You are on page 1of 3

CURING CEMENT PLASTER

Abstract:
Curing Cement Plaster: This article by a seasoned industry professional and building consultant explains and describes the process of curing the three layers of cement plaster, which depends on maintaining moisture levels over time after application. Mr. Geary discusses the importance of the multiple factors influencing the curing process: temperature, time, humidity, as well as the thickness of plaster layers and the subsequent application of primer and paint. He describes how variations of these factors under different conditions can affect the curing process for better or worse and influence the ultimate strength and durability of the finished stucco wall. Mr. Geary applies this information to make recommendations for plasterers to provide the best conditions for curing or to deal with conditions that cannot be changed in order to optimize the hydration process, layer by layer; e.g. by wetting with spray. He describes and warns against the potential problems in curing, (e.g. when primer and paint are applied too soon), that in his opinion can arise if these recommendations are not followed.

Back

Article:
CURING CEMENT PLASTER

Back

The process of curing Portland cement plaster involves more than simply permitting plaster to age in place on the wall after application. It is an over-simplification of the term "cure" to assume that cement plaster always will achieve the desired strength and resistance to stress merely with the passage of curing time detailed in the specifications and applicable building code. Proper curing requires that conditions be established which will encourage a reasonable degree of hydration of the cement in the plaster. Time is one of the necessary conditions, but only one of several critical factors. In addition, temperature of the air has significant effect on the early strength of plaster during the first few days after application. It is beneficial if air temperature is within a comfortable range, above 40 degrees F., and warm enough to promote chemical reaction of the portland cement. As the air temperature falls into the 30's portland cement products such as concrete, cement plaster and mortar gain strength very slowly. In addition to the effect of low temperature as such, cold air may be very dry and thus would further inhibit the hydration of cement. One may compensate for low temperature and continue to plaster if guided by suggestions published in my article "PLASTERING IN COLD WEATHER". It must be recognized that longer time is required for Portland cement plaster, concrete pavement, masonry mortar, foundations and other cementitious products to gain a stated degree of strength when low temperature prevails. If intense heat affects the wall and the air is not humid, provision must be arranged for reintroduction of curing water into the plaster. In conjunction with time and temperature as factors, the presence of water within the plaster membrane is important in order to hydrate the cement paste and develop suitable strength and toughness. Portland cement products gain strength by means of chemical and physical interaction with water and aggregate. This reaction starts with the first contact between water and portland cement and continues over an extended period of time if good curing conditions exist. Cement plaster may continue to gain some additional strength over a period of years if the environment is favorable, although most of the increase in strength is attained during the early life of the plaster. The most important requirement in curing cement plaster is the presence of sufficient water in the mortar to hydrate the cement paste. A brief discussion of the interaction is in order. When water and cement are brought into contact with each other in the mixer, a chemical reaction starts. A series of new chemical compounds form which bind together

the grains of sand within the mixture. Water is a critical factor in this reaction, as it actually combines with the cement. This reaction is designated " hydration". If hydration does not take place, no value will have been gained from mixing portland cement with sand and water. If portland cement plaster dries before a reasonable degree of hydration has occurred, there will not be sufficient strength within the plaster wall or ceiling to adequately withstand the stresses which may and frequently are imposed against walls and ceilings of buildings. Some of these possible stresses are settlement of the building or structural members within the building, minor earth tremors, wind load, shrinkage or expansion of lumber in wood frame buildings because of loss or gain of moisture content in the wood, warpage of wood framing members, deflection and possibly change of dimension in steel frame buildings, and the shock of sonic booms. If any of these forces impact against a building, the stress may initiate adverse effect in the form of cracking. It is obvious, therefore, that there must be adequate moisture contact within a plaster wall or ceiling for the first few days after application, when the greatest development of strength and resistance to stress forms within the membrane. A suitable level of dampness may be maintained because of sufficiently high relative humidity in the atmosphere next to the wall or by reintroduction of water into the plaster membrane. If specifications require forty eight hours moist curing of a scratch or brown coat, the real meaning of the statement is that the wall or ceiling should not lose excessive moisture during that period of time. Environmental conditions sometimes are favorable to maintenance of dampness within the layer of plaster without addition of water from a hose. Heat from the sun, wind or dry, cold air causes rapid evaporation of water from concrete, plaster or mortar. If a wall dries rapidly, additional water must be sprayed on the wall. Several applications of water per day normally are sufficient, especially if applied in the morning and after the walls have cooled in the latter part of the afternoon. Cool water must not be sprayed onto a hot plaster wall. For details regarding this precaution, refer to my paper entitled "THERMAL SHOCK". Each coat of plaster, scratch, brown and finish application, should receive adequate moist curing, in some manner, prior to application of the succeeding coat. Normally, that would involve several wettings of the scratch coat, the brown coat and the finish coat, after they have been applied and the cement has set. Walls are draped with protective shielding of sheet plastic, canvas or other material, sometimes, when adverse curing conditions exist at the site of the project. That is good procedure, under special circumstances, but is not normally necessary. No unassailable rule can be written to specify when fog spraying should be done and when it is not necessary for new plaster. Good judgement should prevail. There are situations where no additional wetting of plaster walls is necessary, especially in the case of interior plastering. However, there are instances where fog spraying should be done to walls on the interior of buildings, even though not exposed to sunlight, because of movement of air through the building which may evaporate required surface dampness. A problem which can adversely affect suitable curing of cement plaster is sub-standard or inadequate thickness of the scratch coat, or insufficient thickness of the combined scratch and brown coats. That is so because a thin application of basecoat plaster does not provide an adequate reservoir for retention of moisture, as compared with good thickness of the plaster membrane. In summation of the above comments, the presence of moisture, favorable range of temperature, and passage of time are important in achieving good cure in portland cement plaster. Application of paint to new cement plaster may also create a curing problem. Sometimes plaster walls or ceilings may be painted instead of developing color by means of application of a color coat of stucco over the two base coats of cement plaster. Painting a wall, per se, is not a problem IF sufficient delay time is provided between suitable moist curing, followed by drying, of the last coat of plaster, and later application of primer and

paint. Application of primer and paint over new cement plaster, before achievement of full and proper curing, may cause the final coat of plaster to be softer than should be expected. The reason for that defect, of course, is that primer and paint shield the new plaster from curing water sprayed onto the wall; ---- water that otherwise could have been absorbed into the outer surface, for the purpose of hydrating the portland cement in the plaster membrane. Paint should not be applied to plaster walls too soon, even after the plaster membrane has been moist cured in good fashion. After moist curing of the new plaster has been accomplished, the plaster wall or ceiling must be allowed to lose much of the absorbed dampness, or delamination of the coat of paint may occur. The writer has expressed this concern because of having encountered too many instances of premature application of paint over new plaster, with resultant softness of the outer layer of plaster, or delamination of the coat of paint from the plaster.