Construction Education-Zero Failures, a Factory Training

This post originally appeared on the Green Building Advisor’s website.

I’ve taken training from many manufacturers over the years.  Manufacturers have a vested interest in seeing you succeed.  If you have a good experience, you will probably use their products again, but if you have a poor experience, you’re going to talk about it, and not in a good way.  The good manufacturers will provide some sort of product training, whether it’s in a video on YouTube or information on their website.  Many will also offer on-site education with a factory representative.  I’ve had two manufacturers send representatives to answer questions on jobs I was involved with over the past year, Rockwool and Siga.

I recently took a trip to Denver, Colorado to attend factory training at a sealants company called Sashco.  The training included education on two different topics, log homes and operating a successful construction business (geared towards the log home contractor but the information applies to all construction businesses).  I’ll briefly talk about the business training at the end of this blog.  The log home training was some of the best education I’ve received.  

Being in factory training, you would think the education would be all about the products Sashco sells and a plant tour, and we did cover their coatings and sealants along with a tour of their brand-new facility, but by far, the majority of the education delt with log home challenges.  The two-day log home training class was taught by several experts in the field, Sashco had two of their senior chemists cover wood science (what I found to be the most fascinating education of the course), along with coatings, sealants, and wood preservatives.  One of the chemists has a thirty-year career in the paint and stain industry.  A third educator owns a successful log home restoration business.  He covered the hands-on training in how to remove old stains and sealants from a log home, sealants and coating applications and the chinking (log seam sealing) process.  The fourth educator is a blasting technology equipment supplier.  He covered the equipment we used to sand blast the logs (we actually used glass media, a better choice for stripping old sealants off logs).

The class started with wood science, how logs are different than dimensional lumber.  How they handle both heat and water differently than light framed construction.  The education moved into wood moisture content and the recommended levels before any finish systems are applied.  They also covered what causes both stains and paints to fail on wood and other surfaces.  (Paints are not recommended for logs, not because of any moisture trapping properties but because they visibly hide any damage of the log.)  I realized that I had a misunderstanding of why a paint or stain will fail on wood surfaces.  I thought it was due to moisture moving through and out of the wood that caused the paint to blister and fail.  As it turns out, it’s the movement of wood, the expansion, contraction and twisting that stresses the paint or stain.  That along with UV damage is the cause of most failures.

Water’s ability to enter a log and cause damage is another topic that was extensively covered.  The photo shows a “D” log, a milled log that looks like the letter D.  There is a check or crack in the upper right-hand side of the log, this crack has allowed water to enter the log, causing rot to form.  The education covered the importance of sealing logs from water intrusion.  The instructor stressed the importance of period inspection and maintenance to assure these checks and cracks, especially on the upper curvature of the log are sealed.

Another topic I found interesting was the section on mildew (mold), algae and dirt.  It’s best practice to remove all foreign and biological materials before performing any maintenance, such as chinking or top coating the logs with a new finish material.  The chemists teaching the topic showed us how bleach can be used to identify and remove certain biological materials from the log surface.  The chemist stressed that the key to using bleach is the age of the product.  Apparently bleach loses effectiveness with age (something I didn’t know about) and fresh bleach is needed for mold removal.  Even bleach that is only 6 months old may not be effective.  The instructor suggested purchasing the powdered shock chemical used for pool and hot tub maintenance and mixing your own bleach. 

After learning the importance of water management and the removing mildew, algae and dirt from log homes, the next topic was on wood prep.  Does the home require complete removal of any old wood finishes, or can an existing system simply receive a maintenance treatment?  The class got the opportunity to go outside and experience media blasting log wall mockups.  We all had a turn to put on personal protection equipment that included a Tyvek suit, gloves, hearing protection and a hood pressurized with fresh air.  We then operate a high-pressure media blaster.  The glass media was exiting a 7/16-inch diameter nozzle at 75 lbs. of pressure.  It took less than 5-minutes to remove all the stain from the log wall mockups in the photo.

The next hands-on training had us reapplied a stain product to the logs using a paint sprayer and block brush.  For many of us in the class, this was our first experience in blasting and finishing applications on a log structure.  I was amazed at how fast the process can happen with the right equipment.

Day two of the log home training had us installing chinking (sealants for very large joints, up to 6 inches) to wall mockups.  The sealant we were using was applied from a pump pushing the product from a five-gallon bucket, out a ½ inch diameter application tip.  We were taught the proper way to install a backer rod, a few different application techniques, and ways to make the finished product look good.  The key to chinking is to remember, not only is it important the finished product looks good, but it also has to perform as both a water and air barrier.  The photo shows my attempt at a 2.5-inch chink joint.  Not too bad for never attempting this process before.  (I’ve included a couple bonus videos showing this process at the end of this post.

The second day finished with a class on sealants; acrylic based, solvent based, polyurethanes, silicones, butyls, and other sealant technologies.  We also covered penetrating stains and how non-drying oils should not be used.  Apparently, people have applied used motor oil to their log homes in an attempt to better protect the wood surfaces.  The chemist made it clear, non-drying oils for log cabins is not a good idea and the smell of used motor oil on a home will stick around for a while.  This section of training also covered the use of a systems approach when finishing a log home.  The instructor covered Sashco’s product line for log homes, Capture, a log home stain and Cascade, the topcoat for the stain.  They also brought up other manufacturers and their systems, noting that there are some other very good log home finishing systems on the market.  The inclusion of the other manufacturers showed that this education wasn’t just about selling Sachco’s products, but more about best practices for log homes.

Days three and four of the education concentrated on the business of operating a construction company.  The main presenter was the owner of a log refinishing company.  He showed how his role went from owning a job to owning a company.  He approaches his business as not selling a product or service, but rather selling “time”.  He has a very good understanding of how long each of his processes take, from there he sets his work schedule based on how much time is available each year.  (Log refinishing is seasonal in most areas of the country.)  Other instructors included the owner of Sashco, Les Burch, who gave a talk called “Finding your Why”.  He covered his views on a company’s culture and values.  We also heard from a lawyer about the importance of having a contract and understanding the laws surrounding employees.  There was a process engineer from Sashco that showed us how to better manage time and improve processes on a job site.  He convinced us we could improve both by 20% without a major investment in the company.  Other education included a class on crucial conversations, presented by Sashco’s director of human resources and an exercise on setting goals for our business taught by one of Sashco’s marketing managers. Overall, the business section of the factory training was a surprise, as a business owner, I’ve experienced the challenges of owning and operating a small construction company.  I wish I had had this education years ago.

Why did I take the Zero Failures Log Home training class?  After all, the new construction projects I’m involved with do not include log home construction.  The biggest reason is I perform about 10 energy audits on log homes every year.  Having a better understanding of where they fail, how they are maintained, and strategies on how to reduce their energy consumption will allow me to provide better solutions to the owners of these structures.

Log homes are a small part of the residential construction industry as a whole.  Understanding how they are constructed, their maintenance schedules, and where they can be improved can help both homeowners and log home builders.  Sashco’s marketing includes the letters IYKYK, If You Know, You Know.  What a fitting marketing strategy for the construction industry.  You can find more information on two different education opportunities taught at Sashco’s factory, both called Zero Failures.  The four-day log home and business education I took is one, the second course is a two-day event all about caulking and sealants technology in more traditionally built homes with some business education thrown in.  Learn more about both offerings at Zero Failures | Sashco .  

Bonus content: a couple videos I took on chinking a log cabin while at the ZF training.











Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *