What is making the paint peel off the interior walls of my Kirkland home?

What is making the paint peel off the interior walls of my Kirkland home?

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Lots of things can make paint peel off an interior wall. Damp, quality of the original paint, an undercoat problem, the material within the wall itself, and of course time itself!

The reality is, once paint begins to peel there is usually no way to “fix it”, other than scraping or stripping the old, peeling paint away, preparing the wall for a completely new paint project, and starting again.

Age of the original paint job

Usually, at least, paint should not peel, even if it is old. In most cases, paint will fade and ‘yellow’ unevenly long before it deteriorates to the point of peeling, so the only real issue you might be concerned about is that there is a fundamental problem with the wall. Most paints adhere to – or even soak into – the wall they are being applied to, so it’s remarkable when paint actually peels. (Externally – that is, outside in the weather – peeling can occur for many adverse environmental conditions, but inside is a different story).

If you know the peeling paint is ancient, it might be a safe bet to assume it’s old enough to peel, and there’s probably nothing wrong with the underlying wall itself. If the paint is only five or ten years old or so, there are really only two possibilities: (1) there’s something wrong with the wall or, (2) there’s something wrong with the paint or how it was mixed / applied in the first place.

Sometimes people experience such issues with a home that was ‘flipped’. (Flipping a house is the process of buying a fixer-upper, fixing it up as minimally as possible, then selling it quickly). Often, such flipped houses were remodeled using the cheapest materials possible, including the paint and carpets. We’ve all seen such houses and apartments. The paint is so cheap, it ages incredibly fast. The ‘flippers’ might have diluted the paint, added who-knows-what to it, and perhaps not prepared the walls sufficiently. It doesn’t take long for those problems to manifest themselves in the paintwork.

A more insidious problem within the wall itself?

A friend of mine had a paint peeling problem on one entire wall of their chiropractic business. Everywhere else in the entire place had no problem, but in just this one room, on one wall, the paint would peel off – almost like segments of thin rubber – within months of painting the wall. Each time, a new painting contractor would arrive to do the job over. Each time, they would postulate about how the last contractor messed up. The old paint job would be undone with paint stripper or with scrapers, and the wall would be painted anew. Then, within three or four months, the problem would surface again.

Then one day, a new contractor arrived. He was shown the problem wall, and the history was explained to him. His first question was, what’s on the other side of the wall? As it happened, it was a food preparation station for a restaurant next door. “There’s your problem”, he said. It was all manner of cooking oils, grease and lard that was occasionally splashed onto the other side of the wall that soaked into the wall over time. The sheet rock wall was lightly soaked in all of it. It wasn’t enough to detect visually, but the painting contractor did an experiment. He stripped one area of the wall to the point it appeared dry. We could see the sheet rock. Then he sprayed the wall with a water spray bottle. The water beaded up as it is were sprayed onto a newly waxed car.

The oils in the wall made sure that no paint would stay in place for long.

It was a big job, for sure, to fix the problem. All of the sheet rock had to be removed – on both sides – and the owners of the restaurant had to get involved. The other side of the wall had to be treated and painted appropriately for food of all types.

Think about what’s on the other side of the wall. It could be damp coming from rain, or from food, a bathroom, or anywhere that is exposed to liquids of any type.

Paint unsuitable for the surface

Not every type of paint is suitable for every type of surface. “Glossy” or oil-based paints often need a different surface than do, for example water-based paints.

If, for example, the paint is peeling from the wall behind where food is being cooked, the constant exposure to food and food products (everything from olive oil to hot chili sauce) not only do you need a certain type of paint, but you probably need a particular type of undercoat. Getting the layers of paint and undercoat right means not having to deal with it again for years. But, if you have the problem, and you don’t know what caused it, the back-splash behind the stove top or kitchen counter may need to be done right this time. Every wall is different, and your professional painting contractor will know exactly what to do.

A note about safety

Flaking or peeling paint near where food is being prepared is obviously a health concern. Although paint manufacturing has improved in many ways over the decades (including the outlawing of lead in paint), if you don’t know how the wall was originally painted, you should deal with the issue as soon as possible. You don’t want even tiny pieces of old paint finding their way into your food!

When selecting the paint to use for your kitchen, you will need paint that (1) is perfectly safe for your family (2) is washable easily and often, and can take the wear and tear that comes with regular washing and (3) will take a bit of heat without flaking.

If you are doing the paint project yourself, be sure to spell out those requirements to the people at your paint store. If you are hiring a contractor, it’s good to show exactly the area that is being painted. Getting the right paint now will substantially increase the life of the paint project.

Heat and cold

An apartment I once lived in had an uninsulated hot water pipe running through a few feet of one of the walls. Within a year of my moving in, I could see the paint beginning to flake exactly where – I was to discover when I simply felt the wall – the hot pipe ran. When someone was using the shower, that part of the wall would warm up!!

Paint should not flake or peel, even when it’s past its recommended life span. There’s usually a simple reason for it. The best thing you can do is ask a painting contracting company to take a look at it.

Check back next week when we cover the problem of fading paint colors!

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