Ice dam leaks into building wall (C) Daniel Friedman Guide to Building & Site History to Diagnose Paint Failures on buildings

  • PAINT FAILURE - SITE HISTORY of - CONTENTS: How to study building & site history when diagnosing the cause of peeling, flaking, or other paint failures. Paint failure diagnosis checklists for the building exterior & interior
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to spot & interpret onsite clues that may explain the failuire of paint on building exteriors or interiors

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This article discusses how to study the site history of a building to gather key information used when diagnosing the cause of building paint job failures like peeling, cracking, chalking, or bubbling. We provide a suggested paint failure checklist for gathering information about the building.

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We provide a detailed site checklist used when inspecting buildings with peeling, flaking, or other paint problems. We include photographs of paint failures on buildings and more photos of forensic paint laboratory examination of samples of failed paint useful to assist in diagnosing the probable cause of each type of paint failure.

Our page top photo shows unambiguous evidence of ice dam leaks onto and into a building wall - certainly a contributor to paint failure on this structure and risking a hidden mold, insect damage, or rot problem as well.

  • Building and Paint Job History
    • Dates and type of construction of the building. This may allow us to identify high moisture conditions, moisture traps, high stucco pH or paint applied over old poorly prepared surfaces.
    • History of the paint failure: when was it first observed, where, in what form, and where has it increased - related to other events?
    • Mapping of failed and not-failed paint on various building areas, overlaid on the above list of possible causes, e.g. different building areas painted at different times or with different coatings or primers.
    • Documentation: was there an original job specification? are there any previous paint failure investigation reports, field inspections, paint testing lab reports obtained to date. Collect records and dates of payment for the painting work, for the ordering and delivery of types and quantities of paints and other supplies.
    • Dates and schedules of the entire painting procedure, from surface preparation through priming and top coating. Weather history prior, during, and after these dates; dates and weather history when paint failure was first observed.
    • History of and identity of other paints used on building surfaces. Possible incompatible paint types?
    • Sequence of building construction, events, floods, building left open, weather, rain, ice dam leaks in freezing climates, outdoor temperature, humidity at time of application of coatings, including halts or interruptions in the work by weather or other cause.
  • Building Characteristics
    • What is the substrate - on what surface or surface materials has the paint been applied?
    • History of changes in the building: additions to the structure, additions or changes in insulation amount or type of material (One case I investigated had sound paint on the exterior of an 1850's farm house, until the new owners blew in wall insulation. The next spring most of the paint peeled off.)
    • History of changes in the building's heating, cooling, plumbing systems, including change to or from forced-air heating/cooling, steam heat, hot water heat or cooling capacity or usage pattern such as when new occupants change the level of A/C usage.
    • History of building leaks and water entry; what building cavities did water or high moisture levels penetrate.
  • Painters
    • What was the level of training, experience, and supervision of the painting crew?
    • How large was the painting crew, which individuals performed which tasks, how many individuals were applying paint at any given time, and on what different areas of the building.
    • Is it possible to relate specific failures to an individual and thus to variation in surface preparation or paint application methods by worker?
    • The size of the crew, schedule, paint quantities, and paint delivery schedule can assist in determining the order and rate of paint application and thus in evaluating the possible exposure of wet paint to specific weather or other site conditions on any given day during the painting project.
    • Does the painting supervisor or contractor own and use a moisture meter? a wet film paint thickness gauge?
    • Was the painter pushed to rush the paint job start date, possibly running into bad weather, wet conditions, or insufficient stucco cure or primer cure?
  • Surface Preparation, Cleaning, and Testing
    • What steps were taken in surface preparation, and how did these methods vary by area on the building? Surface Preparation, back priming, sanding, caulking details: what were the selected coatings and what is the coating compatibility.
    • What was the use of primers, de-glossers, tinting agents, "mildewcides" (properly, fungicides), water-proofing compounds?
    • Surface cleaning methods, chemicals, use of power washers, too close (damage marks), too far (not clean), inconsistently, or mis-aimed (blew water into walls)
    • Where old paint was scraped, were edges feathered?
    • How much old paint was left on the building? before application of primer or top coat by percentage area, and by differing building exposures and conditions?
    • Were any paint tests performed before the building was painted? Was there a paint hardness test or a paint adhesion test performed?
    • Was the painter pushed on total job cost to the extent that s/he was encouraged to take shortcuts that led to improper surface prep or other failure causes?
  • Paint Characteristics
    • Paint mixing details: how was paint mixed, what methods were used? Were smaller containers dumped into a larger common container for mixing? Was all of each individual can content scraped into the mixer?
    • Compatibility of paints and coatings used, vs. paints or coatings already on the surface
    • What is the history of paint storage, purchase, and delivery for the specific containers of paint used at the building: was the paint exposed to unusual conditions such as high heat, prolonged storage, or freezing? Do the paint delivery schedule and quantities inform the investigator about the sequence and possible dates of paint application?
    • What types of tinting agents, mildewcides, or other additives were used and what may have been their effects on the paint?
    • What use was made of paint thinners? Was the paint job cost so squeezed that the painter was encouraged to over-thin paints to try and extend coverage?
  • The Application of Paint to The Building
    • Application or omission of primers, de-glossers, etc.
    • Method of coating application (spray, roller, brush, factory)
    • Sequence of painting and paint mixing, time between coats: What are the history, application sequence, and other details of paint or stain application: dates, conditions, substances applied, application equipment and methods.
    • Paint quantities ordered and used: does the paint quantity invoiced and paid-for match the quantity reported to have been used on the building? Does the paint quantity actually used match the square footage of coated area when using the rated paint coverage per gallon?
  • Painting Conditions, Weather
    • Conditions at time of application of primer or paint, such as wet weather, high temperature, freezing weather, wind, fog, rain, early morning dew, nearby construction or other dust-making activity (mowing or leaf grinding).
    • Did rain occur shortly before, during, or after application of paint?
    • Was painting performed in hot sun or in windy conditions? See PAINTING in SUN or WIND
    • Document the highs, lows, and range of temperature, humidity, as well as rain, sun, and wind conditions


Continue reading at PAINTING MISTAKES or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.

Or see PAINT FAILURE CASE PHOTOS, SITE and then PAINT FAILURE CASE PHOTOS, LAB, and see PAINT & STAIN GUIDE, EXTERIOR for a guide to the selection and proper application of paints and stains on exterior wood surfaces.

Our most exhaustive list of paint failure types is at PAINT FAILURE DICTIONARY.

Suggested citation for this web page

PAINT FAILURE - SITE HISTORY of at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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