Archive for July, 2010

You don't have to live with them any more. They're recyclable. Well, it was news to me.

I’m now sure that when I’m not looking, which is most of the time, the empty and partly empty steel paint cans in my garage mate and produce young.

How else to explain the incredible proliferation of these creatures?

I was looking for some old signs in the garage yesterday evening, and those dern paint can were everywhere! Some already lived there when we bought the house. We brought in more for various painting projects.

If I get rid of them, I figure, I’ll have lots of room for other types of cluttter.

Obviously, as the author of a sustainability blog, I don’t want to “landfill” the paint cans. So I hit Google to see what I could find out.

I found that paint cans are highly recyclable. Just a few things to note:

First, the cans must be empty. A thin film on the inside is ok — they don’t have to be sparkling, but shouldn’t be sloshing around, either.

That brings up the question — “what to do with leftover paint in the can?” There are several options. I got these from a neat video posted at www.durabilityanddesign.com, which is the electronic incarnation of the former print pub Journal of Architectural Coatings.

There was also good info from www.recycle-steel.org in a pdf titled Residential recycling of empty steel paint cans.

Basic idea is that since water-based latex paint isn’t a hazardous material, you can let small amounts dry in the can. Then, just pry out the dried hunk ‘o paint and plop it in the trash. You can also soak it up with kitty litter, or even newspaper, and put it in the trash. The guy in the video made the point that if the latex paint is ok on the walls of your home, it’ll be ok in the landfill.

A better way to dispose is to donate the leftover paint. In Lawrence, Kan., where I live with Mrs. Henry and three dogs, this means scheduling an appointment to drop it off at our local hazardous waste facility, even though it’s not hazardous waste.

And even better than disposing, according to a brochure from the Lawrence Public Works Department, is using it all up to begin with. Online paint calculators are easy to find, and can help you buy just the right amount so there’s little left over. Other recommendations include using the left over paint for additional coats, and finding something else that needs painting.

Finding something else that needs painting is one way to dispose of leftover paint.

During my career in the Navy I learned most everything benefits from a coat of paint.

Once the cans are empty, you can allegedly put them out for curbside recycling with other steel-can recyclables, or take them to the local recycling center.

Remember, that’s just for steel cans that held water-based paints. Containers that hold solvent-based paints have to go to the hazardous waste facility. If you’re not sure which you’ve got, try dissolving a few drops in some water. If it won’t dissolve, it’s not water-based, and should go to the hazardous waste facility.

I haven’t tried any of this yet. Will give it a shot this or next weekend and report back.

Have a great weekend!


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Walter Netsch’s “Brutalist” 1971 O.T. Hogan Biological Sciences Building, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

“While they studied biochemistry on the inside, they fought it on the outside.”

I think that’s my lead for this story I’m working on about mold removal (with a PROSOCO product, natch) on the O.T. Hogan Biological Sciences Building at Northwestern University. It’s a great building. The exterior looks (to me, anyway) like concrete, which is a hallmark of Brutalist architecture, but it’s really limestone.

Limestone, being biological in origin, is a food source for mold, and by 2009, the O.T. Hogan Building had grown a pretty good crop of it.

The biological stains grew most heavily at the top of building, possibly because that's where exposure to moisture was greatest.

I did some research to see if I could identify exactly what kind of mold it is on the building. None of the technical people I showed the photos to wanted to go out on a limb — they all said it would be safest to identify the stains simply as “biological staining.”

Being blissfully free of any scientific credential that could suffer if I was wrong, I plunged blithely ahead with my research.

First stop — a useful website called inspectapedia.

Inspectapedia helpfully identified black staining on stone as often coming from a “cyanobacteria” called Gloeocapsa sp.:

Black Staining & Stone Damage from Cyanobacteria – Gloeocapsa sp. and fungi
Black stains on stone are quite often caused by a cyanobacteria (see Catalog of Substances that Alter Stone, Glass, Steel) Gloeocapsa sp. that not only stain the stone black, but also increase water absorption by penetrating veins in the stone (or marble, for example) leading to honeycomb weathering damage to the stonework. Wet stone exposed to either freeze-thaw cycles or heating by bright sun can be spalled or cracked by these forces.

So I Googled Gloeocapsa sp. by itself and with “on limestone” and “historic architecture” and other search-phrases I thought might be relevant. I was looking for accounts or photos of Gloeocapsa similar to what I alread had.

I found lots of scholarly papers, such as Biodiversity of cyanobacteria and green algae on monuments in the Mediterranean Basin: an overview that indicated Gloeocapsa sp. played a major role in the world of staining calcareous building stones — but I found virtually no photos like the O.T. Hogan Building.

I also discovered that a relative — Gloeocapsa Magma — causes those black stains on asphalt shingle rooftops. It turns out limestone is a component in asphalt shingles, and Gloeocapsa loves limestone.

Gloeocapsa Magma causes these roof stains. There's an industry built up around cleaning them, but can be done as a DIY job.

I’m now pretty confident Gloeocapsa sp. was the culprit on the O.T. Hogan Building. If you’re a mycologist, or have some other pertinent expertise, feel free to update me. I would love to hear from you!

JSL Masonry Restoration of Franklin Park, Ill., used Enviro Klean BioWash to clean it off.

But that’s another story.

# # #

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Ryan Klacking, president, Syncon Inc., Dearborn, Mich., takes a minute to smile for the camera, along with his reflection in polished concrete.

I’m not sure why an aircraft hangar needs a concrete floor so highly polished a man could use it as a shaving mirror, or a woman could apply lipstick, but Landmark Aviation in Asheville, N.C., wanted one, and Syncon Inc., Dearborn, Mich., gave it to them in May 2009.

The project was a new pour. Syncon techs started grinding the 25,000 square-foot floor with 50-grit metals, and took it up to a 3,000 grit resin finish, says Ryan Klacking, president, Syncon Inc., Dearborn, Mich.

You probably already know this, but “metal” and “resin” refer to how the tiny industrial diamonds are bonded to the grinding or polishing pads. Metal bonds hold the diamonds more securely, which cuts the concrete more deeply. So “metals” are used for grinding, much as coarse-grit sandpapers are used in the early stages of wood finishing.

“Resin” bonds let the diamonds jiggle around a little more, for a shallower cut. The techs use resins for polishing, just like finer-grit sandpapers are used in the later stages of wood finishing. The grit-number is also similar to sandpapers, with lower numbers being coarser grits and higher numbers being finer.

They treated the concrete with Consolideck® LS® (lithium-silicate) Hardener/Densifier after polishing with a 200-grit resin. The floor got another dose of hardener/densifier after being polished to 800.

Hardener/densifiers are often used on polishing projects. They convert soft calcium hydroxide, which turns into concrete dust, normally a nusiance, to rock-hard calcium silicate hydrate. The calcium silicate hydrate, the same material that makes concrete hard to begin with, fills the microscopic concrete pores. That the surface denser, and creates more surface area for a faster, higher quality polish.

Contractors increasingly use lithium-silicate hardener-densifiers because of their sustainable properties — both economically sustainable and environmentally. Older hardener-densifiers, such as those using potassium-silicate or sodium-silicate, have to be scrubbed into the floor. what doesn’t penetrate has to be rinsed off with fresh water. Then that rinse water has to be collected and properly disposed of.

Potassium- and sodium-silicate hardener/densifier residue that isn’t rinsed away cures into a hard, insoluble white deposit on the floor.

Lithium-silicates are an advance because they penetrate without scrubbing. Just spray and walk away. Small amounts that don’t penetrate dry into an inert white powder that can be swept up and put in the trash.

Here’s a video of a time-trial pitting a lithium-silicate hardener/densifier against a sodium/silicate.

The floor is protected with Consolideck® SLX100® Oil &Water Repellent, a penetrating protective treatment, which keeps contaminants like fuel and oil from soaking in and staining until they can be cleaned up.

You might think a shine this intense would be difficult to sustain (I would), especially in the harsh inudstrial environment of an aircraft hangar. But Ryan re-visited the site in January, and said it had maintained shine and cleanliness remarkably well, despite utility-vehicle, aircraft and foot traffic.

Anyway, I really liked that photo and wanted to share it. Ryan’s brother, Chris Klacking, took it. Good job Chris!


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A technician applies a VOC-compliant masonry water repellent.

“Low-to-no-VOC” = a juicy marketing claim for Architectural & Industrial Maintenance (AIM) coatings in our ever-greener construction environment.

Shockingly, however, there are some manufacturers who claim their products are low-to-no-VOC, when in reality, they do not meet the standard! Sometimes that’s by design, and other times by mistake. But the fact is, it happens.

As you probably know, VOCs — Volatile Organic Compounds — are solvents and other materials that get released into the air when paint, paint strippers, varnishes, adhesives and other solvent-containing products dry. VOCs are an ingredient in smog.

So the EPA, and many states individually, regulate how much VOC can be in products.

With all the regulation, you’d think if a manufacturerer claimed a product to be low-to-no-VOC, it would be. Alas, the regulations are there, but there are so many manufacturerers, and even more products, that consistent government checking and enforcement isn’t possible.

This can be a problem if you specify or apply an allegedly low-to-no-VOC product on a “green” project — and then it turns out the product is not “low-to-no.” You wouldn’t get in trouble with regulatory authorities, if you had the manufucturer’s literature to back you up — though the manufacturer might have some explaining to do — but you likely would have to go through the time and trouble of making it right with the client.

Your reputation might even be affected.

So it is a great idea to be a little skeptical of low-to-no-VOC claims. Our Regulatory Affairs Director Dwayne Fuhlhage, has developed this handy checklist of questions to use when judging VOC claims. It’s pretty sad that we have to judge them, but bottom line — you’ll be glad later if you know what you’re putting on your building now.

For Dwayne’s full discussion of the VOC issue, take a look at his white paper “Know your VOCs.”

Here are some questions to ask to help make sure VOC claims are what they ought to be:

• Does the manufacturer have regulatory management programs in place to assure understanding of all district, state and federal AIM VOC rules?
• Does the manufacturer clearly state where a product is compliant?
• Is the manufacturer willing to disclose a product’s VOC content?
• For products marketed as low solids coatings, is the solids content less than 1 pound/gallon?
• Is the product formulated with flammable or carcinogenic exempt solvents?
• Are claimed exempt solvents on the state and federal AIM exempt solvents list?
• Does the manufacturer provide safety information for finished product made from concentrates and field diluted with exempts (e.g. acetone)?
• Is VOC information consistent between the MSDS, technical data and label?
• Is the manufacturer attempting to market reactive curing materials as zero VOC?
• Is the manufacturer willing to certify, on company letterhead, that a product is zero VOC?
• Does the product meet critical performance criteria such as water vapor transmission?
• Does product use require waste generation?
• Is the product properly categorized as a sealant or coating?
• For South Coast AQMD compliance claims, is the manufacturer registered with the district under Rule 314?

Hope that helps. More later!


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Sustainable shaving

This is more about maintenance than construction. It’s a little on the personal side, too. But this post speaks to the heart of sustainability — in my opinion, as my spouse always demands I add on to my statements.

This post is about “The Razor Saver,” which has saved me money and helped me put less non-recyclable plastic into the landfill. And it works great!

I am not selling these things, and have no arrangement or communication with the manufacturerer of this little doodad other than I bought one out of frustration about a year ago, and have been very pleased ever since. Thought I should share the info.

The Razor Saver -- for sustainable and economical shaving.

Found out about the thing from one of my favorite websites, treehugger.com.

And the Wall Street Journal recently posted this interesting article about shaving wars. Though I don’t know how they missed the Razor Saver.

Anyway, like most of the guys in the WSJ article, I was not liking how expensive and ungreen it is to shave. I tried fancy electrics, but they require you to buy expensive accessory stuff on a regular basis, which is how they make $$. Then the rotary blades would dull, with no way to sharpen. So — very nice for a year or so, then one more unusable thing for the landfill.

The blue plastic disposable razors gave me a good shave the first time — fair the second time — and take your chances the third. After that, it’s like “Weasels ripped my flesh,” if you recall that old Frank Zappa album. The only problem with the disposables, is that I like to recycle. I contacted the manufacturer to ask if the their blue plastic shavers are recyclable — NO, was the response.

I did find some earth-friendly allegedly recyclable plastic disposable razors — first shave with those was like the 4th shave with the blues.

Then I found The Razor Saver on treehugger. Gambled 12 bucks.

The thing turned out to be a little plastic case holding a strip of mirror glass on the bottom. On the top is a slot, so you can insert the disposable razor, and drag the blades back and forth along the mirror, while letting water run on the glass. Do this 10 times, and the used razor is sharpened back to 1st shave quality.

I’d saved a bunch of old blue plastic razors that had each gotten 3 shaves. Was thinking of just sending them back to their maker, and let them deal with the things. When the Razor Saver arrived, I tried it out — and it worked perfectly. I used that one old razor, sharpening it each time beofre shaving, for MONTHS before it finally got to what used to be “2nd shave” quality.

It’s been over a year now. I’ve gone through maybe three or four of those old blue disposables I’d saved up. Previously, I’d be doing great if I was limited to a dozen a month. And I haven’t BOUGHT a razor since the Razor Saver arrived. I’ve forgotten what they cost — $7.99 for 10 maybe? Something like that? Now the money gets spent on beer.

If the maker of those blue disposables had a recycling plan — send them back to us we’ll use them to make new ones –I would have looked no further, and would have been happy to pay the postage to send batches of razors back. They haven’t lost me as a customer, but my purchases from them, instead of being monthly, will now be every few years.

I told my friend Jamie, who is very handy and practical, about the Razor Saver. Jamie wondered if he could get the same sharpening effect by dragging the razor across his bathroom mirror. He reported some success with that technique. I’ve been meaning to try it myself, just to satisfy my curiosity, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Meanwhile, my current crop of old razors should last me till about 2015. Alas, they’ll still go into the landfill, but at a much reduced rate. Instead of a dozen a month, it would be maybe one every three months.

Big difference.


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Project Testing Director Courtney Murdock (L) and Senior R & D Tech Chris Moore put the “odor free” claim of this paint stripper to the test. It failed.

It’s a jungle out there in the world of green marketing claims, and as you know, not all parts of the jungle are green.

A good example — Chris Moore, our senior R & D technician, just now showed me a paint stripper from another manufacturer. The label had some charming environmental graphics, including a mountain and sunshine. It claimed the product was “environmentally friendly” and “odor-free.”

Then he peeled back the lid and gave me a sniff. Phew! The “environmentally friendly,” “odor free” paint stripper, it turns out, has a good slug of NMP (N-Methylpyrrolidone), a powerful and pungent solvent.

We tried it on Courtney Murdock, our project testing director, and she had the same reaction as me.

Chris’s point is that many green marketing claims, far from being merely dubious, often stand in stark contrast to the reality of the product. Since there’s no regulation of what’s “green” and what isn’t, unethical marketers can get away with that.

For now.

But that’s changing. The Environmental Protection Agency has created a program you may have heard about – Design for the Environment, or DfE for short. That designation on a product means that a scientific review has found that product ingredients meet “best in class” standards for safety – both personal and environmental.

More design firms than ever are specifying “green,” according to Engineering News Record. In the July 5th issue, the magazine reports “Revenue from projects registered with and actively pursuing certification by third-party sustainable design standards organizations rose 16.8% in 2009 to $3.33 billion over 2008’s figure of $2.85 billion.”

That’s why PROSOCO pursues third-party designations like DfE wherever possible. We can claim our lithium-silicate hardener/densifiers are great for indoor air quality. But architects don’t have to take our word for it when they see the Scientific Certification Systems Indoor Advantage Gold logo our product data sheets.

Of course, the products also have to work. No matter how safe a paint stripper is, if it doesn’t de-bond paint it’s no good. On the other hand, if it contains a pungent solvent, we’re not going to call it “odor free.”

That’s why we’re looking for and testing DfE raw materials for our products. That’s why we’re going through the laborious, time-consuming, effort of earning the DfE designation for our qualifying products.

To get our share of those green design and construction billions, our products have to be the real deal – both in effectiveness and environmental responsibility. A simple test panel shows you product effectiveness. For environmental responsibility, I recommend looking for reliable third party endorsers, like Scientific Certification Systems and the EPA – and not accepting anything less.

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