Painting Tanks in Winter

January 1, 2010

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The cold weather often puts a damper on any protective coatings project. For one, productivity is minimal in the winter months than in spring or fall. Painters, no matter how skilled, find themselves hindered by the cold temperatures and the freezing environment. Even equipment is not 100 percent optimal when operated in cold weather. 

In the protective coatings industry, the harsh winter season is often a slow time for painting activities, particularly of water storage tanks. And since summer is a crucial time when water availability is important, painting activities are also slow in the summer months. That leaves only the spring and fall seasons when coatings activity can proceed unhindered. 

To acquire more time for painting applications, contractors strive to overcome the challenges of painting water tanks in cold weather, and have made progress in this regard through ambient temperature management, heat loss prevention, and innovative cold-weather application techniques and protective coating systems. 

Environmental Temperature for Winter Painting

In any season, painting activities such as surface preparation, actual application, post-application, and curing/drying activities are very dependent on environmental conditions. Even the storage and disposal of protective coatings are sensitive to the conditions of the work surroundings and more so in wintertime, when the temperature is the hardest obstacle in maintaining the conditions suitable for painting activities. 

The key to maintaining the right painting temperature in winter is to pipe in more heat to the facility interior. When the cold intensifies outside, more heat should be generated inside, to maintain ambient temperatures. For storage tanks, the same hold true. The tank’s surface should achieve the correct temperature to counter heat dissipation that affects the performance of cold-cure protective coatings and the overall quality of the painting application.

Maintaining Environmental Temperature 

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has an outstanding reference for working with steel storage tanks in cold weather operations. One crucial knowledge contained in the manual is the heat loss chart that defines the relationship between the tank’s interior and exterior temperatures, and how much heat is lost given these temperature levels.

To prevent losing critical heat in storage tanks, there is a need to setup a good insulator. The tank walls offer some insulation, which depends on the toughness of the protective coatings installed in the tank surface. In some cases, thermal blankets or a heat containment system should be setup in the duration of the tank coating activity. 

Heat can also be forcibly added to maintain ambient temperature and compensate for heat loss. This often requires heating the tank, accruing fuel and heating costs. 

Successful Winter Painting 

Cold-weather painting requires relevant changes in the way protective coatings contractors work, but following the checklist or guideline below can make tank painting application easier to implement:

  1. A clear painting implementation plan
  2. A detailed cold-weather protective coatings product specifications
  3. A comprehensive list of equipment to be used, from dehumidifiers, heating and containment systems
  4. Manpower requirements
  5. Fuel and other resource costs
  6. Work schedule taking into account disruptive weather patterns
  7. A contingency plan when delaying events arise, like inclement weather, equipment repairs, longer curing time, and emergency cases, among others.

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