Talking Tape: Residential Construction on the Gulf Coast with Bill Robinson

When tape moves off the shelf to the job site, how will it perform? What are the realities of working with tape in Deep South? How do Humid Climate Zones affect tape application and performance? What is the future of tape in home building?  That’s what we asked Louisiana building and construction expert Bill Robinson. Here’s what he had to say.

Bill Robinson is incredibly passionate about education and training within the construction industry.  For good reason. “One day while working for a contractor on a basement remodel, everyone seemed to suddenly disappear and I found myself in the middle of the slab on knee-boards with a steel trowel in each hand. I didn’t have clue what to do. At that moment I decided I was going to find out how all of this construction stuff worked – and share it with anyone else who would listen. I felt helpless out on that wet concrete and knew there was no reason to. No one should feel helpless in this industry.”

Mission accomplished.  These days, he’s the owner of Robinson Construction and founder of Train2Build, which for the past 20 years has offered resources for the residential and light commercial construction industry to promote efficient, durable, and healthy construction practices. Headquartered in New Orleans, Robinson hosts certified sessions for Louisiana Residential Contractor license holders that focus on detailing the building envelope in the hot/humid climate, best practices for installing doors and windows, flood hardy building materials and methods, and moisture management in the Gulf Coast region. Check out his YouTube Channel here or watch the video below:

Given his Louisiana location, Robinson is well versed in the Hot/Humid climate zone. Old homes and moisture challenges are his forte, so he knows first hand the special demands adhesive tape faces in the South.  “Tacky adhesives mean tapes can’t be repositioned and often run or gum up. Plus, the shelf life of tape is much shorter. But there are applications that shine, like double-sided tape. Getting a handle on surface prep and proper installation equals success, even in challenging conditions,” he says.

Adhesive Tape Performance in the Gulf Coast

ECHOtape: When it comes to tape application, where should contractors start?
BILL ROBINSON: Without a doubt, surface preparation. In all climates, substrates always need to be clean. There should be clear-cut details on how to do that, preferably from the manufacturer.

How do heat and humidity affect tape application?
Down here the issue is the heat – when stuff heats up, will it run or bleed? Another complication with our climate is how do we stick these tapes to wet substrates? Some companies offer primers to combat this issue. H ot/humid climate zones demand tape that performs when hot and sticks when wet.

How do different types of adhesives perform in the Gulf Coast?
One of the things we run into down in Louisiana is a tape that’s super sticky offers you a single shot to get the application right. And even that single application can be difficult to accomplish. Asphalt-based tapes present a similar problem in the heat. These really don’t work down here. In cold weather, I want a tape that has a really aggressive tack (for more on cold weather tape, see Why Adhesive Tape Doesn’t Stick in the Cold); in the summer in New Orleans, I don’t want that.

For products that can be pressed on and repositioned, butyls and acrylics work well. Asphalt and bituthenes are passé because of chemical compatibility, which raises potential health and dissimilar material issues.

I like a lot of the new tapes on the market and tend to favor acrylic when I can. It all simply comes down to asking: how will it stick, where will it work?

Is the shelf life of tape affected by heat and humidity?
Tapes definitely have a shelf life in the hot/humid climate zone, worse when they aren’t stored properly.   The heat and humidity really pushes the life of the tape. It can also make removal of the release paper difficult. On thin tapes, release paper is particularly hard to get off in the heat. On flashing tapes, it’s so nice to have split paper, which allows you to crack the back and get one edge open.

Are there unique applications for tape in humid climates?
Homes down here on the Gulf Coast face constant heat, moisture, and condensation issues. One of the areas where we have to combat this is around openings for naturally heated gas appliances, which penetrate through ceilings, walls, or roofs, and need to be sealed. There are now high-temperature tapes available on the market to use around those penetrations, rather than searching for a high-temperature caulk or foam that may not have been tested.

It all boils down to the fact that, as we face tougher requirements on air tightness, duct sealing, and see more codes calling for duct testing and blower door testing, tapes can make a big play in places that might be difficult to seal.

I think what’s caused the change is that, as we are trying to seal those seams, people are starting to use contractor tape a lot. When we’re making the weather-resistive barrier (WRB) serve as an air barrier as well, this need for sealing will only increase. People not taping or sealing joints are not getting the best air seal.

What advances are you seeing in tape products? Are you seeing tapes used differently on the job site? 
Adhesives in tapes have improved a lot. There’s now also a much wider range.  Thanks to those improvements, builders, and contractors can better use tapes to air seal and tapes are being used as a moisture seal as well.

What are some of your favorite tape tips?
Double sided tapes equal construction magic! If you’re flashing a window or door, you cut the opening up, raise the flaps at the head to maintain the shingle style approach and use the double-sided tape to integrate and seal the head flap to the drainage plane – that’s where double sided is golden. We are working on a method where the trims and grills around ceiling penetrations use double coated tape to hold a gasket in place for air sealing

Best Practices for Tape Application

What advice do you have to ensure a quality tape application?
I use a tape dispenser with a handle for application; it makes life a whole lot better and the application quicker. Think about it:  People will pull pressure sensitive tape off of the roll, then roll the tape out, and won’t come back and mash it on. The builder or installer simply doesn’t come back and squeegee, J-roller, or mash the tape on to the substrate.  It’s laziness, and the usual outcome is for the tape to release after a few days.  It’s a simple fix, but all too common.

Oregon now has a code requirement that all new construction must have a drain screen. That makes sense – down here in Louisiana, if there’s no decoupling of exterior cladding with the WRB, you will have failure of paint, siding, and trim. With dimpling house wraps and stucco,  you’re trying to apply that tape on your substrate, but, because of the irregular surface, the J-roller or squeegee doesn’t work, you’re not profiling the contour. A lot of companies are coming out with spatulas, scrapers, squeegees, but what has to happen is to use the right tape for the substrate, and use a different roller to apply tape to irregular surfaces.

Lastly, a big key is to check whether the tape you’re using has an approved materials list; this list lets people know that a tape is approved to “play” with other building products, guaranteeing compatibility.

What is your top tip for installers applying tape?
Know your terms. What does the term pressure sensitive adhesive mean? What is the material compatibility of the product and how does it affect the warranty or service life? Can the manufacturer provide a tested list of compatible materials? Make sure that if you’re going to invest the time in picking out a tape that you have a good background on how to put it on. It is better to do your homework before specifying materials rather than finding out on the job site that the tape does not adhere to whatever it is being applied to.

What tape applications raise a red flag?
If you’re using your WRB as an air barrier, how can we best accomplish it? I still have some difficulties with a reverse shingling aspect strategy to achieve this; I’m not a big fan. You’re relying too much on performance in the field. My solution is either to cut a kerf and slide a rigid flashing in the kerf filled with caulk or use fluid applied flashing over window head flashing.

What attributes of tape would you like to see improved?
Shelf life can be a con for tape – how long does the tape last? If the chemistry of the tape dictates a certain lifespan, then let people know that it has a shelf life.

Availability is another issue. With so many products on the market, you have to make it readily available. People want to be able to pick it up at the lumberyard, or – worst case – get it on Amazon Prime. Distribution is key.

What would you like to see in the tape of the future?
There are some amazing things with tape technologies and practices. The crystal ball I have says double-sided tapes are a great idea, and it’s an idea that will keep growing as people see what you can do with them. I also see future tapes with longer shelf lives. And all tapes moving to split release paper!  I also see fluid-applied membranes coming from tape manufacturers. These companies know thin films and STPE stuff, so it’s a natural progression.

There’s also been some interesting research looking at vapor closed flashing tapes. As houses get tight, details get more critical. If air is moving in a wall, it can condense on the back of window flashing tape. Vapor open flashing tape could be the next move.

Sealant manufacturers are now providing products that will “glue” building materials to substrates, like in the case of trim. I can see instances where a double sided tape could serve that purpose just as well.

In light of all the recent major storm events, there is an opportunity to incorporate materials that can wet and dry without degrading, which helps make homes more flood damage resistant. One technique we have been using is wet flood proofing, where flood damage resistant building materials are used in areas subject to repeat flooding. The process involves installing baseboard and wainscoting that can be removed after a flood, allowing the walls to dry. A useful development for a tape here would probably involve a double sided product that would hold those materials in place and could be pried free to allow drainage.