Best Practices:
Don’t Let a Carpenter Fix Your Car (II)


Second of Two Parts

Brainy engineers excel at many important functions. Specifying paint, alas, is typically not one of them.

This is not necessarily the engineer's fault. Engineers aren't trained to specify paint. But, too often, they seem to forget that.

Which is how the paint inspector ended up wincing at a dubious list of condo repaint specs drafted by an engineering firm.

As detailed yesterday, the questionable directive included painting over problem areas, applying coatings directly to glossy factory finishes, recommended thin-film latex over cracked stucco, not accounting for corrosion, and other items that left the veteran paint inspector scratching his head.

The Engineer's Response

As might be expected, the paint inspector’s report touched off a somewhat terse back-and-forth dialogue with the building engineer, who stood by all of his initial choices.

That stucco? The firm maintained that the intention of the painting work was not to bridge cracks in the stucco, since the cladding was a rain-screen assembly designed to allow intruding water to escape and leave the building envelope intact.

The firm did concede that any cracks larger than 1mm should be routed and sealed before being painted over.

This paint inspector, however, stood by his recommendation of applying MPI #40 Latex, High Build, Exterior instead of routing and sealing the cracks.

Why? The material used to caulk the cracks has a visibly different texture than the stucco. Even after two coats of paint, the smoothness of the caulked areas will noticeably telegraph through the paint film and look like slug trails crisscrossing the surface.

Aluminum Railings

The original spec recommended topcoating directly over factory-finished aluminum railings. The paint inspector disagreed, and eventually prevailed.

Furthermore, many of the caulk materials on the market will soften and liquefy when the temperature rises. So if the surface is painted with light colors, the southern exposure especially may be further marred by sticky dark liquid trails on the light finish.

A Pittance for Prevention

In the end, the property manager and homeowners' association opted to drop the building engineer’s paint spec and allow this paint inspector to re-write it and inspect the work.

So, common sense prevailed, and all that was lost on this project was a good deal of professional time while the parties involved dickered over which was right.

All too often, however, a professional paint consultant/inspector never gets to see the spec, and the story ends with a premature failure that can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more to fix, with all the parties pointing at one another.

All of this could be avoided for a pittance. The engineering firm involved has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in assessing the condition of the building envelope, but no notable credentials for paint and coatings work.

The owner could have subbed out the coating assessment and specifications to a professional whose documented expertise is exactly that: paints and coatings.

Condo Complex
Images: MPI

Not "just paint," high-performance commercial coatings serve critical functions. The coatings should be specified and inspected by a paint pro.

And if you think adding a sub to the process jacks up the price significantly, know that our organization does the assessment and writes paint specs for all of $500. We surmise that’s not a deal breaker for most budgets.

And Then There's Inspection...

Another thing: Had this project bypassed the paint consultant, the paint inspection work would have also been done by the engineering firm.

While we don’t know those rates, it’s fair to assume they are equal to or greater than the going rate for paint inspection, which is 5 percent of the total contract cost. It’s not unreasonable to think that if you’re going to pay $11,000 for coatings inspection, you’re better off employing a professional paint inspector to do it.

Paying the same or more for a building engineer to do paint inspection is like having a carpenter fix your car.

In addition, the professional paint consultant/inspector is arguably more savvy about the products and services available, which can add value for the client.

For example, for the factory-finished railings and roofing on this project, the paint inspector found a superior coating product with much longer service life that he negotiated for the same price as the mis-specified MPI #9 alkyd.

The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story? Property managers and homeowners’ associations deserve the benefit of all the expertise available to them, and different trades bring different skill sets to the job.

Plus, owners and engineers have to understand that high-performance architectural coatings are not “just paint." The best paints on the market still have countless ways to fail if they are incorrectly specified or applied, and it takes specialized skill to choose the right products and procedures for the job.

As was once noted, the eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor can the head say to the feet, “I don't need you.”

There are many parts to the building trade, and we all have our areas of expertise. Let the paint professionals look after the paint.

Editor's Note: This article was written by PQA Inspector Clayton Des Roches and is reprinted with permission from the MPI (Master Painters Institute) newsletter. MPI content describes best practices for commercial, institutional, and light industrial painting.


Tagged categories: Coating inspection; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Corrosion protection; Cracks; Engineers; Maintenance + Renovation; Maintenance coating work; Master Painters Institute (MPI); Primers; Specification; Specifiers

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