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Paint Is Complicated: Inspector Training Opportunities

As those in the industry already know, paint is not as simple as it may seem. Achieving a paint job that meets industry standards requires learning the basics of coatings technologies and paint applications.

Anyone — including architects, specifiers, contractors, estimators, salespeople, and property managers — in the architectural, commercial, or institutional paint business requires this knowledge.

But paint is complicated; there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Different paints must be used in different environments. For example, if the environment is humid and subject to constant moisture, a higher-performance paint system will be required. Otherwise, a premature coating failure is bound to happen. This is why it’s so important to specify and apply the correct paint system the first time. It will save so much grief for everyone, especially the facility owner, who just wants to protect his or her assets.

One way to ensure that you’re ready to tackle these challenges is to get the right training. The Master Painters Institute (MPI), a subsidiary of the Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP), offers three training courses that may be a good place to start.

MPI Training: The Basics

MPI training is all-encompassing, covering topics from how paint is made to how new and old substrates are painted.

For example, painting strategies for new and old substrates differ. While painting new substrates requires a surface preparation stage, repainting an old, decaying surface is even more complex, calling on a far more extensive surface preparation process. This is why the Degrees of Surface Degradation (DSD) are taught in MPI classes.

The DSD has 5 ratings: 0 to 4. The lowest degree, 0, indicates a sound surface that is ideal for painting, while a 4 is beyond repainting and must be replaced. Understanding this concept should help you to understand the level of surface preparation required to deliver a job as expected. The time spent on surface preparation is a large component of a repaint project, and not allowing enough time to perform the proper surface preparation can be costly. Further, gaining this knowledge becomes critical when an MPI quality assurance (QA) paint inspection is specified on the job.

MPI Training: Gaining Further Knowledge

Even with 40 years of experience in the paint and coatings industry, basic MPI courses served as a great refresher for me. However, MPI courses are not only for learning the basics. For example, any high-level employee of a commercial painting business would benefit from the MPI Level 4 inspection training course.

As in the industrial world, a good commercial painting company should have a solid quality control (QC) program in place. QC is the process that the contractor uses to ensure the job is done as specified. This differs from QA, which is the process to validate and assure that the specification has been followed — the job of a qualified MPI inspector.

Still, QC is extremely important. Having staff members trained to monitor and record environmental conditions (surface and air temperatures, relative humidity, moisture levels in concrete block, etc.), wet film thicknesses (WFTs), dry film thicknesses (DFTs), lighting conditions, and more will help the painting contractor ensure the job is done correctly.

These records will also help if a general contractor questions whether something was done right. With this training and the purchase of some basic inspection equipment, your QC program will be up and running and may be a real life saver at times.

MPI QA Inspections

One obvious benefit to performing an MPI inspection is that you help ensure the owner is getting what he/she is paying for. You also ensure that the specifier is achieving what he/she has specified. But it goes further than that. Many times, specifications have obsolete paint systems specified, so inspectors work with the specifier to issue addendums with new, correct, up-to-date MPI paint systems.

You may wonder why specifiers sometimes have obsolete paint systems in specifications. This is partially because many specifiers do not have a current MPI manual and assume things have not changed over time. However, things are always changing in the world of paint and coatings. This is why having a subscription to the always up-to-date online MPI manuals is a must.

The online MPI manuals have other benefits beyond staying current. One fantastic tool with these online manuals is the “decision tree” option. You simply choose your substrate, the environment, and the performance criteria you are looking for (normal, moderate, or severe), and the decision tree provides you with options, narrowing the choices from 15 paint systems to two or three. It really is just that easy. (I use this feature every time I prepare a paint specification for a property manager.)

Another person who benefits from an MPI QA paint inspection is the painting contractor. MPI paint inspectors review surfaces prior to priming and painting, and, many times, as inspectors, we advise the painting contractor that the surface is not ready to prime or paint. Maybe the concrete block is covered in mortar, or the structural steel has weld slag on it after install.

These surfaces need to be paint ready before the painter starts his or her work. The painter is not responsible for making these surfaces ready. Contamination needs to be removed and cleaned by the trade responsible for the substrate. This helps the painter as he or she now can say with confidence that a surface does not meet MPI standards. The independent, neutral, third-party MPI inspection report helps painters with any related disputes with the general contractor.

Avoiding Disputes

Virtually every project undergoing an MPI inspection should have substrate cleaning by the responsible trade listed as a requirement in the paint specifications. Countless architects and general contractors unhappy with paint jobs have called on me to examine a project for which the inspection requirement was “value engineered out” (another term for cost savings).

After the fact, all an inspector can do is point out the obvious. Then a fight may begin between the painter and general contractor, which never ends well for anybody. However, when scheduled in advance, an MPI QA paint inspection eliminates this dispute because inspectors monitor the project from start to finish.

The inspectors provide detailed written reports after each inspection, and these reports identify expectations as well as problems as they arise so they can be dealt with promptly. This eliminates big surprises at the end of the project. Each inspection report is sent to the painting contractor, architect, general contractor, and owner so that everyone is kept in the loop and understands what is happening. It is not uncommon for the architect or general contractor to review things in the report and call the inspector because these people have a vested interest in completing the project successfully.

Concluding Thoughts

MPI paint inspectors help to guide and ensure that the specified products are used, the surface preparation is done correctly, and the right number of coats are applied. The cost for an MPI QA paint inspection is a fraction of the total project cost, and the first thing anybody sees when they walk into a finished building is the paint job — not the plumbing or electrical.Paint covers almost all surfaces, and if it does not look good, that is the first impression people will have of the project.

Make sure the first impression is excellent. An MPI QA paint inspection should help you achieve just that.

About the Author

Kirk Beggs is general manager of the Alberta Painting Contractors Association (APCA), which performs more than 80 MPI QA paint inspections annually. Kirk is a Master Paint Quality Assurance Specialist (MPQA) Certified Architectural Coatings Inspector #00227 and SSPC Protective Coatings Inspector Level 1 Certified #114281. He has more than 40 years of experience in the paint and coatings industry. 

For more information, contact: Kirk Beggs, (403) 370-7953, kbeggs62@telus.net.

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