Is the sea really that color?” is a question that Emma Watkin of Wall Tech Construction often gets from her friends back in the United Kingdom. Half of a two-person contracting company working on the Turks & Caicos Islands, Watkin said she doesn’t really have a title at the company but focuses on the pricing, purchasing, and some project managing of the business. Everything that the other person at the company, Damon Trotman, doesn’t do. According to Watkin, he is the reason she’s currently working on exterior façade projects in paradise, recently on the Villa Renaissance project.
Watkins moved to the islands about seven years ago. “When we were in England, we were working anywhere up to 200 miles [322.0 km] from the house every single day, so you sat in the van constantly driving,” she explained. They traded in for something a bit more manageable. The islands make up a total of 170 square miles (440.3 km2), so the distance between jobsites and the office or home looks much different, now!
With paradise comes sun, which might sound glorious to some. But for Watkins, she assures that it’s the last thing you’d want when you’ve worked in the heat seven days a week applying architectural coatings. That’s because most work on the islands happens during the offseason from September through November, before the holidays start up. Unfortunately, that is also the time that all of the islands’ resorts get work done, and it also happens to be the islands’ rainy season, too, when the vacation homeowners are likely to be in town. That means many eyes on a project with limited labor resources, as well as an often-shortened outdoor work schedule due to weather delays.
For the four-week-long project at the 40,000-square-foot (3,716.1 m2) Villa Renaissance, those aspects all posed challenges for Wall Tech.
How does a two-person company complete such a large project — on time, no less? On the islands, the best strategy that Watkin has found is to sub out the work to another contracting company with a crew — rather than try to retain their own crew year-round, with only seasonal work and required work permits. “We’ve got a quite a few
good guys, local guys,” Watkin said. And because the Sto systems might not be the “norm” on the island, the Wall Tech duo has taken the time to get that crew up to speed. “We’ve trained them on how to do the Sto and how to apply it, and they’ve all picked it up, and they enjoy doing it,” she said. “They enjoy working with the product, and they enjoy the fact that it’s a bit more technical, rather than what they’re used to just sort of slinging it at the wall and seeing what happens.”
Even though the people Wall Tech works with aren’t employees of their own, and the islands’ safety requirements are much less than in the United Kingdom, the Wall Tech duo comes from a safety and health background. As such, they both try to instill similar strategies with the teams they work with. On this project, that was about 30 people. “It’s second nature, and it’s something that we try and implement with the guys,” Watkin said. “They don’t have to wear safety boots, they don’t have to wear a hat, hi-vis, or anything like that,” she continued. “And, touch wood, there aren’t too many incidents here, but then we aren’t working on huge buildings that you would do in the states or the UK. I think the highest we go up at the moment is five floors, and it’s very rare we’re hanging off the side.”
Watkin also touted the Sto products from a safety aspect. “The guys don’t necessarily wear any protective equipment, which is another reason why we quite like the Sto, because it’s generally user-friendly stuff,” she said. “There’s none of it that’s going to bring you out in a rash, and people can spill it on the floor, and it can go in the plants, and it won’t kill the plants. So it’s generally a pretty good all-around product.”
The Villa Renaissance is a luxury beachfront resort facing north on the western side of Caicos. There are 28 apartment villas and 4 poolside suites in an Italian style. For this island location, though, that not only meant having to coat over stucco but also a coral render. Those highly textured areas are a bohemian architectural style, that “looks great and you can say it has something to do with your area,” Watkin said. “But it literally just reacts with the environment. So 9 times out of 10, it will look black and green and horrible… it just doesn’t last.” Not to mention the fact that the coral render is sharp to the touch.
The coating solution, therefore, needed to accommodate both of the different surface types and the environment, meaning that it would stay the color that it was intended to. Sto was a great solution; it offered the right look with an easy-to-clean surface.
This project, which was the second of two phases that took place over two years for financial and timing reasons, included the Garden Villas and the main oceanfront sites. That took place during what Watkin called “the hottest time of the year,” which is one of the reasons why the crew doesn’t work double shifts to get things done quicker. “In September and October, we generally work seven days a week, but most of the guys want to be gone when you’ve been outside all day till 5 o’clock at night,” Watkin explained. “After you’ve been out there all day, it gets pretty intense and obviously is so busy at that time that there’s no spare guys who are just happy to sit around all day and come at night.”
Wall Tech is sure to have water accessible on each floor of the building for crew members, who also get two to three breaks throughout the day. “Because we’re all here so often, it’s like the heat doesn’t bother you as much as [it] would somebody else,” Watkin explained. “I think, in a way, you also just suck it up because you know you’ve got two months of good work where you can work seven days a week, and then come Christmas, none of the resorts want you, because they all want the guests.”
Protect First, Apply Second
The system, of course, started with prep. The crew kicked that off with a power washing using a trisodium phosphate (TSP) product, which aided with removing the mold and mildew that comes with living on the beach.
Any cracks in the tiles or molding were patched with a Sto crack filler, embedded mesh, and topped with one of the two basecoats: pearl or Primer/Adhesive-B (PAB). Then, they moved on to the full system on the walls, which received a primer and then the yellow StoColor Dryonic in two coats of 6–8 mils (152.4–203.2 microns) wet film thickness (WFT) each.
For the coral render areas, which were on the walkway to the beach, the bandings and the molding were painted white with StoPrime Hot at an average of 5 mils (127.0 microns) WFT, and then finished with two coats of the Dryonic. On more open, larger areas, the layers were applied with rollers, and on smaller areas, they were applied with brushes.
Balconies, which could be worked on during the inclement weather, and soffits received Stolit 3.0. Because it’s a textured finish, the thicknesses varied between no less than 1⁄16" (1.6 mm) and no more than 3⁄16" (4.8 mm).
But first, they had to ensure that nothing else on site was going to get coated. “We protected all of the building and all of the windows, the shutters, the lamps, and everything like that,” Watkin said. They used a sticky-back plastic. “We sort of try and put it up at the start, and we leave it right till the end, and that’s the last thing that we’ll take back. It doesn’t work too well on paint, because actually it’s so sticky it brings the paint off as well,” she explained.
They protected the garden areas with Ram Board and the bushes with plastic sheeting. After all, all the paint won’t hurt the flora and fauna. The owners “don’t like if you damage the bushes, or they end up covered in paint,” Watkin said.
Maintenance and New Work
As far as the outcome from the client’s point of view? “They absolutely love it,” Watkin said. “They love it because it’s just so easy to keep clean, and even if you go to the resort now, it’s probably one of the cleanest, because it’s so simple just to wipe. And that’s what we try and do: We’re not necessarily always the cheapest at doing things, but when we give people a solution, we try and give them a solution that in two years, three years, four years, it’s still going to be as good as it needs to be.”
Watkin is friends with the Villa Renaissance property manager, “and I sort of instilled it in him what he needed to do,” she explained. “He’s told his cleaners what they need to do, so when somebody scuffs the wall with their suitcase, they just get a damp cloth and it comes off.”
Others in the area must have taken note, too, because Wall Tech has another resort project coming up where they’ll use the same system, but at a much larger scope — twice the size of the Villa Renaissance, in fact. That is paradise, indeed!