How to know the life-time costs of paint?
Painting and repainting is part of the routine maintenance of building exterior and interior surfaces, allowing for pleasant appearance as well protection of the underlying substrate. Considering that most of the painted surfaces sooner or later will require a touch-up and/or a new layer of paint to ensure good performance and visual qualities, it is worth considering the associated costs. The costs of a painting project should be estimated not just as a short term expense, but more likely as a mid-term or long-term commitment. The paint life cycle cost assessment allows for a better understanding of the main variables impacting the overall costs linked to using and disposing of paint. This will give an insight in the life-cycle assessment and paint life-time costs that should be considered upon starting a painting project as well as provide useful tips for reducing paint life-time costs.
What is the life-time of paint and why does it matter?
In order to evaluate the sustainability impacts of paint products, their so called life-time is analysed with a holistic analysis method called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), also known as a “cradle to grave” analysis. “According to the European Environmental Agency LCA is the process of evaluating the effects that a product has on the environment over the entire period of its life thereby increasing resource-use efficiency and decreasing liabilities (a).”
Paint product life cycle assessment includes the analysis of the production stage of paint, consisting of the raw material extraction, production and manufacturing, as well as the “use” stage and “end-of-life” or disposal stage. Typically the LCA of paints will provide a thorough evaluation of the production stage, while the other two stages (use and final disposal) will be somewhat susceptible to the consumer understanding about it (or lack of it). Thereby understanding about manufacturer-defined paint performance qualities throughout the paint life-time can allow for a product choice that is cost-effective and sustainable in a sense that smaller amount of natural resources is extracted, used and sent to a landfill (b).
To sum up, the paint life-time stage that is likely to be the most important for general public is the use and end-of-life stage, since informed product choice allows for high performance and longer lasting coating that requires fewer re-paints.
What is included in the life-time costs of paint
Life-time costs or life cycle costs (LCC) correlate with the life cycle assessment of paint and allow paint manufacturers to develop and select the most cost-effective and sustainable products. LCC is calculated for the whole life-time of a paint product, focusing mostly on the “use” and “waste” stages. Four main considerations for the life-cycle costs include:
- Cost of purchasing and delivery (e.g. cost per litre of paint or varnish as delivered);
- Application performance (e.g. amount of paint required to cover a given surface area);
- Lifetime performance (number of repaints required to maintain coverage over time);
- Disposal costs (disposal of unused paints) (b).
Generally the life-time cost calculations should include all possible steps with associated costs regarding the paint life-cycle and these include: initial painting, touch-up, maintenance and full repaint. In every step all costs should be considered — from the initial purchase to disposal of wasted paint, and optionally also the labour and transportation expenses.
Calculation of life cycle cost of paint
Paint product life cycle costs are typically a part of product evaluation for receiving the EU Ecolabel (leading environmental label in Europe). The EU Ecolabel requires paint products life cycle costs to be analysed in five categories — cost per litre of paint, spreading rate, time between repaints, expected losses due to wastage and disposal costs of waste paint.
- Cost per litre of paint
Paint litre costs can vary greatly and depend upon the paint range, brand, bulk and purchasing discounts. Cost per litre of paint can also vary depending on the physical distance between manufacturer and consumer, since transportation costs must be taken into account in the paint life-time costs.
- Spreading rate to meet performance criteria
Spreading rate describes the surface area that one litre of paint will cover. Thus, knowing the spreading rate allows for more precise estimations for the necessary amount of paint, allowing for reduced waste and expenses.
According to the EU Green Public Procurement requirements, the spreading rate of white and light coloured paints must meet at least 8 m2 per litre of product for interior and 6 m2 per litre for exterior applications.
- Time between repaints to maintain performance criteria
Time between repaints or the amount of necessary repaints for maintaining paint performance is important when life-cycle cost evaluation takes place. Time between repaints can vary depending on multiple factors, such as surface exposure to elements, washing and abrasion. The base value for repaints is seven years, meaning that over the course of, for example, fourteen years it may be necessary to repaint the surface two times (b).
- Expected losses due to wastage
Paint losses account for all unused paint and wasted paint, where average losses can add up to 10% when paint brush or roller is being used or up to 60% when paint is air-sprayed on the surface. The indicated values show not only the waste of resources but also that up to 10-60% of money spent for paint is wasted. To avoid paint wastage, it is advisable to make accurate calculations for the surface area as well as general assessment of the surface material, quality and conditions it may be exposed to. Adequate skills and painting technique can also account for reduced amounts of wasted paint (c).
- Disposal costs of waste paint
Paint waste is generally considered hazardous waste and therefore can involve certain expenses for safe disposal. The need and amount of payment may vary depending on a state and municipality level waste management legislation. Generally solvent-based paints can be up to 10 times more expensive to dispose of than water-based paints.
Alternatively paint waste can be donated to reuse projects or take-back schemes therefore reducing the disposal costs (b).
Tips for reducing paint life-time costs
In order to reduce the life-time costs associated with a painting project it is important for both professionals and general public to use the most appropriate paint for the project, taking into consideration the surface durability requirements as well as exposure to withering.
When choosing a paint, it is advisable to consider not only the price of a particular product but also to compare price and life cycle costs of different products. High quality paints provide lasting film quality for more than seven years, while average-quality paints last for 3-4 years. Therefore, estimation for lifetime costs should take into account that initial saving on a paint may result in higher expenses in a long term. Generally paints of higher quality are more expensive and better ensure the long-term appearance, protection and durability of surface, thus allowing to save on the expenses associated with wear and tear.
Additionally, seemingly minor aspects can influence the life time costs of a given project, for example considerations of the colour shade of paint can influence the life time costs of paint since the thermal performance of the building can be enhanced by choosing darker colours for the building exterior. Choosing light wall and ceiling covering indoors can reduce the need for artificial light, thus reducing costs and necessary resources related to the energy consumption. Similar principle can be used, when considering labour, transport for material sourcing, etc.
Paints awarded with a third-party evaluated ecolabel are generally considered safer paint product choices since they have been analysed for multiple sustainability criteria including requirements for good paint performance.
Paint life-time cost estimates are used to approximate all costs associated with the paint product. The product life cycle can be divided in the manufacturing, use and waste stages and life-cycle costs represented in this blog post describe the use and waste stages of paint life time, since at these stages the costs are subject to consumer evaluation and choice, and therefore can vary greatly. It is not only the monetary value that is taken into account, when paint life-time costs are estimated but, more importantly, the paint performance and quality that will ultimately determine the need for repaints.
When choosing a paint, 5 criteria should be considered by the general public as well as professionals — the cost per litre of paint, spreading rate, time between repaints, expected losses due to paint wastage and disposal costs of waste paint. Generally, it is advisable to opt for paints of higher quality that may be more expensive in a short term but allow for reduced expenses in a long term since fewer coats and fewer repaints may be necessary.
The simplest way for purchasing a cost effective paint that has been evaluated for life-cycle costs, safety and other sustainability criteria, is to look for eco-labelled paints.
Author: written by Anse Romančuka, edited by Linda Kikuste