In the last few years HOA fence painting contractors have noticed an increase of Community Manager’s RFPs (Request For Proposal) specifying electrostatic field painting.
Many Managers and Board Members confuse it with a type of coating, but it is a paint application process not a product. The misunderstandings seem to arise because only certain coating types can be used with the electrostatic application method. Electrostatic painting has been used in the controlled environments of factories for many years. It has only been in the last decade or so that mobile equipment was developed that allows coatings to be electrostatically applied outside of controlled environment spray booths. One prominent example of this is powder coating. Factory powder coating boasts great longevity of coatings because (and if) high quality urethane coatings are used which are baked on while applied by an electrostatic process.
Pros and Cons. In theory, electrostatic is a great process, but practically it is often not the best process for field application.
Access to metal view fencing from washes or greenbelts can be a major deterrent for its use in many HOA communities. Electrostatic equipment and most electrostatic coatings require short spray lines, and the bushes, trees, and unlevel grade of the washes can be a great obstacle to overcome. Working from each homeowner’s backyard takes too much coordination and also kills production. But if the metal fence has zero clearance to a lake or one side that is inaccessible, electrostatic may be the best answer.
Electrostatic application method dictates two basic types of paint products that can be used; old school single-component oil-based or two-component urethanes. We are limited because the paint solvent has to conduct electricity properly. We can then control the polarity so the paint attracts/clings to the metal surfaces using the specialized spray equipment (when all is working properly and there is little wind).
Oil-based products are long drying and will chalk-up/oxidize within a year or two. This does not fit MTS’s warranty and desires for a durable cost-effective job. Chalk, if left too long, can cause peeling failures and future paintjob prep issues. Two-component urethanes are a better choice because they have the greatest durability and longevity even in our Arizona sun, but with more cost. There are many different types of urethanes, ranging from lower quality to highly specialized industrial coatings. The low end urethanes will work great on most metal view fencing paintjobs.
Many articles on the web tout that electrostatic painting is environmentally friendly. This may be true of indoor controlled environment use, but outdoor field application may reduce this claim. The process, in theory, boasts the most efficient spray transfer process, but add wind and that may go awry, and then consider the 420g/l VOCs of the urethanes and 450g/l of typical oil-based products. With the advent of very high quality industrial acrylic enamels, now being perfected with VOC’s well under 200g/l, I suggest the acrylics are much more eco-friendly. Also urethanes or oil-based products require hydrocarbon reduction also adding to the VOC releases into the atmosphere, whereas the reduction of the acrylics is with harmless water.
If not then what? Very high quality single-component industrial acrylic enamels. The advantage of these acrylics, such as Sherwin Williams Shercryl HPA, compared to urethanes is that industrial acrylics are single-component, whereas touching up with two-component is very difficult and expensive. These acrylics cannot be applied by electrostatic (yet), but we have other fine finish spray equipment that will apply with the same results as the electrostatic. Also, this equipment is not as particular on breezy days compared to electrostatic, so we can stay on schedule better. The duration of the very high quality industrial acrylics (there are weaker versions too) are very comparable to the two-component urethanes.
Some contractors and suppliers highly commend the electrostatic process to the neglect of other fine finish application processes. This is sometimes done for business purposes for cornering the market because the equipment is very expensive. Here at MTS we love good competition, so bring it on …… our trained crews are equipped to handle any type of painting challenge including electrostatic when beneficial or required.
Randy Fornoff, President, MTS Painting and Property Services, Inc.