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Old 09-19-2018, 10:53 PM
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Default Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

I ditched the idea of making a castle out of miniature bricks and wood and mortar, because it just made a ton more sense to build it out of EPS foam, using a wood-burning tool to melt brick / stone patterns into it and then coat it with something.

My questions are:

1) Is there good information showing that EPS foam leaches harmful chemicals into water? Supposing I were building a paludarium, for instance, would a foam structure taint the water if it were partially submerged, whether or not it was sealed all around?
2) What kind of sealant / epoxy / paint / whatever can be used on the outside of a foam structure to protect it and keep the EPS foam from contacting water?Supposing that such a substance itself does not leach into the water.

I'm just playing around with ideas here; I haven't started working with the foam yet. I just want to make sure I won't be endangering animals if I decide to decorate their enclosures a little.
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Old 09-20-2018, 06:11 PM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

I suggest searching the forum for discussions on question 2. There are many.

As for question 1...if maximizing animal welfare is really your objective function, just go straight to sealing. In other words, proceed from the assumption that you don't want the foam getting waterlogged, because there's a reasonable chance that would result in harm to organisms contacting or ingesting that water.

If other variables like time, cost, skills, etc are equally or more important to you - well, that changes things. Optimization requires tradeoffs, you can't maximize everything. Only a con man would try to convince you otherwise.

The sealant you choose will influence or even dictate when & where you do your sculpting detail - in the foam or in the sealant. You certainly don't need to heat the EPS, if that's when & where you want to do the sculpting. It would be fast, but it's definitely not clean. Back to tradeoffs...

I guess I've skipped the issue of defining "sealing". Something is either sealed to a truly waterproof, no-leaks state, or it isn't. Materials, and their application, both play a role here...but it is definitely possible to seal foam, with perfectly reasonable cost and care. And of course, it's possible to screw it up...ha ha.

Good luck!
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Old 09-20-2018, 10:08 PM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

I kind of didn't make sense in the OP: I knew that there was some contention over the long-term safety of polystyrene products from a previous thread I'd made.

I'm really more wondering, will sealing all surfaces make an EPS foam structure completely safe? (Providing the sealant is safe, of course.)

I'm probably not going to build a paludarium (I don't have dart frogs or turtles), I just wanted to be absolutely sure in case I did build one.

I was concerned, though, about what you said regarding heating EPS foam. Will using a soldering iron-like tool or hot wire products change the properties of the EPS foam in a way that renders that EPS foam structure un-sealable? I am perhaps misunderstanding what you are saying here. If you don't mind, could you clarify that bit?

Thanks again for the information.
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Old 09-21-2018, 12:31 AM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

Yeah, I believe you can definitely seal foam adequately, to ensure animal welfare as far as toxicity goes. This I mean in terms of the foam itself, plus the sealant, plus whatever tinting you need to accomplish. I like 100% epoxy solids products. No VOCs, less layers to apply so less concerns with delam / bad adhesion, and you get a quick cure. Acrylic paints I trust, atop the epoxy, not as a substitute. Also the mineral dry tints (though the color options are very limited).

You never heated foam with a heat gun or torch? It's nasty. Avoiding actual flame, the fumes are still awful, and the heated foam surface is converted into something very hard and, if you didn't clean up the surface while it was soft and unheated, scratchy or pokey. There are weird spikes and prickles and stuff, I mean. You can break or grind those off before sealing, but that just adds another step. (The heat-hardened foam is no longer easy to cut.) So I don't much heat foam any more. I mostly just carve it with a serrated blade. And I much prefer EPS to XPS or sprays - I don't like the voids, or the static-cling crumbs / beads. For achieving certain textures heating foam can be very effective, but then to retain that texture you need to apply a more fluid (but still reliably effective...) sealant that preserves the underlying texture - a brushable epoxy resin, or an epoxy paint, for example.

I'm more afraid of residual toxicity with heated foam, I will say that. So I think it requires even more care with the sealing. It's doable, usually I add another layer though. Soft foam I do 2 layers of epoxy, heated I usually go 3. Overkill? Maybe. Probably. Peace of mind? Hell yeah. A little more time, a little more money - so what? Peace of mind for the health of my charges is priceless.

Epoxy sticks just fine to foam that had been heated. That's not the issue. Epoxy sticks to just about anything silicone will stick to. There are some tricks and techniques to working with it. They are well worth learning.

I've never used a hot wire or been in the presence of one in action. I imagine you'd still get the fumes. Probably not the sharp protrusions. I've watched plenty of videos, those tools just seem too slow and there's that toxic smoke thing. Meh - gimme the steak knife, any day.

Hope that helps.
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Old 09-21-2018, 07:49 PM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

Well, the site deleted a lengthy post, so I'll just try to stick to the essentials: I've heard mixed information about whether epoxy can be used with or without hardener when it's being used to coat something like EPS foam. I'm using West System 105 Epoxy, as recommended several months ago by a knowledgeable member of this forum. Is it true that I will need hardener (which is sold separately) mixed in with the epoxy to make it work? Alternately, is there a different epoxy you would recommend, if this one is not the best? Feel free to tell me anything you know.

Thanks for all the information, again. I'm about done with answers. I know that some of this could have been found with a thorough search of the forum (and I did find info related to foam safety), but sometimes information in old topics doesn't seem applicable to my current problem.
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Old 09-24-2018, 03:02 AM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

West is a reputable company, I know guys who use their stuff - with great satisfaction - for boats. I've never used their products. I hear 105 is super fluid, which could present challenges. Like, you need to use tape to create a lip around the edge of e.g. a flat piece of plywood, otherwise the resin just flows right off the flat plane. That sounds too runny for my taste. It can probably be amended with a thickening agent. West probably sells that, they sell LOTS of stuff (I've browsed).

I've used Polygem (zoopoxy) and Smooth-on (habitat cast n coat) products. Putty in the former, brushable in the latter. Both are outstanding. Both are 1:1 two-part formulations. I can recommend either company; each as it happens makes brushable and putty formulations. I have posted here a little about my experiences with them. No build logs, just a little sharing.

Epoxies all require a catalyst AFAIK. Maybe this is the hardener of which you speak? Whatever you wind up deciding, all I can see is RTFM and read it for comprehension. Follow instructions and you're good to go.

Good luck!
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Old 07-04-2019, 04:02 AM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

I'm bringing this post back up because I'm working on a terrarium that may involve the use of painted foam (specifically, pink insulation foam) to construct the hardscape. My idea is to shape out the foam, paint it with acrylic paints, then use some kind of waterproofing agent to protect the paint from misting damage, if it needs protection at all.

My concern is in this passage:

Quote:
Yeah, I believe you can definitely seal foam adequately, to ensure animal welfare as far as toxicity goes. This I mean in terms of the foam itself, plus the sealant, plus whatever tinting you need to accomplish. I like 100% epoxy solids products. No VOCs, less layers to apply so less concerns with delam / bad adhesion, and you get a quick cure. Acrylic paints I trust, atop the epoxy, not as a substitute. Also the mineral dry tints (though the color options are very limited).
Bolded part is what I'm concerned with.

I'm not sure if this means that acrylic paints must be on top of the epoxy sealant, or if "atop" means "in addition to," in which case the epoxy sealant can be on top of the acrylic paint.

I'm sure I'm overthinking this, and I'm not even sure if acrylic paint is endangered by misting. But I want to make sure before I go this route.
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Old 07-05-2019, 11:41 AM
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I have and currently use Drylok waterproofing paint and mix in acrylic paint for color and paint over pink polystyrene foam. I carve out shapes and paint it and it really holds up well. No breakdown on my vivs. This one example.
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Old 07-05-2019, 11:27 PM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

Thanks for the info. Of course, the hardscape I had in mind when I posted that comment was a ruined castle wall, a type of construct that has a very fine and nuanced surface. I fear the relative thickness of multiple layers of Drylok would obscure things like the mortar lines between bricks / stones in the castle wall.

I am not so strongly considering making that type of setting anymore, not, at least, as much as I had been when I posted that comment. I'm playing with the idea of a forested hardscape, using Brent Brock's excellent guide on this pursuit. So now Drylok may actually be useful. The texture of many of the things that could be used for a forest hardscape is not so defined that the use of a thick substance like Drylok would ruin the effect.
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Old 07-10-2019, 07:33 PM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

Quote:
My concern is in this passage:

Quote:
Yeah, I believe you can definitely seal foam adequately, to ensure animal welfare as far as toxicity goes. This I mean in terms of the foam itself, plus the sealant, plus whatever tinting you need to accomplish. I like 100% epoxy solids products. No VOCs, less layers to apply so less concerns with delam / bad adhesion, and you get a quick cure. Acrylic paints I trust, atop the epoxy, not as a substitute. Also the mineral dry tints (though the color options are very limited).
Bolded part is what I'm concerned with.

I'm not sure if this means that acrylic paints must be on top of the epoxy sealant, or if "atop" means "in addition to," in which case the epoxy sealant can be on top of the acrylic paint.

I'm sure I'm overthinking this, and I'm not even sure if acrylic paint is endangered by misting. But I want to make sure before I go this route.
Hmm. A couple observations:
  • Acrylic paint is not certain to hold up to constant immersion. But it does pretty well with wet/dry cycling, in my experience.
  • Drylok comes in a smooth and a rough formulation. I have only used the rough. Its texture would not be attractive for all uses...perhaps including your intended one? The smooth one seems more likely to be toxic, from memory of reading the label.
  • The epoxies I have used are opaque. West 105 is translucent I think. Perhaps you could apply it over paint and have the color show through well? If you scuffed it up to knock down the shine, I'm not sure how well the color might show through. This would be a good use for some test boards.
  • If I was going for constantly-immersed foam, I'd seal with the epoxy, and apply dry tints to that, before it was very cured. I have done this many times (sprinkle the powder onto the final layer of still-tacky epoxy, and use a damp paint brush to kind of jab the powder into/onto the epoxy, and blend my colors) and I have NEVER been disappointed with performance & durability over the long haul. In an immersed situation, water needs to be taken very seriously. It's a real f*cker and it'll wreck anything, given a chance. Keep it out.

Good luck!
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Old 07-10-2019, 08:30 PM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

Thanks! The prop I'm working on right now won't be immersed, fortunately, but I think it is likely I will have something that needs to be partially underwater at all times in the future.

I found a solution to more-or-less moisture proofing foam / drylok / acrylic paints in the form of concrete bonding adhesive, which I discovered reading a guide written some time ago. I doubt that it's as hardcore as epoxy resin, but for above-water purposes, I think it will be fine.
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Old 07-10-2019, 10:54 PM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

Quote:
concrete bonding adhesive
Ah yes, what the Europeans call(ed?) the Flevopol method. It winds up looking similar to results from the Titebond method.

No, I wouldn't immerse that, but I did a few acrylic copolymer (concrete fortifier) backgrounds back in the 2000's and they stood up well to misting & high humidity. A bonus - if you have a piece spall off repair is easy.
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Old 07-11-2019, 11:10 PM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

As you may know, for The Rainforest Exhibit, I used High Density Foam from DUNAUSA, Drylok, and acrylic paints (on some areas, Krylon Matte Finish Spray).

The finished results are not only the waterfall feature, but immersed in the water area of the paludarium/vivarium. At the start, the water ph spiked (due to the faux ruins, driftwood, leaf litter, tannin, etc), but after a few weeks and some water treatments, it all neutralized.

Plants are growing and fish have been introduced and are fine.

Let me know if you want more info...
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Old 07-11-2019, 11:39 PM
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Default Re: Questions about foam models as safe vivarium decorations

Certainly, I would love as much info as you can give. If I ever use this kind of thing in an animal-inhabited viv, I could use all the help I can get.
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