NTE Podcast: Navigating Winter Projects

We know how temperatures and humidity can affect the home and home projects during the warm humid summer months, but winter poses just as many problems. Jay and I discuss these to help you avoid those pitfalls and keep your sanity while trying to get the house ready for family and friends visiting for the holidays. 

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Navigating Winter Projects


Andy: Back from vacation and feeling energized and ready to go. But it’s snowing outside and it’s winter time. So let’s talk about projects around the house during the winter here on Non Toxic Environments. Well, welcome back to Non Toxic Environments. Jay, I had a couple of weeks off and I’m feeling well rested. And, how about you? How are you doing these days?

Jay: Well, I’m feeling fine. welcome back. You probably learned a few more Italian words.

Andy: I may have. I may have.

Jay: We just, we just told everybody where you were. Yes, he was in Italy, ladies and gentlemen, he was in Italy. It was business, it was business.

Andy: Yes, It was business.

Jay: But at business of relaxation, you deserve Andy, you deserve.

Andy: Well, we all do. And, and I’ll be honest with you, you know, when I have customers and clients and friends saying, you seem a little tense, you really need to take some time off. So I take that to heart. You know, you’re the same way. I, we love, absolutely love doing what we do. And it’s impossible for you or I to separate what our clients are going through from our own personal life.

Jay: It’s going to be a very emotional situation talking to people who are challenged in any way. And yeah, you’re right. I mean, we get involved on many levels with our clients , and of course folks, when you have health challenges, you need someone that has an ear to your issues. Andy and I have been doing this long enough that we have that empathy that I think is important when we’re trying to figure out in the best possible way how to make things better. So yeah, you get really involved in it and I know that that takes a lot of energy and everyone needs a chance to be able to step back, as you said, kind of recharge the batteries and you know, again, maybe gain a fresher perspective on some things and then step back into the role and start doing what we do. So folks, we’re in the throws of winter 2019, Andy and I thought we would pick up on a theme that we kind of alluded to in one of our earlier podcasts and basically I think today’s show is going to be about winterizing or what would happen during winter if you were involved with doing a project or had to do a project. I think around holidays people sometimes people around holidays when they have guests coming in from out of town they may try do a remodeling of a simple remodeling job just to kind of spruce things up. So in the family or in the friends arrive, everything looks new and kind of fresh. So, but there are some challenges which we’ll get into here. There are some challenges when you’re working with at this time of year with humidity and temperatures and all of that.

Andy: Well, just as there are challenges in summer and we’ve talked about that at length humidity and temperature and so forth. In winter time we have similar challenges. Now, obviously it changes from location to location. You know, challenges in San Diego, it means that you might get a cool breeze one day. Challenges here in Wisconsin is that it gets down to 60 below. And so we have to deal with things a little bit differently. However, let’s take this from from a general approach. In the summertime you’re in cooling mood right? Warmer outside your air conditioning, cooling the inside. In wintertime it’s the opposite. What happens in winter time is as you are running your heat, you’re also drying the air out tremendously. And the air outside is usually drier too. And so instead of having a high humidity situation, you’ve got a low humidity situation and that can cause problems. Now, what also can cause some problems, and you just mentioned this before, sort of in passing that everybody wants to take on projects right before the holidays. You’ve got family and friends coming in, maybe staying at your home. And I’d really like to get this bathroom remodel before Christmas, or I’d really like to get that bedroom finished, right. And we run into the situation where we may run through projects faster than we should. And we kind of put ourselves behind the eight ball because, well, here it is almost the end of November and we only have a few weeks to get a bed, bath remodeling done before the family comes in town. And if you are involved in, let’s say a bathroom remodel and the last thing that gets done in a bathroom remodel is you get the walls painted, right? Well how long does it take for paint to cure? Two weeks.

Jay: Two weeks, two weeks.

Andy: I mean, we tell everybody that 10 days to two weeks is about the average of how long it takes a water based coating to fully cure. So what we don’t want to have is a situation where, yeah, you got the project done, aesthetically, but everything’s still curing. And so, you repaint a room and then two days later, the family’s in town. Everybody’s taken showers. The people who are, who don’t live in the home may not run the fan as diligently as you do. And now you’ve got this buildup of steam and you’re actually going to be causing a problem with the paint curing properly. And you know, chances are you’re looking at probably redoing those walls after the family leaves.

Jay: So we’re on the subject. I want to talk about… what I like to tell folks about the processes. So talking about paint here, folks. When I’m discussing this with clients, I say there’s really two events you’re going to be experiencing. I call the first event, the volatile event. That’s where the product is applied; it’s still wet and everything is evaporating. And during that process you’re going to have elevated levels of odor and you’re going to have to during that time, make sure and certainly that time and throughout the whole curing cycle, make sure that you’re managing your indoor air properly. But there’s two events. There’s that volatile event at the beginning. Typically all things being equal. What’s that mean? It means application was application, directions were followed, preparation instructions were followed, and environmental controls were followed, what we call normal. Okay. So, so you’ve got this volatilization at the beginning that, that event with all those things being equal, that event is going to usually be two to three, maybe four days. And it’s kind of on a curve. You know, if you looked at it on a graph, you’d see the beginning of the project on very high mark with volatility and then it starts to tip off the edge and go down. However, when it gets down to the bottom of that curve, we’re still in curing cycle. We’ve still got maybe seven days left in it. Full cure. And what does that mean? What do you mean full cure? I mean isn’t when it’s dry, isn’t it fully cured? No, no, no, it’s not. The coatings are going to continue to develop their strength, their durability, their scrubability, anything that you want in that particular coating;  that’s what happens at the end of the cure cycle. Now I want to be clear about this because people that are super sensitive, may notice, and Andy check me on this, but they may notice that there is a level of off gassing that’s perceivable during that cure cycle. A lot of folks that don’t have the extreme sensitivities may not notice that, they go through the first four days of volatility and then it drops off the cure cycle. And they’re not really having any issues with the volatility side of that. So, but remembering that, you brought it up when you said about people taking showers and the paint is not cured and the coating gets soft again. Right? And then they’ve tried to clean it and it’s not cleaning well, and it’s a little tacky. And so I just want to make sure that people understand, there’s kind of two events that you want to be mindful of. But at the end of that, the whole idea we want to set is the standard for the ideal conditions for the drying of and curing things. And that’s really straightforward.

Andy: Yeah, I like that. As you say with the curing of product, water-based coatings it takes 7 to 14 days to reach a full cure. Within the first 24 hours of applying a coating, typically 90 to 95% of the curing happens. And to break it down even further to nerd level, you know, curing is essentially the coalescing of the film and the evaporation of the water or solvent, whatever the company uses. That’s what causes the chemical reaction to create the film. But the last 5 to 10% can take that full two weeks. Now this is under perfect conditions.

Jay: Very important to stress that because other than perfect and you know, your timeline starts to stretch out.

Andy: Exactly. And so 70 degrees, 50% relative humidity is what most manufacturers use to calculate their cure times. Right now, let’s say it’s a little cooler because we don’t keep our houses at 70 degrees in the winter time, you know, for energy efficiency reasons, maybe we keep it at 65. Then we add in higher humidity because it’s a bathroom, right? As we were talking about before in our example. Maybe you applied two or three coats and you put them on a little bit thicker, a little bit faster because folks we’ve got to get this job done before the family comes!

Jay: Well certainly when a contractor comes they’ve bid the job on an hourly basis probably. So their whole idea is to get in and get out.

Andy: Right, and so all of this combined means that it probably will not cure in that 7 to 14 days. It means it’s gonna extend the cure time. Now, as you mentioned before, when paints aren’t fully cured in the case of like a Safecoat product when it releases an odor, it doesn’t mean that it’s off gassing and it just means that there’s still moisture trying to come out and the moisture coming out carries with it the chemical footprint of where it was. Off gassing technically speaking would be the release of uncured or unreactive chemical monomers after a coating reaches a full cure. So I make that distinction because all too often somebody calls up and says, how long does your paint off gas? Well, it doesn’t off gas. It cures. And once it cures, that’s it. Most paints and coatings will actually off gas for two and a half to four and a half years after it reaches a full cure. That’s what’s called unreactive chemical monomers. And so there is a difference there. And I know I kind of took it to a geeky level there, but it’s really important.

Jay: And I think it’s a crucial, crucial understanding there. Yeah.

Andy: Yeah. And this is what happens when you’re trying to do a project quickly before the holidays. You may extend these cure times or because you know your guests use the bathroom and this steam builds up, it slows down the rate of evaporation, it slows down the rate of cure, and you might actually be looking at some problems down the road.

Jay: So, someone’s got the situation described in the bathroom and we’re on a fast track. What do we want to tell clients in terms of an acceleration model you know, what would you tell them to do.

Andy: Here’s how you do it. We’ve talked about this and I don’t know how many episodes before you gotta set your timelines properly, you got to put together the plan and work backwards. We want the job not only done, but fully cured and ready to use by December 23rd. Okay, now let’s work backwards. That means two weeks before that date is your last coat of paint. All right. That also means that you’ve got to get the electrician to make sure that the fan is hooked up so that you can get good ventilation. You’ve got to make sure that your countertop and cabinetry fabricators or vendors are on the right schedule. You know, this is kind of going into a different direction here. You have to plan these things and realize that because it is, let’s say here in the upper Midwest winter, also plan in some, some what if time. What if we get a snow storm? What if something’s delayed in shipping, plan that into your timeframe. I cringe every time somebody calls up and says, well, we got a fast track project. We got to get this done by this date. Oh boy. Now that means… this is what we say to each other here in the office. Your poor planning equals my emergency and I mean this, you need to plan properly. I’d rather have you not do it at all then to start it and to finish it too fast. And now we’re running into problems, uh, after the family leaves and people will get all upset.

Jay: I counseled a client just the other day and exactly that. They were talking about undertaking this huge project where they were in someplace it’s winter. And I said, wait a minute, wait a minute. No, no, no. I don’t think we can talk about what to do. This is not the time to do it.

Andy: Correct.

Jay: You need to wait for all the reasons you’re alluding to and you know, there was a sense of relief coming from them. It was like, yeah, thank you. Because it takes so much pressure off of me. Right. I don’t have to figure out how to do this and who to talk to and convince this person and that person figure out where the money’s coming from and blah, blah, blah.

Andy: The problem is though, that there are too many people out there, too many suppliers and stores that’ll say, Oh yeah, no problem. And that ruins it for the rest of us. I would rather, and I have, I can’t tell you how many times I have passed on projects because I couldn’t meet their timeframe. I wasn’t going to promise them something that I knew deep down inside, it would never, never, ever happen. And I would say, I would rather do this the right way than have you mad at me because it didn’t work.

Jay: Right. Exactly. And I think your idea of working backwards is really, really, really smart. Having that date out there and saying, okay, we got to move backwards and we got to do all these things to meet that date. And so you start looking at every one of the little individual things you have to do and start planning that and getting that going so that you do comfortably move into your end time and everyone’s not crazy. Right. Just to get back into the environmental issues around the wintertime.  I had a question that came in either day and it was so what happens if your indoor humidity levels dip below 30%? Is this a no go for any of your paint projects?

Andy: Well, that’s a great question. You know, we’ve, we talk about how we need to keep humidity below 50% in order to eliminate the possibility of mold growth.

Jay: Right, right.

Andy: Well, what happens if it gets too low? It’s a perfectly good question. And, you know, the sweet spot is probably in the 38 to 42%. If I were to be able to pinpoint the perfect, perfect percentage of humidity in the air. And the reason for that is that anything below 35% starts to get uncomfortable, from breathing, sleeping, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, things like that.

Jay: Yeah. And to bring it to the coating side of it. Probably the biggest challenge when you’re working with real low humidity situations, and especially this is the case with water-based products: if the water evaporates so quickly out of the film that the film doesn’t have what’s called the ability to lay down, right. Laying down means that it starts to level itself or leveling is another way it’s described. What that translates to mean is if the water gets out of there too fast and there’s no leveling, you’re going to have tooling marks. What are tooling marks? Brush marks, roller marks because the product has dried so fast, the coating itself didn’t get a chance to level like it should. I mean this is probably more a problem in the summertime when, especially in places where it’s hot and it’s dry and people are trying to paint and you know, those conditions are so dry that they can’t get a good look. It becomes an aesthetic consideration. Now the flip side of that is with all that dryness, everything’s volatizing really nicely. Everything’s getting outta there. All that stuff that wants to evaporate as evaporating really fast. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, you’ve got to watch it. You’ve got to manage it because you want to make sure… You don’t want to paint your doors and your trim and you come back and you go, Oh my God, I’m seeing brush marks. This is awful. What happened? Well, it’s 110 outside and the humidity in here was about 22, you know, not a good time. One of the situations where you say, don’t do it!

Andy: Right. And I’ll tell you a quick story about this. Several years ago I was involved in a project, you may remember this Jay it was called the Kresge foundation. Kresge foundation is a very, very large organization in Michigan and a very large nonprofit. They are a sort of an angel investor and very good to environmental issues and so forth. Anyway, Kresge hired a friend of mine to design all of the workstations for their entire headquarters and she specified the AFM Acrylacq for the finish on all of the workstations, which is great. It was a fantastic project. We probably supplied 300, 400 gallons of Acrylacq to finish all of these workstations. The company doing the finishing was here in Wisconsin and I remember getting a phone call from their head of production and he said, well, here’s a head scratcher for you. He said, we started playing with the finish. We want to make sure all of our finishers here are comfortable with how it lays down. And he said, we put on the first coat and it dries to the touch in 20 seconds.

Jay: Wow.

Andy: Yeah. And I thought to myself, what the heck’s going on here? Well, come to find out that they had never before applied a water-based finish in the history of their company. They’ve always worked with solvents in pre catalyzed lacquers and things like that. And if you know anything about those products, you know, that the worst thing you can have in a spray shop for those types of coatings is humidity. And so what they do is they dehumidify spray booths and the humidity level in the air in their spray shop was about 5%.

Jay: Oh my God.

Andy: And so what happens is, and with water-based, again I’ll geek out a little bit for ya, with water-based coatings as the coating cures, what happens is there are what are called surfactants in the liquid. And those surfactants literally rise to the surface and they poke out the air bubbles because obviously in a water-based coating, oxygen is a chief component. And so you get little air bubbles and those have to be poked out as a surfactants rise to the surface. If the if the coating dries so quickly to the touch that there’s no time for that to happen, you end up with millions of little air bubbles on the surface. And that’s what was happening. What we did to fix the problem was I took a five gallon bucket of water and I just threw it on the floor on the concrete floor, raise the humidity to about 20 to 25% in the spray booth area and it completely solved the problem. Yeah. So examples of low humidity can cause serious problems with coatings because you need time for them to work properly. The other situation is, there’s what’s called saturated surface dry and you find this with either exterior surfaces or interior wood where in wintertime wood can be extremely dry. And if you were to put a water-based coating onto raw wood, or even worse or more importantly, let’s say a water-based stain, what happens is when you apply a water-based stain to a very, very dry piece of wood, saturated surface dry means that the wood is so dry, all of the water and the product soaks into the capillaries of the woods so fast that the pigment in the stain doesn’t even have enough time to penetrate and you get blotchiness. Or in the case of a clear coating, you end up getting almost like a cracking, dusting effect where there’s not enough time for the product to properly coalesce because the water, which needs to be in it to make it work properly, soaks into the surface too fast and it doesn’t allow it to work as a system.

Jay: That is some cool geekiness right there.

Andy: I chalk this up to being on vacation for a couple of weeks.

Jay: And what were you doing there? Were you book learning there?

Andy: I wasn’t! I just cleared out the cobwebs and this stuff comes out. But really, when you’re working with products like the AFM Safecoat products and other materials that are out there that specifically do not use the chemicals and solvents that make them more goof proof, you really have to rely on proper conditions, proper application methods, proper cure times for them to work perfectly. Solvents in products can do a lot of things that are bad for us, but they can do some wonderful things for the application. Meaning anybody who can open up a can and pour it out can probably make them look pretty good because the solvents, the toxins do a lot of the job for you. When you’re working with materials that are very, very safe, but yet they’re not as goof proof you’ve got to be more mindful of the conditions and the application techniques.

Jay: Yeah, I think for the clients that are hearing this today, they’re thinking, okay, uh, so I have to make some accommodations here. Mainly dealing with contractors who are, you know, focused on a certain way of doing things where they use solvent-based products and they’re arguing against the way of something that you want. We always fall back and I know our listeners understand this. We’re always falling back to the idea of what’s going to be the best for our health. You know, what’s going to be the best for the indoor air quality. And so, you know, I think this is what makes this discussion really meaningful because now people get a better sense on a whole different level, on the geek level, about how the physics of this works.

Andy: And, and what I don’t want to do is, and I probably already have scared people away from doing the projects or using these materials. The fact of the matter is folks, that these are the things that good quality suppliers should be telling you and should be educating you about, but they normally don’t. They don’t have the knowledge base or let’s face it, they just don’t really care. They just, they’re so used to what’s available in the industry. Just kind of doing the job for you. I’m in the mindset that I’d like to tell you these things, whether you need to know them or not because I don’t want you to find out the hard way. And now this project that maybe you did have the right time for and you know, plan right for it and you know, you can get it done before the holidays, but something went wrong anyway because I forgot to tell you something and it would make me feel horrible if I didn’t tell you. So what else can happen? You know, I went off on a tangent there. I apologize.

Jay: But let’s work the other side of the equation. Let’s say it’s really wet. You know, we’ve talked about dryness what’s wrong if we’ve got a lot of humidity? It’d probably be pretty simple to understand.

Andy: Well, and you know, and so certain parts of the country in the winter time is the rainy season, there’s a lot of moisture. What happens with lot of moisture is it also takes some time for things to fully cure out. It’s like that  steamy bathroom situation because of a shower. If things are too moist, there’s nowhere for the moisture in the coating to go. You have to also be considerate of things such as wood. Wood is hydroscopic. Wood is a sponge. It’s going to absorb moisture out of the air. If there’s no moisture in the air for it to absorb, what happens is the moisture in the wood starts to leave and so it starts to dry off the wood and wood will change based upon what the humidity is. So in winter time it’s very dry wood shrinks; in the summertime when it’s very moist, it swells, right? These are all things to keep in mind when you are considering a project this time of year. So other things to consider would heating and ventilating. You certainly wants to be able to either heat the space in the winter time, but as you mentioned, you need to keep the humidity up. Let’s see, I have a whole house of hardwood flooring. A large part of the country HVAC contractors will actually recommend that you install what’s called an April Air system. April Air system is a way to interject humidity back into the air during the drier months. I don’t mind these provided that you are extremely careful with how you use them. All too often I’ve been involved in home inspections where there are mold problems and because somebody just didn’t maintain their humidification system properly and the unit just spews out humidity 12 months a year. If you can manage these systems, they’re very, very good for maintaining a humidity level for all of your wood components as well as comfort factor for breathing. So these items can be used. Just make sure they’re used properly.

Jay: When people are in acceleration mode and maybe we may have mentioned this in another podcast and it just dawned on me that maybe it’s worthy of a comment. The idea of using increasing heat, bringing heat up. Some people will even go as far as to say they want to bake a space. And the other methodology that people sometimes use, and I don’t know this is necessarily about curing things quicker. The use of ozone to manage an installation. I’ve been of the mind that elevated heat and the circulation of controlled air is a smart thing to do. I’m not a big fan of ozone. Where do you stand on that Andy?

Andy: So I’’m a fan of not necessarily elevating heat but keeping heat at a constant level that 70 degrees we’ve talked about. The whole concept of baking out of space was debunked many years ago. Yet it’s a myth that keeps on getting pushed around. Heating up a space to 90 degrees and then opening up the windows to ventilate, has proven to actually cause new chemical compounds to form. And it has the detrimental effect of reducing the lifespan of the products that you’ve used because it accelerates the end of life. So I like to keep a space at 70 degrees. Anything above that is a waste and can cause more serious problems down the road. Ventilation though is key. Making sure you have good air movement. It helps coatings cure. It helps the aromas that can occur during a construction project. It alleviate some of those. The use of purification systems, whether it’s an air scrubber or a negative air machine just to get the dust out to get any pollutants out. Ozone… I have mixed opinions on ozone. Ozone is a very effective way of purifying the air. However, it’s not good to use ozone to purify the air when you still have coatings curing because at a molecular level it can change the overall finish.The second thing is if, you know you’re in a situation where you have a high amount of formaldehyde, so let’s say, it’s a project where for some reason or another you could not avoid the use of particle board or plywood that has a high amount of formaldehyde, ozone usage in that situation can actually cause a bigger problem: when breaking down formaldehyde it can cause some other noxious odors to be created.

Jay: So going geeky again here Andy, the geek is coming up and this is good stuff. This is good.

Andy: Well, I’m going to stop it there. I just think that because I don’t want to go too far in that direction because I can actually argue both sides of that equation. But in that situation, I’m just not a fan of it. I like ozone in a controlled way where you can, turn up, turn down, turn off. You know, the rule of thumb with ozone is if you have something on your furnace or AC unit that creates it, as long as you know how to turn it off… if you can smell it, it’s up too high. That’s the real rudimentary way of putting it. But for controlling odors during a construction project, not a good idea. I think that there are better ways to do it that are more effective.

Jay: Yeah. Well, I think maybe we’ve talked ourselves through winter almost.

Andy: I think so. What it comes down to folks is the same thing we had in summertime. Anytime you have a project, it’s always about planning.

Jay: Yes.

Andy: Making sure you’ve got the time to do it. If you don’t have the time to do it, then choose another time.

Jay: Yep. I think that’s, I think that’s wisdom right there.

Andy: And also folks keeping in mind that whoever your supplier is for materials across the country understand that a lot of the products that we deal with and others deal with can be effected freezing temperatures and negatively affected by freezing temperatures.

Jay: Yes, yes, yes.

Andy: Always make sure you have enough time for the delivery of these materials. So planning is key. If you have any questions about that, always talk to somebody, don’t just buy something online and then find out the hard way. It’s not the right product. It’s going to come frozen. So on and so forth. Always talk to an individual who understands what you are trying to achieve.

Jay: And stay on top of those tracking numbers that you get. Because as things this time of year, especially the delivery people, they are rushing up and they’re landing on the doorstep. They’re not knocking on the door and I’m looking for a signature. They’re going to drop it off. And if you’re not aware of what it’s going to arrive and it sits on your porch overnight and freezes, guess what?

Andy: Overnight? I’ve had situations before where somebody complained they never got their package and we shipped out a new one. Come to find out in spring when the snow melted. They found it behind the bushes. So yes, you’re exactly right. But yes, always be on top of that stuff again, reach out, call somebody if you have any questions.

Jay: Yeah, folks, thanks for listening. Next week’s Thanksgiving, we’ll be back next week with another show and we’ll be wishing you all a wonderful holiday. Andy, what do you want to say in closing?

Andy: It’s good to be back. You know, I missed it. I was gone for two weeks and it felt like I was gone for a year. It’s great to be back. And folks keep all those good questions coming in. I know Jay and I have been talking about for months now we’ve got these interviews lined up. Well we do. The problem is and some of these have been done already, they’re in the can as we call it in the industry. They’re in the can, but we just haven’t had the time to get things up and out to you all. We appreciate your patience. We love that you listen and you’re such great listeners of the show. If you have a chance, please reach out to iTunes and leave us a rating and a review. We’d love to hear what you think of the show. Actually while we were gone, a couple of great reviews came over and we greatly appreciate that folks that helps other people find the show because it knocks our show up higher in the search results. So we really appreciate that. You can always go to degreeofgreen.com. Leave us a SpeakPipe message if you have a question and we’ll be back again next week. And in subsequent weeks with some fantastic topics!

Jay: So long, everyone.

Andy: Take care.

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