|Experimental water-based stains, some with VOC, undergo exposure testing.
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Wood Deck Stains: Low-VOC Paint
Low-VOC Paint. What does that mean for contractors who stain and maintain decks? It could mean a lot — especially in time. New product designs compliant with the low-VOC regulations often have different application properties and performance characteristics.
by Susan Brimo-Cox
As contractors learn to use the new products, they will be learning new application techniques, Clark emphasizes. “Thicker material doesn’t soak in as fast. And you need to wipe up puddles or they will create sticky, glossy spots.”
Drying time is typically much slower, too. And it’s this “babysitting time” that contractors are going to have to get used to, Clark says. “It may take only an hour to apply, but you need to wait maybe three hours before you can leave.”
Application techniques for low-VOC products vary. Some manufacturers recommend applying them with a pad or brush; for others, spraying and backrolling is just fine. What most agree on, however, is that more is not better.
“Professionals should focus on making sure that they only apply as much stain as the wood will absorb, being careful to not over-apply,” Daniels recommends. “Because of the higher solids content of the low-VOC products, brush drag may be somewhat higher, again leading the novice painter to potentially over-apply the product.”
These products have to be “pushed into the wood and pushed across the surface to spread it out,” Clark explains. “The key is to stay with the job — keep wiping those wet spots until they matte out to a flat finish.” (Clark also advises putting rags into a bucket of water while you wait, to avoid the spontaneous combustion you can get with highly flammable rags sitting in the sun.)
Revnew suggests, “The best way to avoid puddling or sticky spots is to apply the coating in three- to four-board increments at a time. This will allow you time to work the coating into the substrate in a uniform manor.”
Boyajian, too, says, “Be spare in your application. If you roll it, work out of a tray. If you brush it, be sure to brush it out.” Most importantly, he adds, “Don’t let uneven sheen with clears tempt you to recoat unnecessarily.”
Finseth reports, “Well-formulated low-VOC products will deliver close to the same durability characteristics as traditional products, and should have similar maintenance schedules for re-application.”
That, of course, is dependent on exposure conditions and the use of the deck.
Specific experiences vary. Several people I spoke to say reduced-VOC oil-based coatings should be monitored closely and may need more frequent application. Clark and others suggest that they may hold up a bit better because they have more solids content.
“Under the best of conditions, they should be checked yearly,” Stauffer recommends. “Decks often need to be recoated every 18-24 months, sometimes even more frequently, depending on surface preparation, species of wood, nature of preservation treatment and nature of the coating.”
Many homeowners have their decks maintained in the fall, at the end of the season. But a hard winter can affect the finish. The best time for reapplication, Boyajian says, is in the spring, so homeowners can enjoy their beautiful decks during the summer. Just keep in mind that twice-a-year, spring and fall refreshing is not recommended with low-VOC products because of over-application concerns.
It is important to keep up with current and pending VOC regulations in your area. Taking an active role in this, Revnew says, “will help you become a better business person for the long term and help avoid any potential legal issue.”
Contractors need to know that the products they are buying are regionalized, says Dave Busby, general manager at the Ace Home Center in Arnold, Calif. If your area is noncompliant, you can buy anything off the shelf. But if your area has stricter VOC regulations, he says, be wary of buying product from an outlet in a non-compliant area or adjacent state. If you use non-compliant product and are caught by an inspector you could face fines.
Stay attuned to industry news outlets (like PaintPRO), attend industry trade shows, and talk to your paint retailers and manufacturers regularly to keep up-to-date.
It behooves contractors to get ahead of the game,” Busby says. “Knowledge is power.”
Contractors should pay close attention to product literature and datasheets on the newer products, Stauffer says, to be sure a coating is compliant for their area. It’s also important to read new product guidelines, which will apprise you of the preferred method of application, required application conditions, application tips and guidelines, spread rate and maintenance — things that might have changed with the formulation.
Of course, be sure to share information with your customers. “Any professional contractor who doesn’t impart what information he has to his customers is doing a disservice,” Boyajian says. “He should explain why he uses certain products — or why he can’t [in the case of new low-VOC regulations]. It goes a long way in inspiring confidence in the contractor — confidence that results in fewer callbacks and more referrals for jobs well done.”