Using color and coatings for healthcare

Photos courtesy Sherwin-Williams

by Nancy Hutchinson
Coatings have become more specialized and technologically advanced than ever before, which is good news for architects and specifiers of healthcare facilities. These advancements mean specifiers are able to make better coating decisions based on appearance and function. This is especially important because evidence-based design research shows well-designed healthcare facilities can play a key role in creating a comfortable atmosphere that promotes healing.

However, these improvements also mean the process of choosing the proper coating is more complex, since there are more factors in play. From different types of substrates and aesthetic requirements to volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations, sustainability, and green certifications, there is a lot to consider.

While selecting the right paint or coating may seem overwhelming, understanding and simplifying the specification process and asking the right questions makes it easier for design professionals to select a product that looks good and works well.

Specifying paints and coatings
Different paints have different benefits, features, and limitations. Therefore, it is important to consider the specific coating application before choosing the appropriate paint. For example, lifecycle cost is among specifiers’ top considerations. Higher-quality paints are more durable and have a longer lifecycle than lower-quality paints, thereby increasing the time between repainting.

High-quality paints are made of premium ingredients and include more solid material—pigments and binders—than lower-cost options. They are easier to apply, require fewer coats to achieve the same coverage, and have better adhesion qualities. Over time, high-quality paints are more mildew-resistant and experience less chalking, fading, flaking, and peeling than lower-cost options.

High-quality paints also include premium hiding pigments—titanium oxide, for example—and other small amounts of pigments creating the color. Lower-quality paints tend to include less pigment and more filler, which has initial good hiding capability but eventually breaks down over time.

The binder in paint is another key consideration. High-quality binders help create a paint that adheres well, resists moisture permeability, and experiences fewer cracks, stains, and damage from abrasion and exposure to sunlight. Finally, there are two categories when it comes to liquid carrier in paints—water-based and oil-based.

High-quality oil-based paints adhere well to surfaces—a key part of a long-lasting paint job. However, over time oil-based paints may oxidize and become brittle, which can lead to chipping and yellowing. These paints can also take up to 24 hours to dry, which can be an issue during the renovation of a healthcare facility. Oil-based paints are often the best choice when repainting surfaces with four or more layers of old oil-based paint.

Similar to oil-based paints, latex- or water-based paints tend to adhere well to a variety of surfaces. However, latex-based paints are less brittle and have more elastic properties, making them more crack-resistant. They also dry quicker, retain color better, and have more resistance to chalking than oil-based paints.

Recent advancements in coating technology mean paint serves important purposes beyond aesthetics. Today’s paint has the power to kill harmful bacteria, as well as help improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and reduce odors.

Paint technology has experienced rapid advancements in recent years. In addition to being more durable and easier to use, paints now allow healthcare facilities to combat other issues as well.

For example, new technology in paint actually has the power to kill bacteria. This is important for healthcare facilities because hospital-acquired infections are one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Additionally, some paints can help improve indoor air quality (IAQ). These advancements are particularly valuable to facilities with medically sensitive occupants. In many cases, carpet, fabrics, and insulation can have negative effects on IAQ because they can release formaldehydes and aldehydes. Technologically advanced paints can reduce airborne concentrations of these air-quality-reducing agents. These paints do so by transforming aldehydes in the air into water molecules and a harmless inert gas.

Healthcare facilities must also address odors emanating from various sources, including patient rooms, restrooms, and cafeteria areas. Paint can play a role here too, as technologies to help neutralize and dissipate indoor odors exist to improve the atmosphere for patients and staff alike.

Paint durability in healthcare settings is vital—in part due to the frequency in which walls must be cleaned and sanitized, and because there is heavy traffic in certain areas. Paint advancements allow more durability, and a reduction in the regularity with which walls must be repainted.

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