During a recent visit to the continent, Joe Cilia, FIS technical manager, was surprised to hear people in the finishes and interiors sector  describe how spray-applied plaster and finishes dominate, and they were surprised that the situation isn’t the same in the UK. In this  technical article, he looks into the advantages of spray-applied plasters and seeks to find out why they aren’t more popular here.

Spray-applied finishing claims to offer several advantages around waste, speed, efficiency, quality, and health and safety, for example access to height without using towers and scaffolding, but the biggest that I can see is around labour and skills.

Firstly, spray-applied finishes don’t need to be carried to the face of the wall or ceiling on a hawk, which must be good for the wellbeing of the craftsperson, and secondly they can be applied with a minimum of training, which must be a benefit to companies facing a skills shortage where retirement and a lack of new people coming into the sector are causing problems in delivering  projects to tight timescales.

Airless pumps or screw pumps, which can be easily hired, are the tools of choice when it comes to applying these types of  spray-applied finishes to the face of the wall or ceiling. There are two types of finish available: a  plaster-based product mixed  on-site and a ready-mixed finish made up of ground marble from quarries mixed with polymers and organic binders.

The makers of the ready-mixed product claim that it is flexible and therefore can be used in off-site production where panels are factory-finished before being transported and hoisted on-site. Because marble leaves a smooth white finish, there is no need to mist-coat the finish before painting, and there is also the option to have colour impregnated into the mix to save the paint process and speed up the process even more.

So, will spray-applied finishes replace traditional methods?

“The real benefit of our Thistle Spray Finish is that it can be  flattened to a finish quickly with no additional work required, such as sanding,” explained Paul Cassidy, British Gypsum’s senior product manager – plasters and jointing.

“In most areas, though, the skill of the plasterer is always needed to ensure the quality finish people expect, so hand-applied plaster is still very important.”

Graham Chenoweth, business development manager – finishes at Knauf, added: “As clients and  contractors look to reduce programme schedules and improve productivity, some of the traditional methods just can’t keep up. Knauf’s Readymixed Finishing Solutions are more than twice as fast, offer a higher quality of finish and reduce the amount of  material on-site by eliminating the need for a direct water supply.

“These systems considerably reduce waste and reduce the health and safety risks that are involved with current hand-applied systems, especially with working at height.”

Take-up from people being trained to use spray finishes is on the increase and FIS expects to see more courses being added to its CourseSight platform as demand is seen across the country. Any successfully completed courses in spray-applied finishing will be added to the individual’s CSCS card so that employers can be reassured that the necessary training has taken place.

In the July edition of SpecFinish, spray plaster was highlighted as an innovation in plastering that will speed up the process, so much so that it was featured on Grand  Designs in a house being  constructed on the Isle of White. The claim here was that it was up  to three times faster than  traditional methods.

So, why aren’t we seeing it being used on every site?

“Size matters and culture change also has something to do with it,” said Steve Coley of Lakeside Ceilings and Partitions. “To make it practical, you need a large area to go at which can be a whole house where the pump is placed outside and the hoses brought in to apply the finish or a large surface, such as a school or commercial building. It’s not applicable to all applications.

“Then there is the issue of not wanting to be the first to use it, and although there are several case studies which can demonstrate the benefits of using a spray finish, there is still resistance from some quarters,” continued Mr Coley. “However, I am convinced it’s the future.”

It is estimated that an additional 230,000 tradespeople are needed by 2020, so our sector needs to proactively look for ways to improve productivity. Could spray-applied finish be one of the long-overdue innovations to bring the sector into the 21st century, or will it remain on the margins?


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Joe Cilia