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Commercial Painting Problems and Solutions: Alligatoring

Despite its benefits, Commercial Painting can come with a world of problems.  And one of the most common is Alligatoring.

Sure, painting can come off as a fairly simple part of the construction project.  But just like anything, after you consider the varying environmental conditions, the varying products, and the plethora of application methods, you can quickly understand how the painting trade requires skill and experience.

And if you’ve seen a “finished” paint surface that looks like the image above, you’ll know that the “painter” is lacking in skill and experience.

This paint problem is called alligatoring.  We’ve discussed it before, but like to regurgitate topics so that everyone is always fresh on the basics of commercial coating application.

Alligatoring is when the surface of the paint developed large, wide cracks.  Visually, it starts as a wrinkle.  Then, when those wrinkles begin to expand, the tension increases in the coat, and eventually ruptures.  And these ruptures, or cracks, initially may appear subtle, but over time, as moisture gets beneath, it builds pressure between the coat and the substrate, preventing the coat from adhering to the surface.

So how does this occur?  There are a few reasons:

  • Commonly, alligatoring is the top coat’s failure to bond smoothly to a glossy coat.  A glossy coat is more difficult to adhere to, which leaves the topcoat vulnerable to separation.  And that separation is where gaps can occur, causing tension, which leads to rupture.  And the same is vice-versa.  If you put a high-gloss, or hard coating, on top of a soft primer, then there’s still a chance that the top coat could develop the wrinkles that lead to alligatoring.
  • Another cause is the exposure of outdoor environments to hard coats.  Changes in temperature, or consistent exposure to moisture, can cause the coating to rupture, allowing moisture to penetrate beneath the coating, causing it to curl at the edges.

Although a problem, there are simple preventive measures any commercial painter can apply.  As always, it starts with the prep.  If you’re beginning to conduct work on an area that already has the alligatoring, then you’ll need to remove as much of it as possible.  Scraping will probably be more effective than sanding.  However, pressure washing will offer the greatest amount of removal in a shorter period of time.  But if you do pressure wash, set up some screening on the ground, to collect the paint chips.  Colorful paint chips on the surrounding ground looks just as bad as alligatoring paint.

Once prep is completed, you’ll need to make sure that you’re applying high-quality paints.  Although weather conditions can’t be controlled, which type of paint you apply will have a drastic improvement in the commercial coating’s performance.  So keep these in considerations.