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Open front booths have only three walls. They take in unfiltered air through the open front, through the work area, and into an exhaust filter at the back. These are the least expensive type of spray booth, and are sufficient for situations where the main concern is containing overspray. Open front booths are no help in preventing contaminants from getting into your finishes, since the air they pull in is no cleaner than the rest of your shop air.

Cross flow (or crossdraft) booths draw air in horizontally through an intake filter and pull it straight through the chamber to the exhaust filter on the opposite side. They expel the filtered exhaust into the room or vent it outside. These are the most common and least expensive fully-enclosed spray booths.

Downdraft booths pull air in through ceiling-mounted filters and direct it out in one of several patterns. In order of increasing effectiveness and price, they include:

  • In modified- or semi-downdraft spray booths, the air flows down along the length of the booth and out the back.
  • Side downdraft booths pull air down via filters that run along both sides of the booth at floor level.
  • Pitted downdraft booths draw air straight down into a cavity underneath the floor.

Downdraft booths are usually more expensive than cross flow booths, but downward airflow does the best job of removing overspray from the work environment.

The majority of buyers choose open booths. The expense of adding intake filtration is significant, and in many situations it\’s overkill. However, exacting applications such as automotive or aircraft finishes and industrial coatings require precise tolerances. Filtered intake is essential for achieving the results those applications demand.

Intake and exhaust filters can last for years. To let you know when the filter needs to be replaced, the booth you buy should come with a manometer. Manometers measure the air pressure on both sides of the filter, and as the filter gets dirty, that pressure difference increases. When it hits a preset limit, the booth should indicate that it\’s time to install a new filter.

Some manufacturers require that you buy filters directly from them while others let you use generic filters you can buy at a paint supply store. While this isn\’t a critical factor, it can be convenient to buy replacement filters on your terms. Make sure the filters you use are appropriate for the contaminants you\’re trying to remove: dust filters work well for large particles, but not as well for aerosols or fine mists.

Water-filtered booths used to be popular for heavy-duty painting applications since recirculating water trapped airborne particles without clogging up filters. These systems are rarely used any more, since improved environmental regulations have made disposal of the contaminated water much more expensive and difficult.

Once you know what size booth you need and the type of airflow you want, you\’ll have to consider several other options, including air make-up units, lighting, and safety features.

Air make-up units
Adding a spray booth inside your plant or shop can wreak havoc. Consider that small booths can have an airflow of several thousand cubic feet per minute (CFM), while larger booths can reach 50,000 CFM or more. All that air is being pulled into the booth and vented to the outside, and it has to come from somewhere.

Without an air make-up unit, that air is being drawn from the rest of your building. As the pressure inside starts to drop, outside air will be sucked in through every tiny gap and crack in the walls to replace it. If you\’re heating or cooling your building, the difference in temperature will cause your energy costs to skyrocket.

An air make-up unit solves this problem by providing a direct source of air for the booth. The air make-up unit pulls in outside air through a dedicated vent, heats it if necessary, and supplies the resulting air directly to the intake filter.

Air make-up units add quite a bit to the initial purchase price of a spray booth – frequently more than the booth itself. However, to avoid serious air quality problems and uneven heating or cooling, they can be worth the expense.

Adequate lighting is essential to many spray booth applications. Most booths come with several banks of special explosion-proof lighting. Make sure the location and number of lights is appropriate for your work, because you can\’t simply install additional lights on your own.

Also, consider access to the lights when choosing a location for your booth. In most cases, lights are accessed from outside the booth, so putting the structure against a wall could prevent you from changing burned-out bulbs.

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