It’s a reality that VOC emissions have the potential to become an issue owners must consider on some coatings projects. States with stricter VOC caps, such as California and Pennsylvania, may require special measures to be taken, especially on long or continuous projects. So it’s a good thing green coating options are out there. But low-VOC options don’t mean a thing if they don’t make their way into one crucial document: the job’s specification sheet.

A spec sheet refresher

Paint specification sheets are the contractual documents that lay out exactly what services are to be performed on a job, how the services are to be performed and which products should be used. Operating without a spec sheet is like trying to put furniture together without directions. The spec sheet outlines the entire course of the job and how it is to be completed. This document should unambiguously outline an owner’s expectations for the job.

An owner may choose to enlist an engineering firm to draw up a spec sheet, or may rely on discussions with a coatings manufacturer to specify which products, applied under which conditions, will lead to a full and effective service life.

A quality spec sheet will outline at least the following:

  • Product- “Sole spec sheets” are so called because they specify that a specific product must be used for a project. This section has special significance in discussions about spec sheets and VOCs because this is the section that will specify if a low or zero-VOC coating is required for the project.
  • Surface prep- SSPC standards for surface preparation are the most common industry benchmarks and the level required for a project will be detailed here.
  • Application method- This section will determine how a coating should be applied, including the necessary ambient conditions, the number of coats and ideal mil thickness.

Green coatings and spec sheets

Why all this talk about spec sheets in relation to low-VOC coatings? Because if low-VOC coatings don’t enter the discussion at the spec writing phase, there’s a good chance they won’t enter it at all. As mentioned, the spec sheet is the master document for the job. It’s the template that lays out the work to be done. If an owner hopes (or needs) to limit the VOC emissions of a job, the spec sheet is the place to start.

But it’s not enough to pick a product with “low-VOC” or “high solids” in the name. Instead, spec writers should be double-checking product data sheets (PDS) and safety data sheets (SDS) to verify that VOC content is, actually, low. If a project is aiming for LEED certification, for instance, it’ll come down to the numbers, not the name, of a product.

A PDS should specify physical data about a product, including the amount of volatile organic content that it contains, usually as a measure of pounds per gallon. It should be verified that any amount of thinning recommended by the spec sheet keeps the product within range of the amount of VOCs that can be acceptably emitted. OSHA’s relatively new format for SDS will also contain information on VOC content. Chapter 3 of these sheets contains a product’s composition information. Owners and spec writers should confirm with either this document, or the PDS, that a product is what it claims to be in relation to the VOCs it contains.

So, cutting VOCs starts with spec writing. Options for limiting VOCs are out there, but they don’t mean much if they don’t make it into this crucial document. For owners who care about cutting emissions, it needs to be clearly conveyed to the spec writer that this is a priority.

What is corrosion, anyway? Download your complete guide to corrosion here.

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