Photograph of  peeling paint on a building exterior - can you diagnose this failure by eye? Paint Analysis - Peeling Paint? How to Diagnose, Correct, & Prevent Paint Failure on buildings

  • PAINT FALURE, DIAGNOSIS, CURE, PREVENTION - home - CONTENTS: Analysis of small paint samples provides the history of paint layers & colors on buildings & can diagnose the cause of paint failures - How to diagnose the cause of failing paint on a building exterior or interior
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Paint failure causation, diagnosis, cure:

This article series explains the diagnosis, cause, cure and/or prevention of all types of paint failures on buildings. We discuss paint analysis and reviews common building exterior & interior painting mistakes, describes how to diagnose paint failures on buildings, and outlines a procedure for diagnostic field inspection & lab testing of failed painted surfaces.

We include photographs of paint failures on buildings and more photos of forensic paint laboratory examination of samples of failed paint useful to assist in diagnosing the probable cause of each type of paint failure.

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Paint analysis for historical information

Paint job preparation (C) Daniel Friedman- Daniel Friedman

The examples discussed in this paint failure analysis article use building exterior paint failures (and remedies), but many interior paint failures and even some paint failures on artworks, paintings and artifacts are similar their origin and cure.

[Click to enlarge any image]

[Photo at left, the author & Arthur Cady painting a home on Parker Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY]

In discussing the procedure and value of analysis of paint samples to diagnose the cause and cure of failures, here we include both our own field and laboratory experience and procedures and also paint problem diagnostic information provided by some paint manufacturers, home improvement suppliers, historic building and historic conservation experts such as the U.S. NPS, art conservation experts, and by National Forest Products Laboratory experts.

We will discuss paint sample analysis procedures using microscopy and microchemistry, and typically working with small chips of paint removed from a surface, provides useful paint and coating information for several different purposes, including historical paint information, paint failure diagnostic analysis on buildings, and art conservation. We describe these just below.

Paint lab Photograph of sample of failed paint

Paint analysis for historical information: Microscopic and microchemical analysis of small samples of paint from a building interior or exterior can provide key historical information: the colors, types, and numbers of layers of paint used.

The New York Times reported (Feb 2010) an excellent example of this service: renovators of New York City cast-iron loft buildings dating from 1873 used paint chip analysis to identify the original colors of paint used on buildings as well as the history, sequence, and colors of 13 layers of paint.

Our paint lab photo (left) shows varying thickness of layers of white paint from a more modern building surface.

Paint analysis for paint failure diagnosis

Photo of paint solvent blistering, edge view in laboratory

Paint analysis for paint failure diagnosis:

Using similar methods, the diagnosis and cure of paint failure on buildings, particularly on wood siding and trim, is quite possible if there is a careful and thorough inspection of the building, its history, its surfaces, and the actual points of paint failure.

It is diagnostic to compare the same coating on the same type of surface at different locations on a building and in areas of failed and not-failed paint.

Our lab photo (left) shows four layers of paint, with a paint blister in the topmost layer. Paint blistering is discussed at PAINTING in SUN or WIND (thermal blistering).

Distinguishing among types of paint blistering is discussed and illustrated at PAINT FAILURE ANALYSIS LAB PHOTOS

Analysis of paint from art works and artifacts

Hardboard fiber staining on Art Work (C) U Runeberg D Friedman Alkyd Oil Flake Investigation on Art Work (C) U Runeberg D Friedman

Analysis of paint from art works and artifacts: can provide information invaluable to art conservators, including distinguishing among causes of paint failures and in suggesting conservation methods.

Working with museum conservators such as Ulrik Runeberg, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, San Juan, we have found that forensic analysis of small surface samples of stains, using simple adhesive tape sampling can provide useful art conservation information without requiring punch samples or paint chip samples.

Our photo (above right) of a closeup of the surface of a painting whose surface was flaking was provided courtesy of Mr. Runeberg and formed part of a joint investigation into the adhesion failure of paint in this work.

On superficial examination at only low magnifications, microbiological deterioration of art works, such as due to fungal attack, can be confused with other causes of spots, blotching, or staining in works of art, such as extractive bleeding from pressed hardboard substrates.

Material identified as hardboard fibers from a stained painting surface (photo, above left) sampled from the painting En Aire, in the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, San Juan, was obtained using clear adhesive tape and the particle sampling method (also used for mold testing) described at TEST KITS for DUST, MOLD, PARTICLE TESTS.

Those painting surface samples helped to prove that in many cases the staining of acrylic paintings on fiberboard are an unlucky combination of the artist´s habit to apply only a single layer of paint and the humid conditions in which many works had been stored. - U.R. Understanding the cause of stains on art works helps direct the best course of action for both cleaning and preservation.

Other Paint Analysis Methods: Additional chemical and age testing of paints are performed by paint manufacturers in developing these products. Other much more costly types of paint sample analysis, such as pyrolysis-gas chromatography can provide specific product identification signatures of basic modern paints and can list their constituents;

Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy for paint analysis, direct temperature-resolved mass spectrometry may also be used. But a skilled analyst trained in field investigation and forensic microscopy can address questions of paint layer color, history, and most causes of paint failures quickly, economically, and sometimes more reliably.

PAINT FAILURE CHECKLIST - Typical Considerations in Evaluating Paint Failures

Paint job preparation (C) Daniel FriedmanAlso see PAINTING MISTAKES.

Experts representing paint manufacturers see many field failures of painted surfaces, often arising from a common cause. But getting a clear answer from these professionals can be tricky: the painting contractor is their customer, not the building owner.

Therefore, while most paint failures are due to poor surface preparation or painting in improper conditions of temperature or moisture, the "expert" may be reluctant to say so. Importantly, other paint failures are due to construction errors, building ventilation or vapor barrier errors, building leaks, or improper maintenance.

It is important to understand why a paint failure occurred before re-painting a building. Otherwise the expense of a new paint job may be wasted.

Our 1984 photo (left) shows the website editor D. Friedman (at rear) and Art Cady preparing surfaces of a home for painting. Prepping soft wood shingle surfaces that have been previously painted is horrible work and very labor intensive.

"Improper or inadequate surface preparation is by far the most common cause of house paint failures such as blistering, peeling and staining.

If the new paint is separating from the old coat of paint, it is most likely due to chalking or some contaminant on the old paint that prevents the new paint from penetrating and binding to the old painted surface. If the peeling failure is down to the bare wood, it is most likely that the problem is a result of too much moisture within the wall, forcing itself out, taking the entire paint film with it."

Poor prep trim paint job (C) Daniel Friedman"Over 65% of all paint failures can be attributed to poor or improper surface preparation.

Two of the major causes of paint failure on exterior wood surfaces are either moisture passing through the substrate from the interior, or exterior sources of moisture getting behind the paint film.

Temperature and humidity have major effects upon drying and ultimately upon the characteristics of the paint film.

These effects will always determine the actual appearance and performance of the paint itself. Paint should be applied at temperatures of 70o F, (21o C), ideally, plus or minus 20o F (12o C) - unless product specifications state otherwise. A surface should not be painted if its temperature is within 5o F of the dew point or the relative humidity is above 85%." -- PPG Exterior Failures.

But you don't need fourier transform nor any other sophisticated paint analysis to understand the paint job shown just above. The West end of this New York home (inspected by DJF ca 2000) is believed built by Derick Hegeman 1759-1769, and the East end was added by Thomas Storm or John Adriance (all of Ducthess County, NY) 1769 - 1794.

The home was purchased by George Brinckrerhoff in 1795. It looks as if almost all of the coats of paint are still present in some of the really thick layers on this wall clapboard.

The follow sections of this document form a checklist of building and site conditions leading to paint failures (such as peeling paint, blistering paint, chalking paint, cracking or alligatoring paint, or bleeding and stains through paint--terms defined below). The focus is on failures of painted wood surfaces on building exteriors but the paint failure diagnostic procedure can be generalized to other surfaces inside and out.

PAINT FAILURE CHECKLIST: EXTERIOR CLUES - Exterior Observations Related to Paint Failures

Here is our list of clues that help diagnose the cause of exterior building paint job failure. If you are diagnosing an indoor paint problem see PAINT FAILURE - INTERIOR CLUES. The photo below shows the author (on roof) working with Arthur Cady during a house painting project in New York.

A photo of the finished paint-job is at SHORTCUT ERRORS.

Additional clues that can help diagnose an outdoor paint problem are at STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING EXTERIORS.

Poor prep trim paint job (C) Daniel Friedman

Quotes in the opening text of this document are from the encyclopedic but not quite complete paint website: PPG Exterior Failures


Continue reading at PAINT FAILURE LAB ANALYSIS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or See PAINT FAILURE INDICATORS for more detail when invasive inspecting is permitted.

Or see PAINT & STAIN LIFE CHART that gives typical life expectancies of building exterior coatings on different types of wood surfaces.


Suggested citation for this web page

PAINT FALURE, DIAGNOSIS, CURE, PREVENTION at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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