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Trends in New Substrates

New building materials designed to last longer and rest easier on the economy and the environment means changing formulations and new skills for painters. Find out the most popular of the newer materials and how they might change your painting process in the future.

13 June, 2022

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Wood, concrete, stone … we’ve been painting the same materials for millennia, and darned if we haven’t found a way to get paint to stick to a cave wall for 35,000 years. Fortunately, your guarantee can be substantially shorter! It’s not news that there have been some newer building materials in play recently, designed to last longer and rest easier both on the economy and the environment. These materials often come with a bit of a learning curve as far as prepping and painting — and the need to educate your clients on their maintenance. 

So, what’s new? 

Roman concrete was a wonder of its day, and it’s the reason some of their projects are still standing nearly 2,000 years later and some B.C. aqueducts are still in use. Your projects shouldn’t need to last nearly as long as the Colosseum, nor be engaged for quite so unappetizing a purpose. Maybe it took a while, but we’re moving beyond that and no longer need to do as the Romans did. “Advancements have been made in many of the traditional substrates, for example PVC or composite regarding wood, and ‘green concrete’ versus regular concrete,” said Mike Mundwiller, end user product experience manager at Benjamin Moore. (Green concrete is made by using waste materials from various industries, and costs less to produce.) 

Many of these changes help a building stand up to challenges such moisture, rot, termites and maybe even softball practice, and help solve problems that have been plaguing builders and painters for generations. “Some of these advanced substrates are made from recyclables, and there are even examples of concrete formulations that trap and store greenhouse carbon dioxide, break down pollutants and are self-healing,” said Mundwiller. “Essentially, in many cases, the newer substrates are stronger and possibly last longer.” 

Matt Culverhouse, vice president of sales at ICP, the manufacturer of California Paint and Storm System, points to composites as an alternative for homeowners who want to move away from the cleaning and staining cycle required by wood (which they probably weren’t doing anyway). “Certainly, there are markets that are wood-centric, such as the Northeast or Pacific Northwest, where the regional demand for wood products is strong,” he said. “But in other markets, we’re seeing much more composite decking, or polymer trim boards, used around windows and doors. These are usually less paintable surfaces, meaning the coatings industry is continually challenged to engineer new formulations for products that might combine wood, cement, fibers and plastic in completely different ways. There is a strong mentality in the marketplace of wanting longer lasting materials that do not require routine maintenance,” he said. 

PPG says things are going to a new dimension, for example 3D house printing, sometimes known as additive manufacturing. “As technology develops and is more widely implemented, we see this becoming a major trend in substrates, as it greatly reduces labor time and costs,” said Nicole Namey, PPG’s portfolio manager, paint. Along with saving labor, saving energy is driving a lot of the newer materials. “Composite decking and engineered insulation finished systems (EIFS) are rising in popularity, as composite is a mostly sustainable product and EIFS are a huge contributor to energy efficiency when used in commercial applications,” she said. 

Rust-Oleum’s David O’Bryan, manager, technical service department, credits the development of a lot of new materials as part of an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. “Traditional products like steel, concrete and aluminum are the top three building substrates used, and when it comes to CO2 emissions, they are responsible for a large amount,” he said. Even if you stick with wood, there is a move toward more sustainable wood species, or the use of more recycled content in the creation of these traditional products. “One example of recycled content is the process of composite decking with a merger of wood and plastics,” he said. “This trend is growing but creates substrates or surfaces with multiple attributes and coating needs.” 

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What does this mean for you?

As these substrates evolve, products, application methods and maintenance will change along with them. O’Bryan suggests keeping the following in mind: 

• The effects of these new building materials on current coating technologies are still being evaluated by manufacturers. As more of these materials become mainstream in construction, new primers and coatings will be required to provide proper sealing and adhesion to these substrates to protect for an adequate life cycle. 
• Contractors will need to learn the requirements for these new building materials and what will be the best coatings. There may be a learning curve or special circumstances that will require review and direction from architects, owners and manufacturers’ representatives to make sure that project requirements are reflected in the bidding process. 
• Products will continue to cure and apply in traditional methods based on their resin types. Durability will continue to be a basis of design, along with ensuring the right products are specified/recommended for the right project environment. 

Mundwiller noted that many of these newer substrates are designed with moisture resistance. This makes sense when a dry surface can be a defense against rot and decay, but the downside for you is that this can present an adhesion challenge due to a lower surface energy. You’ll probably need a specialty bonding primer for surfaces such as PVC. 

From a coating’s perspective, adds Nicole Namey, there’s a continued focus on durability and efficiency with technologies that include:

• Early rain/weather resistance (e.g., reducing dry times). 
• Self-cleaning properties (e.g., using rainwater to wash away dirt). 
• Cooling technology (e.g., using coatings to reflect sunlight away from a surface to cool and reduce temperature). 

Some of these new substrates are either precoated or won’t need coating for quite some time, adds Namey. “Materials that are selected for their sustainability or energy-efficient properties often offer the customer a high level of durability,” she says. “For instance, composite decking, which we’re seeing pop up more and more for its sustainable features, is precoated and comes with a lifetime warranty. EIFS provide customers with energy-efficient insulation against a variety of climates while also offering design flexibility without a required coating.” 

But as we know far too well, “never paint again" holds up as well as “the check’s in the mail.” Be kind to people who call you when they realize their “never paint again” surface needs painting, but also, adds Matt Culverhouse, make sure you prep it correctly. “The reality is there’s nothing out there that lasts a lifetime,” he says. “Eventually, these surfaces will benefit from some form of protection, so the challenge from a coating standpoint of course is that it’s naturally tougher to apply them. I can’t stress enough — surface preparation is critical. All painters know the importance of good prep, but for composite and polymer surfaces, you want to be sure you are following the manufacturer’s guidelines to the letter and reviewing any supporting technical documents first.” 

Finally, read the directions, which are especially important because you may be putting a newly developed coating on a newly devloped surface. “At ICP, we formulate many coatings with specific attributes for bonding to a particular type of surface, so it’s critical to apply that coating precisely as directed,” says Culverhouse. 

Changes from start to finish 

Change starts with the building materials themselves and migrates to the coatings. “Not only have there been products developed for application on these newer type substrates, but also research is ongoing,” says Mundwiller. “The research focuses on potential products as well as on cost-efficient and effective surface preparation, which will benefit the contractor.” 

“Based on these emerging sustainable building materials, there are multipurpose primers available to address the needs of these substrates,” O’Bryan tells us. “Once properly primed, compatible coatings can be applied. In the case of composite decking materials, which is recently developed and being used, manufacturers have been developing specialty primers and coatings to adhere to and recoat this substrate.” 

From primers, O’Bryan moves on to coatings. “The science behind coatings is important because materials are more complicated today,” he continued. “Industry leaders are constantly leveraging technology to innovate coatings, adhesives and sealants for new substrates that continue to hit the market. Right now, there is a focus on extremely durable coatings for interior walls and surfaces so that you can paint plaster and drywall but also composite materials, glass, tile — pretty much anything — and still get rich color that lasts. Painters should look for products that score high in ASTM testing for scratch and stain resistance.” 

Work together for success 

From here, Mundwiller advises, don’t go it alone, and if this is new to you, remember there’s a lot here that’s new to a whole bunch of folks. “From a contractor’s perspective, I can see how new building materials have added challenges, potentially changing contractors’ standard procedures including preparation, application and possibly even mock-up-type testing,” he said. “I would recommend that painting contractors partner with their paint manufacturer’s representative. The knowledge from all parties can result in successful projects.” 
While there’s a learning curve, it allows you to offer more alternatives to your customers, be they commercial, residential or anything in between. In fact, much of this, just like the Colosseum, is in response to giving customers what they want. “The major focus on sustainability and energy efficiency is very much consumer driven,” said Namey. “The industry is updating to meet these needs. Construction practices have also changed dramatically over the past 20 years, and designers, architects and specifiers can be much more specific in their approach than they were able to be in the past.” 

Also, adds Culverhouse, new products are changing as time goes by and their makers learn how to get around some of the early problems. “There were some issues with the first generation of composite materials going back 20 years or more, where there was a perception of lower quality that has since changed. With decking, a lot of people saw staining, discoloration, fading, warping — some things that were problems for a time but not so much today. Nevertheless, eventually you want a surface to look new again, and the industry is focused on giving painters better options for these difficult- to-coat surfaces that maybe they’ve never encountered. That’s where a special bonding primer or coating is really going to come through for you.” 

This might be a time to add the importance of quality product. “Composite materials can be a big investment for a project, so it’s important to choose a coating that is going to best protect that investment,” said Culverhouse. “In other words, you wouldn’t purchase a $5 wax for your new sports car, and the same thinking applies here. Building materials are more sophisticated, but so are the coatings that can save your business time and money.” 

“New technologies bring new challenges to manufacturers and painting contractors alike,” adds O’Bryan. “We always need to review these new building materials and either make sure traditional coatings are compatible, or work with newer product offerings to meet the growing needs and changes to the commercial and residential painting markets.” 

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