The art of a graffiti-free city
Cities across America are struggling with the effects of graffiti at an annual cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars, according to a report conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. To exasperate the problem, some areas of the country are actually embracing “graffiti art.” Are these cities throwing in the towel – simply giving up on the prevention and control of graffiti?
In the communities where graffiti isn’t allowed, tolerated or even an option, cost-effective ways to remove, prevent and repel graffiti are available.
Graffiti littering their buildings can decrease property values as well as incur owners the costs of repairing the damage. Left on buildings, graffiti can cause merchants to lose business, because it can give shoppers a sense of insecurity. To some, graffiti may signal that a community is losing control or that no one cares. This, in turn, leads to more vandalism and property damage.
Graffiti can cause mechanical/structural problems as well. Many times, graffiti is simply covered by a coat of paint, which invites a separate set of problems. The proper type of coating, designed for these types of walls, is not always used.
If the building is not painted and is a natural masonry or concrete surface, it has been designed as such. If such a surface were to be painted, it would change how the building breathes, sheds and holds moisture. When masonry or concrete stores moisture during freeze-thaw cycles, it breaks down and falls apart. It also can promote mold formation within the wall system. This eventually causes overall structural damage to the building.
Corrosion of steel reinforcing within these walls also occurs when moisture is trapped. When overlooked, it will become a major problem. In short, a simple “tagged” wall can result in serious structural damage, depending on how the graffiti is addressed.
Sections of masonry and concrete facades are routinely replaced, many due to graffiti damage. Finding a matching material is often impossible. If you to take masonry units off one side of a building and compare them to the opposite side, they would no longer match. Sections of masonry age and weather differently. If you pay attention to structures in your local community, you will be able to identify patches and repairs. The replaced material will look similar to the original, but is recognizably different. This can be as much of an eyesore as is graffiti, and expensive, to boot.
But this masonry conundrum is avoidable. Preventative maintenance against and proper removal of graffiti are the best defenses. Graffiti repellents are a great method of preventative maintenance, since they act as in invisible barrier to protect the surface of masonry and concrete.
Unlike many paints used to cover up graffiti, these barriers are breathable and prevent moisture storage. They work as a water repellent against driving rains and sprinkler systems. They assist in UV protection and protect against the natural buildup of pollutants and staining.
In most cases, when a wall with a graffiti repellent is tagged, that graffiti can simply be washed off with a pressure washer. The sooner it is cleaned, the easier it comes off. Without the repellent, paint is quite difficult to remove from such porous surfaces. Some paint removers are designed specifically for masonry, and many of these products can remove multiple layers of paint without harming the bare masonry.
Remember, masonry is a material with the capability to have a remarkably long lifespan. I previously laid brick for 18 years and am a fourth-generation bricklayer. In the Utah town where I live, many buildings feature my great grandfather’s workmanship, still standing today. By protecting and preserving our structures, we are preserving history. Our local buildings, communities and neighborhoods can remain appealing, prosperous and functional.
Jayson Kellos is Architectural Representative, Western Region, for Hohmann & Barnard/Diedrich by MiTek.