Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Concrete Floors: Is My Floor Even a Candidate For Paint?

All concrete floors are different and many variables are at play. Some floors are composed of bare concrete. Some of this concrete is old, some new. Some old concrete floors are clean, others are dirty. Some are dirty, others are filthy. Still other floors are painted. Of those, some are holding up beautifully and others are peeling like a summer sunburn.

All too often, folks wander into a Big Box Store on a weekend and just happen to spot a gallon or a kit of "Floor Paint". They read the can and are informed that after applying two simply coats of this paint to their floor, they'll have a beautiful, showroom basement.

Some buy into this idea and consequently buy the paint. If you're curious how their project ends, head to the websites of any of these stores and check out the reviews for their floor paint. Eight times out of ten, the reviews are bad. And almost 100% of those bad reviews are the result of people painting floors in the wrong way, without the right prep. Some are even the results of people painting floors that should NEVER have been painted in the first place.

So, all that to say, before you rush into a paint job on your basement floor, be aware that there's a level of great deal of information and understanding you need to be able to tackle this project successfully. No, it's not complicated. Yes, anybody can do it. But it DOES take a few extra steps that you're not likely to be hear about at your average Big Box Store.

With that said, let's focus today on the first big question when it comes to painting a basement floor: Is painting my floor even an option?

As we mentioned above, some floors are simply not cut out for a paint job. There are certain situations that simply preclude the option of painting.

If you're wondering about your floor, work your way through the following steps for the following scenarios:

1. BARE CONCRETE (Old or New)

  • A. CURED? The starting point with bare concrete is to determine whether or not the floor has cured for at least 60 days. If it hasn't, wait until it has. If it has cured for anywhere from 60 days to 50 (or more) years, proceed to "B" below.
  • B. TEST FOR MOISTURE: Duct Tape a 2 x 2 sheet of plastic to your floor, secure the edges of the tape to ensure a tight bond, and let it sit for 24 hours. After the 24 hour time frame, pull up the plastic and examine it: is there condensation visible? Has the concrete in that spot darkened? If so, you still have moisture in the concrete and should let it continue to dry. If your concrete is old and still exhibits a moisture problem as evidenced by the plastic test, you should reconsider painting that floor. It has a moisture issue and will definitely result in paint failure. In short, if your floor is old and still exhibits a moisture problem, it's NOT a candidate for a paint job.


  • A. PEELING? Examine your painted floor: is it peeling or flaking off in relatively large quantities? Some peeling or chipping can be expected, but if you're seeing large scale failure, that is an indication of a deeper problem. The problem could be a surface contaminant that was painted over or, more likely it's a moisture problem in your concrete.
  • 1. SURFACE CONTAMINANT PROBLEM: If the peeling is relatively localized--a few large areas--it COULD be a surface contaminant. One option would be to clean those spots with a household detergent, let them dry and then proceed to painting (we'll discuss this in a later post). However, be aware, that this is no guarantee. The peeling paint could be caused by a surface contaminant, but it could also be caused by moisture (see below). And, even if it is a surface contaminant, it's very likely that it's in more places than just the spots you see now. You could clean up and fix those spots only to find, within a few months, other spots starting to let loose and peel. This is frustrating and is one of those perfect examples of why the proper prep work is so important! If the first steps are done incorrectly--especially on a floor--ALL subsequent work is affected! 
  • 2. MOISTURE PROBLEM: While the peeling you see could be a cause of a surface contaminant, it's much more likely it's a moisture problem. Moisture can work through concrete in any number of ways, but the important thing to realize is this: if you've got excess moisture coming through your concrete, for whatever reason (unless the floor wasn't allowed to cure 60 days), it's virtually impossible to fix. Painting over the cement will temporarily make it look good, but the moisture will eventually (sometimes sooner, sometimes later) push that paint coating off.
  • 3.  CONCLUSION:  If your painted floor exhibits peeling on a large scale, it's likely not a good candidate for a paint job. However, since it's painted, you will likely want to at least throw a new coat on there. Go ahead and scrape off as much loose paint as you can, wash the floor and rinse it well (we'll discuss this step in a later post). Then you'll be ready to paint. Just understand that your previous paint didn't bond for a reason and it's very likely the new paint will eventually peel as well.
  • B.  SOUND COATING: If your previous coating is holding up well, all you'll need to do is give it a quick wash, a good rinse, and some time to dry. Then it's time to paint.

As I've mentioned multiple times in this post, we'll dig into the washing, rinsing and drying steps in a later post. This first one was meant to help you determine whether or not your floor was even a candidate for a paint job. If it's not, think about carpet or tile or maybe just leaving it alone. If it is, look for the next part of the discussion tomorrow.

Monday, November 19, 2012

7 Tips When Staining Poplar

Very often when folks are at the lumber yard picking out wood for a particular home project, they choose Poplar.  The reason is because it looks beautiful in its unstained, natural form and it's very easy to work with.  It also can be less expensive than woods like Cherry.  And so, many homeowners pick up Poplar and then go to work trimming out their kitchen or living room or building a bookcase or two.  

Now, Poplar is an absolutely perfect choice if your plans are to prime and paint your wood.  Poplar is what we in the paint and stain industry refer to as a "paint-grade" wood.  This means it's perfectly suited for a paint application.  That "paint-grade" classification also means that Poplar is not ideal for staining.  

Poplar is technically a hardwood, but it's one of the softer ones.  This means it will take stain very unevenly.  Stain soaks in and usually looks blotchy and lifeless, dull and generally not all that visually appealing.

Folks who choose Poplar with the intention of staining it to make it look like their more expensive Cherry cabinets face an uphill struggle.  If that's you, here are some tips that may help!  (And just to be clear:  these tips aren't meant to be read as step-by-step instructions.  For instructions, bring your wood to any RepcoLite or Port City Paints store and let us see what you're doing and tell you the best way to get there.  The tips below are just that--tips.  Things to do and be aware of!)

TIP 1:  If you've got the option, don't choose Poplar if you're going to stain the wood.  I know this isn't really a tip to help you stain your Poplar, but it's still the best advice I can give to start with:  don't sink a lot of money into Poplar if you're hoping for beautifully-stained end results.  Oh, you can get a beautiful finish out of Poplar, but it's not as easy as staining a wood that's better-suited for stain, like Cherry, for example.  So, if you've got the option, avoid Poplar for staining.  If you don't--if money's an issue or if you've already purchased the Poplar--read on...

TIP 2:  If you haven't already picked up your wood, start by choosing the darker Poplar.  Poplar generally will come in various shades:  white, a darker yellow or almost grey tone, and then something much more green.  Usually people resonate toward the white Poplar because it looks the cleanest.  Unfortunately, the whiter the wood, the softer it usually is--and the softer it is, the more blotchy the stain will look.  Darker Poplar generally has a denser grain and will take stain much better.  If you have the option, choose the darker wood.  

TIP 3:  Save your scraps!  When you work with the wood, save all the cut-off scraps.  Use these as samples when it comes time to test your stain (or when you need a stain match).  One of the key mistakes when staining wood is failing to test your stain ahead of time.  You don't want to apply stain to your trim only to find out then that the stain or your system for applying it doesn't get you the color you want.  Instead, test the color and the method on your scraps until you're comfortable with the process and are sure that the stain color is correct.

TIP 4:  Bring those scraps into RepcoLite for a custom stain match.  Now, you may be tempted to balk at this step, but if you're working with Poplar, this is a no-brainer.  Sure, you could pick a wood stain off a shelf in some store and hope for the best, but why?  If you bring a sample of your wood and a sample of the color you want to RepcoLite, Port City Paints or Snyder Paints, we'll create a custom stain for you and also work out the process that's necessary to get you there.  THIS IS ESSENTIAL!  Any store can give you a stain, but it takes a place with some expertise to be able to explain and walk you through the actual process of applying it--the various products you might need, the steps you should take and the time you should allow between each one.  

On some easy-to-stain woods this may not be as critical, but with Poplar, there are a lot of variables--a great number of different application techniques that can be employed to get your color.  We'll work with your wood, figure out what must be done, and then give you the details so you can produce the correct look in your home.  So bring the scraps to us and let us help.

TIP 5:  Be aware of a product RepcoLite manufacturers called "Softwood Sealer".  This is a wood conditioner that is applied before you stain and which serves to seal up the porous wood to minimize or eliminate the blotchy appearance.  This sealer is applied with a brush and then wiped off with a rag.  It can be left to dry anywhere from 15 minutes to 24 hours depending on how porous the wood is and what type of look you desire.  If you have your stain custom-matched by RepcoLite, we'll tell you how long to let this sealer dry before you stain.  If you don't, and you're flying solo on this project, make sure you use those sample boards from step 3!

TIP 6:  Purchase a wiping stain or a gel stain--not a penetrating stain.  Wiping stains will give you a little more control over your color and penetrating stains will simply soak in too quickly and too deeply (even with the softwood sealer), producing a blotchy end result.

TIP 7:  Finally, (to repeat):  sample, sample, sample!  Use those cut-off scraps from step 3 and test your stain until you're comfortable with the process and the method.

Staining Poplar isn't easy--the nature of the wood is constantly working against you, making it tough to achieve a beautifully-stained finish.  But, with that said, you can still accomplish a great end result.  It just takes a little more work and a little more know-how, but it can be done!  And once more, let me encourage you to stop out at any RepcoLite, Port City Paints or Snyder Paints store (Indiana) for expert advice!  We've been helping people do this for years--let us help you!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Paint Screw-Ups Anonymous

"My name's Dan and I'm a recovering Prep Work Skipper."  

If there were support groups for those of us who consistently mess up paint jobs, that's how I'd introduce myself every week.  

See, I do a lot of things right when it comes to a paint job.  I take the time necessary to pick the colors I really want (usually).  I amass the necessary tools before I start.  I buy quality materials and paint.  I do many things right.  

However, what I routinely screw up is this:  I skip or skimp on the prep work.  Every time.  It's like an addiction.  An addiction to skipping prep work.  I mean really, that's got to be one of the dumbest sounding sentences I've ever written, but it's the truth:  I hate prep work when I paint and so I skip it.  And then, inevitably (and by inevitably, I mean ALWAYS) it comes back to bite me.  Inevitably (always).

And so I'm turning over a new leaf. From here on out I'm going to make the following changes to my painting methods and practices:

RESOLUTION NUMBER 1:  I will no longer simply roll around or over the nails that are stuck in my wall.  This usually messes up my roller, creating a weird divot that repeats over and over on my wall, frustrating me; or, it creates drips on the wall or floor that I don't find until after the paint has dried.  And that always makes me profoundly sad.  From now on, I will remove those nails ahead of time.

RESOLUTION NUMBER 2:  I will patch the nail holes left in my wall when I implement Resolution Number 1 above.  And I will patch them with the proper spackling compound AND will let that compound DRY before I try to SAND it.  (Because I've tried to rush this and sanding only partially dried spackling results in results that make me profoundly sad.)  To give myself the proper time to accomplish these spackling and sanding tasks, I will have to tackle this aspect of the project ahead of the day that I plan to paint. This will require planning and discipline, and I resolve to practice both.

RESOLUTION NUMBER 3:   I will no longer tell myself that my walls are clean enough and do not need to be wiped down before I paint.  I will accept the fact that I do not regularly clean the top corners of every room and that even though I style myself as a clean and tidy person, there is a good chance that random cobwebs may be there.  I will take the necessary 20 minutes to wipe away those cobwebs so I don't end up rolling into them later with paint and then spreading them over my walls.  

RESOLUTION NUMBER 4:  I will no longer let myself believe that "scuff sanding" is a great idea, but that I really don't have time to do it right now.  I will take the necessary 10 minutes to scuff sand a dresser before I prime and paint it.  I will scuff sand my woodwork before I paint it.  I will scuff sand all shiny surfaces EVEN IF I'm using a primer that says "no scuff sanding necessary."  I will remember that there are no shortcuts.

RESOLUTION NUMBER 5:  I will no longer do everything else right--buy the right paint, buy the best tools, choose the right colors--only to screw the project up by skipping the prep work.  I will admit that an extra hour or two is worth all the extra work and frustration and money I've cost myself through the years by skipping prep work.  I will do the proper prep work, no matter how boring it is, so that my project looks as professional as possible when I finish. In short, I will no longer convince myself that certain prep-work projects are worthwhile, but that I simply don't have time for them.  I will make time for prep work precisely because it is so worthwhile.

Those are my resolutions.  I'll probably screw up from time to time, but I'm going to give it my best shot from here on out. How about you?  Anyone else out there who routinely skips the prep work stage only to be burned in the end?  Anyone else out there ready to circle up, admit your addiction to hating prep work, and start the recovery process?  The recovery group is open....

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Fifth Wall

Has this ever happened to you:  you walk into the paint store for paint and then spend the next three days or a week or more agonizing over the color chips you brought home?  You hold them up to every piece of furniture in the room.  You lay them on your carpet, on your end table.  You try to picture them large scale--covering your walls.  You debate between one shade and a slightly darker shade.  And then, finally, after all the debate and analysis and agony, you pick the perfect colors.

You make your way to the paint store, order a gallon of one and two gallons of the other and then, almost as a side note, you grab a gallon or two of ceiling white and call it good.  

Do you see the problem here?  The mistake?  It may not be obvious, but it's this:  we put huge amounts of energy and thought into our wall colors and don't give our ceilings the time of day.

Next time you paint--change that line of thinking.  Your ceiling isn’t just a ceiling--it’s a fifth wall.  And, as such, you shouldn’t necessarily just roll white paint up there.

If you're looking to make an impact in your home, putting color on a ceiling is a surefire way to do that.  And the reason is simple:  it's extremely rare. 
Most folks forget about their ceilings when it comes time to paint and as a result, most ceilings are forgettable.  

Change that in your home by rolling a color up there.  Just keep this in mind:  the darker the color you put on the ceiling, the lower it will make those ceilings feel.  This can be great in big, high-ceilinged rooms.  Rolling a color on your ceiling that’s a shade or two darker than your wall color can go a long ways toward making your room feel cozier, warmer, more inviting.  A darker color on your ceiling will draw your eyes downward, bring down those big open spaces, and create settings that feel more personal, more intimate.

Lighter colors on the ceiling will make the room feel a little more expansive, a little more open.

However, there’s something very interesting to realize here:  many folks understand this concept and they figure that painting those ceilings white will really serve to open the room up.  However, think about this:  if you’ve got a medium toned color on your walls, no matter what shade, a white on the ceiling can often produce a very sharp distinction between the walls and the ceiling.  This sharp distinction, this high contrast between walls and ceiling, can often lead people to conclude that their wall color doesn’t work--that it needs to be repainted.

Look at the picture above.  The green on those walls is a strong color.  However, the room works because the ceiling is a soft tan. It’s not a dark ceiling--definitely not dark in comparison with the walls--but it’s dark enough to create a nice balance in the space. 

Imagine the same room with a white ceiling. In fact, you don’t have to imagine it, look at the picture below.  That’s the same room with  a standard white on the ceiling and the whole mood of the room changes.  The stark white on the ceiling makes the green on the walls feel harsh.  Many times, folks would paint a room like this, think they love that green, only to be back later for new paint because the color’s just too strong on the walls.

Now, I admit, the green truly is a strong color--but you can minimize it’s strength, tone it done, control it a little better, by putting a color other than white on the ceiling.

All that to say:  don’t forget about the fifth wall in every room--your ceilings.  You can put some color up there to make a room feel more inviting, to make it feel cozier, or even to tone down the visual power of a wall color you really love.  Keep it in mind.