Deck the Walls

Sick and tired of looking at the same four walls? Then it’s time for a change. Then take a look at three different options to cover the interior walls throughout your campus. Which options are right for you?

Paint It

Usually, when you think walls, you think paint. And why not? It’s inexpensive, quick to apply and easy to maintain. Colors run the spectral gamut, and when you get tired of them, change is a snap. Yet paint itself has changed over the years. As students, faculty and staff grow more concerned with“green” issues like indoor air quality and sustainability, paint has risen to the challenge.

“Twenty years ago everything was oil-based and that was it,” remarks Bryon Turi, architect/engineer consultant, PPG Industries.“Environmentally friendly products were slowly introduced, but they weren’t shelf-stable and didn’t perform well. Contractors just didn’t want to use them.”

As a result, painting took place after hours and people put up with the residual fumes. Times, however, have changed. “More money and research has gone into creating viable ‘green’ products,” says Turi. “The results are low-odor, no VOC products that perform.”

Where are these products being used? “Everywhere,” according to Turi. Paint remains an affordable, appropriate wall covering for classrooms, residence hall rooms, hallways, common areas and cafeterias. Metal surfaces, as long as they are preprimed, can also take paint.

High-moisture areas like bathrooms and locker rooms present a specific problem. To keep water and mold out, a two-component epoxy provides the best seal. Even these high-performers have seen some environmental innovations with the introduction of water-based low-odor products. “These give off less smell and still provide good cross linking,” says Turi.

Good old soap and water best clean painted surfaces. Allowing the surfaces to dry for two weeks before their first cleaning also helps extend the coating’s life. Xylene and acetone solvent cleaners are not recommended as they can damage the coating over time. A rough cleaning cloth is also discouraged as it may introduce micro scratches that dull the surface.

Cover It

As colleges upgrade their appearances to attract students and faculty, Dick Lenger, sales manager for CS Group has seen his products appear in new places. “We didn’t think we belonged in the education market,” he says. “But colleges are taking more of a ‘hospitality’ approach to their interiors and our wall coverings fit right in.”

Offering a family of rigid, semi-rigid and panel wall coverings under the Acrovyn® name, CS Group’s products have turned up throughout college campuses. “Any place that sees wall abuse like scuffing and kicking is a great place for a wall cover,” Lenger says. “The product resists damage so well.” He points to a recent University of Pittsburg project where combinations of rigid and semi-rigid coverings were successfully used in student unions and lounges.

Residence halls, study halls, lounges, unions, classrooms and cafeterias are all appropriate spaces for wall coverings. But which product works best for which applications? For areas of light wall abuse, Lenger suggests the softer semi-rigid product while heavier trafficked areas benefit from the harder rigid line. Hallways often see a combination of the two—a rigid cover from floor to wainscot with semi-rigid to the ceiling. Prelaminated panels work best in high abuse areas like elevator cabs and athletic rooms. These 3/8th-in. panels can be installed permanently and directly over any substrate for a quick remodel.

Are these options more expensive than paint? “No doubt,” admits Lenger. “But if you look at as a capital expenditure, these products will still look new five years down the road. You get a lot of design statement and performance with very little upkeep.” Like paint, maintenance is simple. A foaming cleanser will pull grease and oil out of the product’s texture. Student halls and lounges need to be wiped down every two weeks. A cafeteria environment will need cleaning more often.

Coat It

“Our product is used in the unromantic areas of a building,” says Brian Paich, brand manager for Rust-Oleum, about his company’s line of industrial coatings. “Bathroom walls, labs, food service areas, hand railings or any other place where typical architectural coatings can’t perform.”

While these specialized coatings seem mundane, new government VOC standards and industry breakthroughs have breathed new life into the industry. “Our new Sierra line has no VOCs, no hazardous pollutants and none of the discomforts associated with old industrial coatings,” says Paich. Not only is this good new for the environment it’s great news for the bottom line.

Because the product is so unobtrusive and sets up so quickly, work can be done during regular school hours. “With labor eating up to 60 percent of a job’s budget, not working on nights or weekends means big savings,” Paich reveals. However, this comes at a cost. Regular industrial coatings cost 20 to 25 percent more than architectural paint. Sierra comes in at five percent more than that. But with the products long life expectancy and easy care (again, soap and water but it stands up to harsher chemicals) industrial coatings certainly have their place up on your wall.