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Working in extreme heat

Instarmac’s Technical Training and Site Support Managers, Martin Pouncey and Alan Collins, provide some timely guidance to help you stay safe onsite during unusually high temperatures.

At the time of writing this, for the first time ever, temperatures are about to hit an eye-watering 40°C – a heatwave never recorded in the UK before. Working in these extreme temperatures is probably the last thing anyone wants to do, but if you do find yourself on-site, here are our top tips to ensure you have a smooth-running project every time.

So let’s start at the beginning, what to do when you have picked your products up? The temperature of powders will rise over a period of a few hours when stored in the sun, reducing pot life and making products difficult to place, therefore we recommend picking material up nice and early, or leaving in the van overnight if collecting the night before. When you arrive on site, get bags out of the van straight away and store in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. If you can find a shaded spot that’s even better!

Throughout most of the year, water temperatures don’t make a huge difference to the performance of a product. However, when working in really hot temperatures, using cool water when mixing can make life much easier. If you are using mains water or a hose pipe, allow the water to run for a few minutes to cool it down as much as possible. Do not use water that has been left in a bucket, or in the sun, as this will already be heating up. Cooling the water temperature will reduce the risk of flash setting and will help maintain a good pot life.

Alan’s top tip: “Always avoid direct sunlight on newly applied material. If you can’t avoid it – create it! Close curtains, cover windows, put up a gazebo if you are working outside. Basically, block out the sunshine as much as you can. Direct sunlight on newly applied material will cause the evaporation of moisture during the curing process which in turn, will create a weaker bond – not good!”

The time of day you start working can also make a difference to pot life (and you!) Start early in the morning, or later in the evening, when temperatures are at their coolest. Optimising these times will allow you to carry out your work more comfortably and get the best performance from your products.

We know you will have your preferred ways of working, but you might need to tweak your methods during the hotter months. Working in smaller, more manageable areas helps avoid skinning material reducing wasted product.

Martin’s top tip: “Getting your work area prepped in advance with your tools nearby will minimise delays, ensuring an uninterrupted workflow”.

Using clean mixing buckets is standard practice, but it’s even more important in hotter temperatures. Dirty buckets with curing product in the tub will accelerate new materials being mixed in the bucket. Using a clean bucket for each mix is a simple trick which will make a big difference.

Time is money and we all love the use of rapid setting products but in very hot temperatures they can be more of a problem than a help. We recommend switching to a semi-rapid or a slow set product as they have a more forgiving pot life in the warmer months. If you really want to use a rapid setting product, then mix it up and work in smaller areas to reduce wasted material.

Martin’s top tip: “Make sure your substrate isn’t over 15°C. If your material goes on to a hot substrate, it’s going to set a lot quicker. If your substrate is over 15°C get it cooled down by increasing the air flow of the room you are working in by using fans or air conditioning units. I would actually go as far as saying that if your substrate is above 15°C, you should avoid working on it completely. As a general rule of thumb, if the air temperature is above 30°C – don’t work in it!”
It obviously goes without saying that priming is a key part of any tiling job, but it plays an even greater role in hotter temperatures. Loss of moisture into the background, teamed with the heat, results in products going over and skinning faster. Priming will reduce the loss of moisture in the background, making this less of an issue for you on site.

And if you are working outside, here is Alan’s top tip: “Pre-soak the substrate to avoid excessive water loss. As mentioned earlier, hot substrates will cause evaporation and a weaker bond. Pre-soak your substrate as much as possible to avoid this problem”.

Darker external tiles absorb heat really quickly, increasing the temperature of the tile itself and accelerating the setting time of the adhesive. Avoid fixing darker tiles in the hot months if you can.
And most importantly, don’t forget to look after yourself. Stay hydrated and keep your hat and sun cream nearby if you are working outside. Take regular breaks between mixes to keep yourself cool.
These are our top tips for working in extreme heat. We would love to hear what your tips are for working in the hot summer months. Join the conversation by following #UltraTileTips.
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