Merchants can advise customers on the best products for RMI.

Survive the winter

Published:  07 December, 2010

Dr Bill Price, national commercial technical manager of Lafarge Cement, reports on how merchants can help their customers protect consumers’ property from winter damage with preventative maintenance solutions.

Spring may seem a long way off, but homeowners who have held onto their properties during the economic downturn will be starting to think about making their home ready for sale and taking measures to prevent costly damage over the cold winter months.

All properties require a degree of preventative maintenance over time, to increase their lifespan and minimise cumulative damage. Merchants need to be aware of potential maintenance requirements and understand what methods and materials are available to support RMI (repair, maintain, improve) solutions.

Advising builders or DIY-ers on simple solutions for preventing damage over the winter not only drives sales, but also positions you as a valuable source of information.

Seasonal stock selection

The cement market is full of packed products suited to maintenance work. The key is to know which materials must be stocked to assist with winter damage limitation.

Builders must select materials that can withstand the damp and freeze-thaw conditions typical of winter, and as always, preference is for products that can meet a range of application needs. For merchants, the focus should be to encourage trade-up to enhanced materials.

Repairing cracked paths

First impressions are crucial when selling a property and a cracked and unkempt garden path can put off potential buyers before they get through the front door. Repairing damaged paths is a simple task, but it requires careful consideration if a maintenance job is to weather the winter.

Contraction and expansion due to ice, frost and hot and cold temperature variations can damage concrete, creating cracks and gaps. Merchants need to stock a rapid-hardening ready-to-use cement such as Lafarge’s Extra Rapid to help customers restore paths quickly.

Extra Rapid typically sets in 30 minutes and can be walked on in four to six hours. It should be merchandised alongside sharp sand and ballast (both can be used dependent on the size of the cracks) and bonding adhesive, which should be applied to the entire repair area using a paint brush to help keep the repair material from loosening over time.

Working on walls

Winter brings increased risk of freeze-thaw attack that can damage the mortar in a masonry wall. Mortar is obviously stocked all year round to help customers repair the effects of natural weathering, chemical degradation or damage from external fixings like brackets – but at this time of year selling an enhanced product that is weather-resistant, durable and highly workable is key.

Postcrete is suitable for fixing damaged fence posts.

Ready-to-use mortar like Lafarge’s Mortar Mix is a solution because it takes the guesswork out of mixing a consistent material and also contains additives to improve durability. For merchants, it is a popular choice because it only requires the addition of water-removing the need to stock additional materials. Mortar Mix also offers a long board life, which is helpful when applying it at different maintenance points throughout a house.

Repairing paving

Another area likely to fall victim to winter’s harsh conditions is paving which is susceptible to freeze-thaw attack and washout during heavy rain. Slabs that are already uneven or loose, will worsen to become a potential trip hazard, – not a good way to appeal to potential buyers. Merchants can advise customers to buy a ready-to-use bedding material such as Lafarge’s Slablayer to maintain paving with no mixing required.

Builders will want to start repairs early enough to give the job sufficient time to harden fully and so give a good bond strength. A multi-purpose cement is a popular alternative, meeting a range of preventative maintenance needs and assisting merchants where space for stock is limited. Lafarge’s Mastercrete cement can be mixed with sand to give a wet mix full bed mortar, ideal for relaying uneven slabs.

Fixing fences

All fence posts eventually need replacing, and their lifetime is shortened if rot is allowed to set in. Winter winds can weaken posts in the ground but this can be avoided by resetting fencing in the autumn. Merchants can again stock a ready-to-use solution, like Lafarge’s Postcrete, which does not require any mixing and allows panels to be hung after half an hour.

Repairing renders

Renders can crack and degrade over time and again, preventative maintenance is critical to minimising winter damage. Repair is similar to the method used for cracked concrete and a multi-purpose enhanced cement, such as Mastercrete, mixed with sharp sand is suitable. With every change in season come new opportunities for merchants to drive sales. Merchandising materials, along with advice guides and application tools are important.


This article first appeared in the September 2010 issue of Builders' Merchants News.

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