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It Looks Like Wood, but It's Not

13 June, 2022

New wood-like materials


The development of new building materials, with their associated paint problems, is nothing new. Most painters with a few years under their brush remember aluminum siding, then vinyl siding, all sorts of materials that would save a homeowner from ever, ever, EVER calling a painting contractor. These days there’s no shortage of new building materials on the market. Painters, remodelers, builders and consumers can use these products to their advantage, but they also need to separate hyperbole from reality. 

“There’s tons of new stuff coming out and the big thing about much of it is it looks like wood … but with no maintenance,” says Kurt Clason of Clason Remodeling in Ossipee, New Hampshire. Clason was referred to us by the National Association of Home Builders as someone with knowledge of this topic. “We have been in business for more than 14 years, developing and building new structures and additions, and making alterations and repairs to homes on the islands and shorefront of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region,” he reports. 

Some of these materials have been around for a while, says Clason — Hardie, LP SmartSide, PVC, Boral Fly Ash, to name a few. Some of them have huge thermal movement, he says, while others are more stable. Due to some supply chain issues, some of these materials are playing hard to get, and here’s where you come in. If someone wants one color, but their new walls are only available in another, who ya gonna call? 
Before you break out the paint, however, it’s crucial to know about your substrate. Some of these, like Boral, are designed to take paint, but a lot of prefinished products aren’t, and you might need to start off with a bonding primer, Clason advises. “You really have to know what you’re getting into before you get into it, if you’re a painter,” he says. 

Also, he adds, always use quality paint. “These products are designed to last; and the manufacturers are advertising 20- and even 50-year warranties,” he says. “But it always goes back to paint. If you’re going to use a low-end paint, you’re probably not going to get those 50 years.” 
The failure is going to be hugely dramatic, he says. Cheap paint can fail on wood siding, but a bargain basement paint on one of these newer materials can fail spectacularly. It’s also important to tell your client about maintenance. “People are expecting these wood-looking products to last for 20 years, 30 years, and we always go back to tell them you have to maintain it, you have clean it. But in the back of their head, they’re thinking they don’t have to touch this product for 20 or 30 years.” 

When it’s done right, though, you’re good for a while. “We do a walkaround with them at the one-year mark,” says Clason. “I have never seen a failure at one-year.” While a lot of older jobs start to fail as moisture gets behind the wood, these materials are less moisture absorbent. It’s still, as we’ve noted, important to know how your substrate takes the paint, for example if something was precoated, or made to be moisture resistant. “If you have questions, call the manufacturer or the paint rep,” said Clason. “We always defer to the manufacturer and then try to use something better if we can.” 

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