General Installation Guidelines

NHL Renders – Guide

NHL Renders

General information
Sands for renders
Background preparation
Two coat work
Three coat work
Good working practices
Render Diagnostics
Some recommended mixes


Other General Guidelines documents:

Render on cob
Render on wooden lath
Render on metal lath
Render on blocks
Rendering with a spray gun

The correct specification for any render should consider the nature and condition of the background, site exposure, time of the year (weather maps / rainfall and wind driven rain indices) and type of finish required.

The success of a render depends on ensuring good background preparation and suction control, the correct choice of a mortar and its application. Sample panels should always be carried out. The durability of a render depends on mortars that will adhere to the background, are able to breathe and resist harsh climatic conditions that can and do occur even in relatively benign climate zones. A good bond to the substrate and between all coats is essential to the soundness of the render structure. Bonding is both physical and mechanical:

A physical bond is achieved by controlling the suction correctly, such that a suction bond develops. The natural surface condition can also offer a good key.

Mechanical bonding is induced by the method of application. Ensuring good keying between layers, and especially the first coat, by casting/harling or spraying is by far the most successful method.

To avoid potential de-bonding and cracking each coat should be not be richer in binder or thicker than the preceding one (thicker base coats are applicable on thin stipple/scratch coats).

Sands for renders.
In dubbing out, stipple coats and base coats the sands should be well graded, washed and free of clay/silt (particles below #200 mesh). Use sharp sands from #6 down to #200, with the bulk of the sand in the #16 down to #100. Fine sands or monogranular sands (bulk in 1 or 2 grades only) are to be avoided.

In finishing coats, finer sands, still well graded, can be used for smooth finishes (avoid overtrowling). Particular attention will have to be paid to finishing coats with fine sands to avoid high shrinkage due to the high amount of water that fine sands absorb. The use of a wooden float, energetically applied in small circular motions, will help. Floating with plastic floats is not suitable. Sponge floats can be used after the wooden float work is completed to achieve a particular texture in the finish. Curing will also be important. Small hairline shrinkage cracks can be healed if treated in time with a light water mist.

Note: the finer sand particles are the ones mostly responsible for color and therefore used for color rendition. If the fines denote presence of clay (particles below #200 mesh) the NHL binder quantity should be reduced (clays are also binders!). A wet sieving analysis is recommended to check clay / silt content.

Background Preparation:
Check that any movement cracks are stable and where necessary ensure they are properly tied and if needed,
grouted/pinned/pointed. Careful removal of existing renders will result in less remedial repairs prior to re-rendering. Removal of failed or inappropriate existing render or finishes, including many types of paint, may require the walls to be left to dry out properly before re-rendering and time should be allowed for this. Ensure all repairs to the background are completed and that loose pinning stones or defective bricks are repaired or replaced prior to commencement of any rendering. Partial or complete re-pointing / consolidation may be required. Remove all loose and friable materials, remove and treat all organic growth, use biocides where applicable, ensuring that they will not affect the mortar.Newly built walls should be allowed to dry properly, usually 1 month. This will not take place readily in winter conditions.Repointing before rendering:
If this is necessary it should be done with a compatible mortar.Detailing:
Inspect all details, i.e. copings etc. Check gutters and down pipes and all forms of roof drainage, ground drainage and general ground conditions. Make sure all the above items are functioning properly and where remedial action is required, ensure it is completed before proceeding with render work.Rendering should never come into contact with soil. Renders should be kept clear of the ground or finish at the base of a wall into free draining gravel.

Dubbing out:
On defaced surfaces or in areas with a large amount of damaged joints it will be necessary to apply a dubbing out coat to provide a level surface. In most cases this will be sufficient with mortar, however very deep joints or hollows should be pinned to reduce the mass of mortar. When a dubbing out coat is used, let it set sufficiently (8-10 hours) before scraping it and keying it. Apply the first coat after approx. 2 days (more if very deep recesses have been filled) and depending on weather conditions. Dubbing out should leave a relatively flat surface, keyed as necessary, on which to render.

Suction control:
If needed, apply sufficient water to reduce excessive suction, especially on bricks and porous stone. Old bricks often require more water than new ones. On many occasions this is done the day before, if necessary several times with the last damping just before application starts. Apply water starting at the top of the structure. Over saturation of the background will result in loss of bond. Never render backgrounds that have standing water on the surface. Always dampen preceding coats before applying next coat.

It should be noted that in the presence of different suction levels the degree of dampening will vary accordingly.

Provide adequate keying between background and base coat and between each coat. Crisscross patterns are preferred to
combing. Make sure that keying does not cut too deeply. Sometimes joints in brickwork are raked back (normally 1/2″), this is not necessary with NHL renders if a stipple coat is applied cast on, harled or sprayed on.Two coat work 
Two coat work is suitable for renders with an overall thickness of approx. 5/8″ on surfaces that provide adequate suction and a good key. On surfaces offering poor suction and keying, it is recommended to use a stipple coat (1/8″-1/4″ thick) applied by casting on, harling or spraying. The main coat can be applied after sufficient hardening and finished as required. Alternatively use 3 coat work by applying a finishing coat.On two coat work the base coat will be the thickest (up to 1/2″, more if applied in 2 passes) and with a binder: sand ratio of 1:1.5 or 1:2. Use mainly NHL 5 or NHL 3.5. This can be laid on or preferably cast/sprayed on. Scour back and key after initial setting.
To ensure a flat and uniform surface see “Ensuring a level surface” under Undercoat in 3 coat work section.Curing:
Check for initial shrinkage. If found, dampen surface lightly with water and tighten back and re-key. Repeated shrinkage is usually a function of poor quality sands, poor suction control or rapid drying.Finishing coat:
Use NHL 3.5 or NHL 2 (see individual product sheets)
3/16″ max. for smooth or light textured finishes, 5/16″ for coarse finishes (tyrolean, roughcast etc…).

Smooth and light textured finishes:
Use finer well graded sands, #14 down to #200 mesh. Add just enough water to obtain required workability. The more water is added the higher the risk of shrinkage. When the mortar is firm enough, proceed to float up with a cross-grained wood float. This
is the most important phase of the finishing work and should be done diligently. Together with good curing and protection it is vital in obtaining a good finish.

Coarse finishes:
Use coarser sands if thick (rustic) granular finishes are required. The thickness of the coat depends on the final finish required. Some of these finishes, especially the ones requiring special skills such as cottage, scraped and travertine effects, could also be done by using the same type of sand as smooth and light textured (floated) finishes. In these and tooled renderings (patterned), if initial shrinkage takes place, lightly dampen the surface and re-float the area during the first day or two. Tooling is normally applied when the render is 5-7 days old.


Two coat work (contd.)
Dry dashing:
Throw the chosen aggregate onto soft mortar and leave exposed. To speed up the work a plasterer
throwing the aggregate can follow the laying on plasterer.
Curing by water mist over 3 to 4 days, if necessary more than once a day, is essential when weather
conditions would cause quick drying. Always protect the work from adverse weather conditions.
Three coat work
Background preparation, sands, suction control, keying and dubbing out: as previously described.

First coat:
Has to provide sufficient bonding. Stipple or spatterdash can be used on all backgrounds, but especially on impervious and smooth background. Leave these coats rough to provide a key. Use richer mix (1:1.5 preferably). The normal thickness is between 1/8″-1/4″. On soft or weak background use 1:2 or 2:5. Successive coats must be weaker than this coat. The thickness of the first coat depends on the nature of the background and the overall thickness required of the render.

A laid on scratch coat can be used on old bricks or surfaces providing a good key (greater care is required in application to ensure good bonding with the background). It will be scoured back with a cross grained wood float and keyed (crisscross keying pattern preferred) once initial stiffening has taken place.

Second coat (straightening):
To be applied 2 days (or more, depending on weather conditions) after completion of first coat. Its strength should be less than the first coat. Thickness will vary according to the overall thickness required but it is normally between 1/2″-5/8″. It must not be over 3/4″ thick. If this is required it should be done in successive coats each not exceeding 3/4″. The thicker the intermediate coats, the longer the waiting time before each subsequent application.

Ensuring a level surface:
To achieve a uniform and level surface fix vertical timber battens or dab’s on the wall at 6-8 feet intervals. If the wall is uneven use spacers and check that battens are straight with a plumb level. Fill out to screeds, if necessary in layers. Screed off excess mortar between battens with a wooden straightedge spanning between the battens. When battens are taken down, fill in strips with the same mortar.

An alternative is to make running screeds 4″ wide at regular intervals.

Scour back and key as usual after initial setting. Check for shrinkage during the first 2 days and, if necessary, lightly dampen the relevant area, tighten back and re-key. In case of intermediate coats this would apply to each coat. Do not apply finishing coat until undercoat is adequately hardened.

Three coat work (contd.)

Finishing coat and curing:
As per 2 coat work.Protecting NHL mortars and renders
The setting properties of NHL mortars require protection against adverse weather conditions. Precautions are necessary and, if in doubt, your St. Astier Distributor will be able to advise further. The following are the main recommendations:

Mortars made with
Protect from frost, rain, strong wind or direct sun for minimum
48 hours
NHL 3.5
72 hours
96 hours

Early exposure to rain will cause some moisture absorption in the surface of a fresh render. If frost occurs, there might be damage. The figures given above refer, therefore, to a render that has not been subject to water  penetration in its early life.

The preferred form of protection is burlap covers that, with re-damping, will also contribute to curing the mortar. Burlap covers are essential to protect against frost. Plastic sheeting is effective against rain but should be kept clear of fresh work. If too tight it will generate condensation leading to unsightly staining. It will not protect against frost. Frost protection should be provided even if frost is not occurring at the moment of finishing the day’s work but is forecast during the early days of a mortar. Work should not start in frost conditions or when frost is forecast or with temperatures below 40F. In working with NHL 2 or in rendering with fine finishing coats, this should be 45F. Protection from the quick drying effects of wind or direct strong sun should be provided by using shading sheets on scaffolding.

Good working practices
In this document we have already discussed items such as background preparation, suction control, detailing, keying, protection and curing. A good and durable result depends mainly on these factors, the correct mortar mix, sand, dosages and workmanship. One item not to be overlooked is scaffolding. Where scaffolding is being used make sure that the scaffolding has adequate clearance from the face of the wall to allow application, avoiding unsightly lift lines. Scaffolding should project past all areas to be rendered to allow for protection of the new work against direct rainfall. Generally scaffolding should be capable of carrying the protective screens necessary to shade the work and prevent rapid uncontrolled drying and any covers needed to protect against frost.

This document is a guide only and is not intended to be a specification. Its purpose is to provide the reader with helpful information that may assist in determining the correct choice of materials, methods of application and determine the best working practice. The guidelines refer to our experience with St. Astier NHL binders and some recommendations
might not be applicable to other products.

Shrinkage & Cracking
greater than 1/16″
General or partial movement of the background
or the building.
Check if movement is still active. (Engineer to check). If building stable, repair cracks / areas.
Shrinkage & Cracking
less than 1/16″
Thermal movement.Poor workmanship. Render too thick. Too much water in mix. Over saturated backgrounds. Insufficient setting between coats. Depending on extent, open out crack and fill with same mortar.
Hairline cracks Bad preparation of background. Over saturated background. Too much binder. Too many fines in sand. Finishing coat to thick.Too much water in the mix. Rapid drying / lack of protection. Too much sun or wind during curing. Either apply slurry fill if sound or remove and replace properly.
Loss of Bond Poor background preparation. Poor suction control. Over saturated  background. Background too smooth. Incompatibility with existing background. Insufficient strength in bonding coat. Background movement. Metal corrosion. Salt crystallisation. Excessive or late towelling. Repair or replace as appropriate. Consolidation by grouting may be considered.
Bulging Poor background preparation. Incompatibility with existing background.Metal
corrosion. Frost damage during curing.
Depending on the extent of damage, either partial repair or total replacement. Neutralize and  treat any rusting metal.
Powdering / Friability De-calcification of render (loss of binder). Poor background preparation. Poor suction control. Rapid evaporation of water during application, (prior to adequate set). Frost  damage. Insufficient binder dosage. Variation in surface compaction / finishing. Poor sands. Partial or total repair with correct mortar applying due protection and following best practice.
Water penetration. Poor background preparation. Weak mortars. Bad detailing. Partial repair. Light repairs with several coats of lime wash.Rectify
detailing problems. Replace if necessary.

Prepare background
Re-point and dub out as necessary with compatible mortar.
Stipple Coat Cast or sprayed on only
Must be used on poor suction, dense / smooth surfaces.
Leave as Cast
Cure 2-4 days
First Coat
Cast, spray or lay on.
Well-keyed background.
Control suction. Leave Keyed
Cure 4-7 days
Second Coat
Cast, spray or lay on. Control suction. Straightening
Leave keyed. Cure 7-10 days. Finishing coat in 2 coats work.
Cast, spray or lay on.Control suctionFinish as required
Cure min 3-10 days
Cob / Earth Mix 1A – Sand SG
Mix 1B – Sand SG
Mix 1C – Sand SG
Mix 1C – Sand SF / FS
Wooden Lath Mix 2B/3B – Sand SC
1/2″-5/8″(1/2″ cover)
Mix 2C – Sand SC
Mix 1C – Sand SF 1/8″-1/4″ Mix
2C – Sand SM 1/2″-3/8″
Metal Lath Mix 3B – Sand SC1/2″-5/8″ (1/2″
Mix 2B – Sand SM 1/2″-3/4″ Mix 1C – Sand SF1/8″-1/4″Mix
2C – Sand SM1/2″-3/8″
Soft Brick / StonePorous Blocks Mix 1B – Sand SC3/8″-5/8″ Mix
2B – Sand SC3/8″-5/8″
Mix 1B/C – Sand SC/SM3/8″-1/2″B/C
– Sand SC/SM3/8″-1/2″
Mix 1C – Sand SF1/8″-1/4″Mix
2C – Sand SM1/2″-3/8″
Medium Brick / Stone / Blocks Mix 2A/3B – Sand SG*1/8″-1/4″ Mix 2B/3C – Sand SC 1/2″-3/4″Mix
2B/3B – Sand SG**3/8″ -5/8″
Mix 2C/3D Sand SC/SM5/16-1/2″ Mix
2C/3C Sand SG**1/4″-1/2″
Mix 1C – Sand SF1/8″ -1/4″ Mix
2C – Sand SM1/2″-3/8″
Dense Brick / Stone/ Blocks/ Concrete Mix 2A/3A -Sand SG1/8″-1/4″ Mix 2B/3C – Sand SC1/2″-3/4″Mix
2B/3B – Sand SG**3/8″-5/8″
Mix 2C/3D Sand SC/SM5/16-1/2″Mix
2C/3C Sand SG**1/4″-1/2
Mix 1C – Sand SF1/8″-1/4″Mix
2C – Sand SM1/2-3/8″
NHL binder : sand mixes (by volume)
* Stipple coat optional, depending
background suction and conditions.
** For harling (thrown) applications.Note: a wide variety of finishes can be achieved by adopting different
binder and sand mixes to satisfy all requirements.Coat thickness and optional mix ratios are related to exposure and background
conditions and are the responsibility of the designer.Curing and protection must follow best working practice.
Lime Mix A
Mix B
Mix C
Mix D
Mix E
NHL 2 1A 1B 1C 1D 1E
NHL 3.5 2A 2B 2C 2D 2E
NHL5 3A 3B 3C 3D   
Sands Type Particle sizes (Mesh)
SG Sharp gritty #4 down to #200
SC Sharp coarse #6 down to #200
SM Sharp medium #8 down to #200
SF Sharp fine #16 down to #200
FS Fine soft #20 down to #200
This document is a guide only and is not intended to be a specification. Its purpose is to provide the reader with helpful
information that may assist in determining the correct choice of materials, methods of application and the best working practice. The guidelines refer to our experience with St. Astier NHL binders and some recommendations might not be applicable to other products.

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