Traditional plastering techniques still dominate the market; however, there is a slow but growing trend to adopt spray-applied finishing which claims to offer advantages around waste, speed, efficiency and quality. Adrian JG Marsh reports.

“We’re not chasing traditional plastering contracts now and we’re focusing on contracts where plaster can be machine applied,” said Marvin Nash at north-west-based CLM.

“We’ve seen increasing use of spray-applied plaster on contracts across the North. There is less waste, the quality is as good as you can get and productivity is high. With such a skills shortage, it’s the only way to tackle large-volume contracts.”

Paul Bagley at PWB Drylining said: “We work towards the higher end of the market. We’re traditional plasterers but we’ve noticed a push to airless spray plaster. It seems to be stronger in the North.

“In London and the South, there’s no shortage of work and we’ve seen main contractors placing more packages under one single contract, so we’ve picked up work that involves screeding, drylining and plastering. A few years ago, this type of work would often be broken up into separate contracts.

“There’s a massive shortage of apprentices. In our experience, young people just don’t seem to want to get their hands dirty these days,” added Mr Bagley.

David Hill at Knauf agrees. He commented: “Fewer people are coming into the sector, meaning fewer people are being trained as plasterers. The workforce is getting older and there is the unknown with Brexit.

“In the UK, powdered plaster still dominates and we estimate spray represents only five percent of the market. However, we see opportunities for significant growth in the use of spray plaster and there is growing demand – it’s very popular with off-site construction.

“Painters and decorators also love spray plaster. Because the finish is white, you can often drop one coat from a decorators’ package,” Mr Hill concluded.

John Harford at Astra Property Services UK, a specialist fit-out contractor, said: “We recently completed the refurbishment of the Ibis near Gatwick Airport and the plastering element of the works was firmly on the project’s critical path. With more than 9,000m² of walls and ceilings in total, spray plaster was the ideal solution.”

Expanding on the benefits of spray plaster, particularly with pre-fabrication, Knauf’s Clive Reeves added: “We’ve been working with off-site construction in the residential sector. Spray plasters are attractive because they’re suited to factory conditions: there’s less waste and the product quality is strong enough to withstand damage as modules are transported to site.

“One scheme with Swan Housing has seen high levels of productivity. Each module includes mechanical and electrical services, taped plasterboard and then spray-applied plaster in two coats. It’s a production line that’s constantly moving and the factory is producing eight pods every day. It’s also in use on private developments with Crest Nicholson on a project near London Bridge.

“The productivity benefits of spray-applied plaster are there when there is a lot of regular and repetitive plasterwork required. We’ve found that for every 27 minutes of work, contractors are getting an extra 100m² of productivity. There is also better water management and less waste.”

So, why is there not a lot more use of spray plaster?

According to Mr Reeves: “There’s an element of fear in changing from traditional to new methods of working. Go to mainland Europe and it’s commonplace. The market is more geared to spray plaster and the volumes are there and methods are established.”

In Germany, commentators suggest that more than half of contracts use spray plaster finishing. It’s also strong in Scandinavia, the Benelux countries and France.

Alexa Leclerc from Beissier concurs, highlighting: “Our spray plaster products are used widely [in France]. The housing market is bigger than the non-residential sector with specialist plasterers carrying out work and also painting and decorating contractors doing plastering work.

“We’re also starting to see a trend towards direct contracts where main contractors want the same products used across their contracts, so they are buying direct and issuing the materials to their subcontractors for them to apply.”

Tackling the challenges of workload with easier forms of installation is a route to boost productivity when faced with a skills shortage. The world is a different place today and hard-line traditionalists may need to accept that a faster technique that brings the necessary quality will grow in importance and can’t be ignored.

PHOTOGRAPH: Beissier’s Bagar Airliss G spray plaster helped Astra Property Services, a specialist fit-out contractor, to refurbish a 141-bedroom Ibis hotel near Gatwick Airport, 25 per cent faster than the client initially requested.