Upon completing this section, you should be able to state the purposes of the different types of structural coatings and how each is employed.

The protection of surfaces is the most important consideration in determining the maintenance cost of structures. Structural coatings serve as protective shields between the base construction materials and elements that attack and deteriorate them. Regularly programmed structural coatings offer long-range protection, extending the useful life of a structure.


The primary purpose of a structural coating is protection. This is provided initially with new construction and maintained by a sound and progressive preventive maintenance program. Programmed painting enforces inspection and scheduling. A viable preventive maintenance program will help ensure that minor problems are detected at an early stage—before they become major failures later. An added advantage derived from preventive maintenance is the detection of faulty structural conditions or problems caused by leakage or moisture.

Resistance to moisture from rain, snow, ice, and condensation constitutes perhaps the greatest single protective characteristic of paint, the most common type of structural coating. Moisture causes metal to corrode and wood to swell, warp, or rot. Interior wall finishes of buildings can be ruined by moisture entering through neglected exterior surfaces. Porous masonry is attacked and destroyed by moisture. There-fore, paint films must be as impervious to moisture as possible to provide a protective, water-proof film over the surface to which they are applied. Paint also acts as a protective film against acids, alkalies, material organisms, and other damaging elements.


Painting is an essential part of general maintenance programs for hospitals, kitchens, mess halls, offices, warehouses, and living quarters. Paint coatings provide smooth, nonabsorptive surfaces that are easily washed and kept free of dirt and foodstuffs. Adhering foodstuffs harbor germs and cause disease. Coating rough or porous areas seals out dust and grease that would otherwise be difficult to remove.

Odorless paints are used in these areas because conventional paint solvent odors are obnoxious to personnel. In food preparation areas, the odors maybe picked up by nearby food.


Certain types of structural coatings delay the spread of fire and assist in confining a fire to its area of origin. Fire-retardant coatings should not be considered substitutes for conventional paints. The use of fire-retardant coatings is restricted to areas of highly combustible surfaces, and must be justified and governed by the specific agency’s criteria. Fire-retardant coatings are not used in buildings containing automatic sprinkler systems.


White and light-tinted coatings applied to ceilings and walls reflect both natural and artificial light and help brighten rooms and increase visibility. On the other hand, darker colors reduce the amount of reflected light. Flat coatings diffuse, soften, and evenly distribute illumination, whereas gloss finishes reflect more like mirrors and may create glare. Color contrasts improve visibility of the painted surface, especially when paint is applied in distinctive patterns. For example, white on black, white on orange, or yellow on black can be seen at greater distances than single colors or other combinations of colors.


Certain colors are used as standard means of identifying objects and promoting safety. For example, fire protection equipment is painted red. Containers for kerosene, gasoline, solvents, and other flammable liquids should be painted a brilliant yellow and marked with large black letters to identify their contents. The colors of signal lights and painted signs help control traffic safely by providing directions and other travel information.