Colour On The Coast
Can water-based paint cut the mustard and defeat the salt?
The sea air might be good for the soul but it's not always good for our homes. Picturesque Atlantic Canada is full of brightly painted coastal dwellings, but whether you live in a 200-year-old wood frame building or something much newer, the salt in the air can be tough on your house.
"Salt is a pretty corrosive material," says Charlie Mattie of Benjamin Moore paints. "It certainly wreaks havoc on the finish, gloss and the pigment of paint."
Salt crystallizes in the air and is then deposited on solid surfaces. The high winds and changing temperature near the ocean can then compound the problem. It means the paint breaks down more easily and can mean a lot more work for homeowners.
Professional painter Scott Martell learned his trade in the coastal communities of Nova Scotia's South Shore. He says, if there's salt in the air, homeowners need to take extra care when painting the exterior of a house. "Just a general rule of thumb," says the owner of Halifax's Pro Experts Painting, "within 50 kilometres of salt water… you should still do it the old-fashioned way." That means hand washing the walls and sticking to products that work.
"If you're living in Saskatchewan or Manitoba, latex paint primer is just wonderful. You get any salt in the air, it doesn't work." Like many painters, Martell prefers the older style oil-based paints and stains, saying those products repel the salt and moisture and will last much longer.
Many paint manufacturers agree that the early Latex products didn't necessarily measure up, but they say that's changing. "Until this new technology," says Benjamin Moore's Charlie Maddie, "I was in agreement with most painters that oil paint is definitely the way to go, but that option is not going to be available very, very soon for most consumers."
California already has stringent rules around oil-based paints and stains and the paint industry is expecting Canada to take similar measures. They're predicting that in a year or two, oil products will not be an option for Atlantic Canadian consumers.
"Oil-based paints are gradually being, for lack of a better term, outlawed," says Maddie. The Volatile Organic Compounds in oil-based paints are blamed for a variety of environmental problems, including smog and climate change. Maddie says the paint manufacturing industry has responded with heavy research and development creating longer lasting, more durable 100 per cent acrylic paints.
"What you're seeing is the industry has to come up with ways to reproduce the durability properties of oil-based products only in a water-based form so they'll meet the new CO2 regulations."
Most of the larger paint manufacturers are offering high-quality acrylic paints they claim will last just as long as the oil products. The trick though, says Terry Mulock, of Pittsburgh Paints, is choosing high-end paints.
"Because you're on the ocean, you just need something that's going to stand up," says Mulock. He says a cheaper product has fewer ingredients and is less flexible, less able to expand and contract. "That's why you probably only pay $25 or $28 for an inexpensive, inferior product, when you get into a Benny Moore or a Pittsburgh top of the line you're paying about $55 a gallon, but you expect this to last 15 to 20 years and it shouldn't (need to) be recoated at all."
Whether you go with the big paint companies, or choose to shop at the local hardware store, choosing high-quality paint is the key. The paint will be thicker and will usually come with a warranty. The price will also be a dead giveaway says Scott Martell. "In the painting world… you really do get what you pay for."
No matter what product you choose, manufacturers and professional painters alike agree the most important part of painting the exterior of a house, especially one exposed to salt air, is the cleaning. "You can get away with a lick and a promise inland," says Mahone Bay builder Yvonne Delaney, but by the ocean she says, "If you're going to do a good job you have to have a clean palette to start."
Delaney says that means cleaning all the salt and other residue off the surface before applying any paint. Using a product like TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) or some of the new, similar, more environmentally friendly products will usually do the job. These products will clean off mildew, rubber, oil and, of course, salt residue-and they will slightly etch the surface so the paint will stick better.
The surface then needs to dry thoroughly before painting. Professional painters recommend anywhere from two days to a week depending on the moisture in the air. Moisture metres are available at most hardware stores and can tell prospective painters about the moisture in the wood.
Not starting with a clean, dry surface is a mistake made by many homeowners. "If not done properly, a typical home close to the water, if you don't know what you're doing, will peel on you within about three or four years," says Martell. "People get very frustrated. Amateur painters and homeowners, they're doing it every second or third summer and looking at their neighbours that are lasting 10 to 12 years."
Martell adds keeping the surface clean once it's painted will help the paint last longer. "A good little scrub-down once in the fall and once in the spring, even just taking your garden hose out, really makes a difference."