Skimming is looking more and more like a dying art these days. New builds, both residential and commercial are using a board and tape system with a thin coat of spray machine applied plaster, instead of traditionally plastered walls for speed and cost reasons. In Europe, the call for skimming has all but disappeared with this system having been adopted years before it became widespread in the UK. When the board and tape system is not used in Europe, the alternative is a sand and cement compound that is then floated smooth and can be decorated more quickly than a traditional plaster finish.
The board and tape system is more environmentally friendly than the traditional gypsum plaster method, as much of the board is made from recycled material and there is no wasted skim to contend with. Naturally occurring gypsum is a finite resource, and although synthetic gypsum is available there is a movement towards fully synthetic polymer wall finishes, that are less harmful to the environment to produce and have less waste, being generally used in the newer spray systems that naturally cut down the amount of product used.
While the bare plasterboard finish may be used in residential new build developments, with the finish and decoration left up to the buyers, this approach is not often used by developers who are building or refurbishing a commercial property, as they intend to fully finish the interior before the building is pressed into use. In these instances, the boards are plastered with a sprayed on ready mixed plaster that can be applied very quickly and easily, requiring only minimal smoothing after application. Knauf airless seems to be the most popular system among plasterers who have tried it, with a lot of interest from those who have not yet experienced an airless plaster machine.
The superior finish achieved by the Knauf airless system looks like it has been decorated once it is dry, so for retail and office spaces there can be a significant cost saving on secondary decoration if a clean white finish is desired. It is also ready to paint a lot more quickly than a plaster wall, so saves even more time on a whole job. This is great news for people who plaster and decorate, as the job as a whole will take less time and be more profitable, especially because you can charge more for spray plastering than manual plastering.
Of course, the board work has to be perfect if the airless spray plastering system is to work properly, as it cannot even out differences between the boards – it is only a very thin coat after all. There may be more time spent ensuring that the boarding is perfect before spray plastering can begin, but even with that extra time investment the system as a whole is quicker than traditional plastering, and quicker than manually evening out gaps and then skimming over slightly uneven boards.
As the machines are still quite expensive (and there are training costs on top) the cost to the customer is higher than a traditional plaster finish, but the high-end clients are looking for the latest technologies and the most consistently good finish, meaning there is good money to be made at the top end of the market. As the price of the machines come down and it is more widely used, it will be open to those on a lower budget too and will become more popular as a choice of wall finish. The airless spray plaster, which comes ready mixed, is fully breathable, so it can be used on old properties, as well as new. This is a real game changer for the restoration market and new builds alike.
The downsides to airless sprayed plaster is that it is not as hard wearing as a traditional finish, and repairs are more intrusive with a machine than when it is being done manually. There will always be a market for traditional skimmed plaster, but the airless spray system is muscling its way onto the scene. Even if you just attend a training day for now, and leave the investment for the future, it is a good idea to get with the times and see what this new technology can do, because the likelihood is that you will need to use it at some point.