In the fall as temperatures drop there’s a good chance the pavement will retain some moisture and it’s essential to remove the moisture before installing any type of preformed thermoplastic. Brooks says that when using non-preheat-type material you can remove the moisture from the entire application area (regardless of ambient temperature) because elevated pavement temperature does not need to be maintained. With material that requires preheated pavement, however, you have to work in segments so the pavement doesn’t cool too much prior to installation.
Mencer says one way to test the moisture in the surface is to place a piece of cardboard on the pavement. The cardboard will pull some water into itself from the surface if the surface is still damp. “This happens more when you get into cooler weather with a lot of moisture on the pavement in the fall,” Mencer says. “It’s a situation where preformed thermoplastic offers a real advantage.”
“The colder it gets the more difficult it is to use material that requires pavement preheating,” Brooks says. “It’s not just about achieving the bond. Preformed thermoplastic contains anti-skid elements and glass beads for reflectivity and while you can heat it to the point where you force it to bond, in the process you might overheat it to the point where the beads and anti-skid elements sink into the material resulting in poor performance. ”
Makers of preformed thermoplastic recommend using a propane torch to heat the pavement and melt the material, though infrared repair equipment can also be used to heat the surface and to melt the preformed thermoplastic.
When using a torch make sure to move the torch back and forth over the area to heat it equally and so you don’t burn the asphalt. Mencer says an infrared temperature gun can tell you when you’ve heated the pavement to the desired temperature (generally 275°F-300°F). She says thermoplastic that requires preheated pavement can be installed when the ambient temperature is as low as 32°F (vs. most paint which requires temps of 50°F and rising).
“There are areas of the country where you don’t have to preheat the pavement but if it’s cold or wet we recommend preheating because it improves the bond and the durability of the performed marking,” Mencer says.
Once the pavement is heated, position the preformed marking on the area then heat the material itself with the torch. “You can actually see when the heat hits that it’s melting,” Mencer says. “Of course you can heat it too long so you have to be a little careful.”
How to Fight the Cost Fight
Though preformed thermoplastic can offer contractors a new service niche and extend their season, they – and their customers – often balk at the higher cost, a significant difference from a one-time application of paint.
“But you can’t just look at the sticker price of preformed thermoplastic because there are many other factors to consider,” Brooks says. “With paint you have to repaint more often, which means mobilizing your crew, closing intersections or parking lots, disrupting traffic or potential customers on a property. Contractors often say price is a roadblock but they can also add value to their service by educating their clients about these other factors and the advantages of installing a long-lasting product.”
She says that preformed thermoplastic will last six to 10 times longer than paint. She adds that in addition to extending the season, use of preformed thermoplastic can give contractors a reason to interact with current customers and might serve as an introduction to new customers at a time of the year when they might otherwise have little customer contact. She adds that contractors can help property managers bring their markings in compliance with the recent MUTCD and FHWA standards, can offer maintenance solutions for damaged or faded markings, and can install markings on pavement that has recently been repaired.
“These ‘introductory’ smaller projects can turn into bigger projects because you can educate your customers and can position yourself as a knowledgeable source or as someone who does work that your competition doesn’t offer,” Brooks says. “You can take care of immediate marking needs for a customer with preformed thermoplastic even in the colder season while keeping future striping opportunities open for discussion. Who’s to say that’s not a lead-in for a client they hadn’t had before?”