A Coat of Protection

How can protective coatings strengthen, enhance and improve the lifespan of buildings?


For architects and designers, creating a building that will stand the test of time is paramount. However, the longevity of a structure can be compromised if its components aren’t protected. Here, Tony Walker, Technical Specification Controller at PPG Architectural Coatings, explains how specifying advanced, protective coating solutions earlier in the design phase can significantly bolster our buildings.

Years of hard work go into designing and constructing a building, so it makes sense that we should do all we can to keep them in top condition and resistant to damage throughout their lifespan. However, too often this level of effort and attention is only brought in as a remedial measure when decay and damage have already had an effect, resulting in a much more costly, disruptive and difficult process.

One area that can provide real value here is the specification of well-thought-out coating systems. Rather than being just a ‘lick of paint’ that’s only considered at the end of a project, coatings need to be a key consideration early on in the specification process if we’re to create assets with true staying power. After all, they are the outermost barrier between the building and external forces.

To help architects safeguard their buildings, there’s a vast array of protective coatings available that are specifically suited to different substrates and materials.

Fighting fire with coatings

Steel is most commonly used for large buildings due to its natural strength. However, if left exposed, even for short periods of time, steel will rust and eventually corrode, leading to structural fatigue and instability. This can pose serious health and safety risks, particularly in areas such as fire escapes, which can become compromised if the steel structure breaks down considerably. Anti-corrosive paint systems are available for the protection of such structures, which can help prevent rust formation and enable the material to retain its strength.

Aside from being just a structural component, steelwork is now also used as a design feature. The popularity of exposed steel has grown rapidly in recent years, giving spaces such as offices and converted lofts an industrial look. However, this striking design feature poses a structural risk in the event of fire, because when the exposed framework is subject to heat, it can then compromise the safety of the entire building. Protective fire coatings are available and can play an essential role in fire safety.

Passive fire protection (PFP) methods, such as cementitious sprays and fire-resistant boards, are not particularly popular with designers as they can be hard to maintain and appear bulky. This has left a gap in the market for intumescent coatings to lead the way for innovative asset protection. Amongst these, the PPG Steelguard range of coatings is available to provide added fire protection. Intumescent coatings can be applied to most types of steel, and when exposed to intense heat will expand to create a thick, foam-like layer around the metal to provide structural protection. By incorporating this type of coating into the design of their buildings, architects and specifiers can ensure they’re creating as safe a space as possible in the event of fire.

Preventing decay

Timber is another common and popular material used in construction, but if installed without prior treatment or neglected once in situ, it can lead to many issues including rot, decay and the breakdown of protective paint coatings. This can; in turn, lead to prolonged water ingress, which often leads to more serious, structural problems that require more intensive work. However, long-term damage and structural issues can be prevented with the use of high-quality, specialist protective treatments.

Adequate and effective timber treatment must be considered during the initial design and construction of a building. Failure to do so can cause substantial and often irreversible damage to timber features. Products included in both the Johnstone’s Stormshield and Woodworks ranges offer a longer-term and more cost-effective solution for the specifier than the more traditional exterior coatings we’ve all become accustomed to. These coatings are flexible enough to move with the substrate as it naturally expands and contracts, while also being microporous to allow for the passage of small amounts of residual moisture that will not unduly affect the coating’s appearance or protective qualities.

In cases where decay has already developed, all defective coatings must be removed to assess the underlying substrate for damage. Once any repair work or treatment has been carried out, the timber should be allowed to fully dry before the protective coatings are applied.

Coat of armour

For exterior surfaces, a render or full External Wall Insulation (EWI) system may be a viable option, particularly when building in coastal or industrial environments, where buildings face more severe impact from moisture, harsher weather conditions and airborne salt pollution. These complex systems will not only help maintain the internal envelope of a building but also enhance its thermal characteristics. Their intelligent properties offer flexibility and ultimate crack resistance to provide robust structural support.

Head to toe protection

Once the building’s walls are protected, specifiers also need to consider how to look after other substrates, such as flooring. This is particularly the case for industrial environments such as factories, chemical plants or laboratories where toxic materials are commonplace, and floors are at risk of damage. Over time, such exposure can lead to an unsightly and uneven surface that can develop into a health and safety risk if not treated.

One way around this is for designers to opt for an epoxy resin floor coating. In comparison to most traditional, single-pack coatings, epoxy floors offer enhanced durability against heavy and continuous traffic, abrasion and chemicals. These surfaces are also easy to install on a range of substrates, offer additional safety with the use of slip-resistant additives and are simple to clean, meaning they require very little maintenance.

Taking into consideration the damage that can ensue if these preventative steps aren’t taken, it’s clear that coatings play a vital role in giving our buildings the best chance of endurance. However, if they are to truly reach their potential, it’s down to architects, specifiers and designers to begin to consider such products much earlier in the design process. By prioritising these protective solutions and making appropriate specifications, we can do our buildings justice and maintain their integrity and long-term resilience to the elements.

For more information about the coatings available from PPG’s paint brand Johnstone’s Trade, visit the below website.

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