount of work in the last year," Trimber said.

Tagged categories: Architects; Architectural coatings; Atlas Material Testing; Coatings Technology; Concrete coatings and treatments; Concrete masonry units (CMU); Dow Chemical Company; EIFS; KTA-Tator; Specifiers; SSPC Commercial Coating Committee


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