Tub refinishing

Downs, Peter

Faster cure times are making a good business better

You may have heard us say this before in PWC, but there is money to be made refinishing bathtubs in place, and maybe even more in refinishing tiles, countertops, and kitchen cabinets. If you can handle a spray gun, some of that business can be yours.

The refinishing business is expanding rapidly, because refinishing is such a inexpensive alternative to replacing fixtures, said Peter Mosior, president of coatings manufacturer Hawk Research Laboratories in Wood Dale, IL. The North American Refinishers Association estimated that replacing bath and kitchen fixtures is four to 10 times more expensive than refinishing them.

Replacing a bathtub, including such costs as plumbing and redoing tile, can cost $2,000 or more, said Chuck Pistor, president of Miracle Method, a Los Angeles refinishing franchise company. The average charge for refinishing a bathtub is about $300.

The cost of materials to refinish a tub runs from $15 to $25, and an experienced refinisher can complete a tub in about two hours, making refinishing “one of the most profitable services ever developed,” said Mosior. Established painting contractors who want to offer this specialty hold a distinct advantage over someone entering the market, said Mosior, because the painting contractor already has “the company infrastructure, painting experience, and client base.”

“I don’t advertise often, but every time I do, I get 15 or 20 phone calls,” said Tom Fredella, a commercial painter in Bayville, NJ. “The market is there for anyone to get into.”

Miracle cure: For many years, the main drawback to refinishing was the time it took the coating to cure. The old coatings used to put a bathtub out of commission for up to eight days, said Alan Geno, national sales manager for Save-A-Tub Corp., a 25-year-old Bensenville, IL-based refinishing company.

Some newer coatings, however, cure in as little as 12 hours. The faster cure time “directly increased our business,” said Geno. “We do a lot of hotels and apartments, where rollover time is crucial.” With the faster-curing coatings, “we can go in in the morning and get out by noon, and they can rent the unit the following day,” instead of waiting until the following week.

Faster drying and more durability also opened up the kitchen market to refinishers. Prior to 1988, “there were not coatings designed to withstand the abuse a typical counter takes,” said Mosior. Manufacturers came up with harder, more durable coatings, but drying time was still a problem, even more so than with bathtubs. After all, “most people have more than one bathroom, but they have only one kitchen,” said Jim Gibson, product development manager at Hawk Labs.

“I do a lot of cabinets,” said Fredella, who uses coatings from European Coatings. “I can take an old cabinet and make it look brand new.”

Gibson said, “At the pull of a trigger, a refinisher can change the entire look of a kitchen in a day and a half, and save the customer tens of thousands of dollars.” Besides cabinets, painters are refinishing countertops even giving them new speckled finishes – wall tiles, and appliances. At least one company, Perma-Glaze Inc. in Tucson, AZ, has even developed a line of floor coatings for refinishing tile or linoleum floors.

Bill Byhower, owner of Renew Tub & Tile Refinishing in Irvine, CA, teamed up with another painter to handle the demand for kitchen refinishing. “He paints the cabinets and we come in after him and regrout and reglaze the tile,” he said. “We can redo a kitchen at about half the going rate.” Renew is a franchise of Kott Coatings of Foothill Ranch, CA.

Save-A-Tub is doing more tile work too, said Geno. “Tile has become so expensive to replace,” he said. “If you recoat tile, you have the advantage of a protective coating from the tub to the top of the tile that is impervious to water and eliminates grout lines and mildew.”

Gibson said industrial contractors are using Hawk’s Quick-Prep 2000 wipe-on primer and 24-hour-dry topcoat to get into institutional projects, such as schools, gymnasiums, and production facilities where there are large, vertical ceramic tile walls.

The most popular new refinishing products are those for making non-skid bottoms in bathtubs, said Richard Myers, a Greenville, SC-based refinisher. They are almost mandatory in hotels and apartments, said Geno. “They work better than plastic appliques, and don’t have the hygiene problem,” he said. Hawk makes a stencil for non-skid surfaces. Integrity Refinishing Coatings in Dallas and Ark Labs in Des Plaines, IL use additives. In either case, the non-skid surface is part of the tub finish.

If a painter already knows how to spray catalyzed material, “we can train them fairly easily,” said Joe Rossi, one of the owners of refinishing coatings manufacturer European Coatings in Ronkonkoma, NY.

Miracle Method’s Pistor agreed that training is necessary, even for someone with spray experience. “The spray techniques are different and the coatings dry so fast you have to shoot closer, but it’s not rocket science,” he said. “Someone who has painted and has good attention to detail can be trained in a couple of days.”

“There are definitely different tricks,” when it comes to applying refinishing coatings, said Fredella. He practiced on an old tub he found in the trash by the side of the road, and then on his own fixtures, before offering the service to customers.

Like any multi-package coating, refinishing coatings have to be mixed properly, but that usually is not a problem, said Geno. You don’t need special equipment hand mixing with a paint stick works well, he said.

Refinishing coatings are much thinner than regular paint, however. “They’re almost like water,” said Fredella.

Many tub and tile refinishing coatings are really just reformulated auto body paints. In fact, Geno said auto body painters pick up the techniques for refinishing more quickly than others, partly because they already have experience painting surfaces with lots of curves and corners in close quarters. “A tub is a confined space on the inside,” said Don Newar, president of Ark Labs, which has been making tub refinishing coatings for 50 years. “You can’t move far from the surface. It’s like spraying a tube.”

Manufacturers generally recommend HVLP spray equipment for best results. “Many contractors want to use airless spray, because that is what they already have,” said Newar, “but you can’t, because you can’t control the amount of coating with airless.” Like any other coating, it is a lot harder to take away material when you’ve sprayed too much, than it is to add material if you haven’t sprayed enough.

The other difference from many other kinds of residential and commercial painting work is safety. Most refinishing coatings contain toxic chemicals. Many still contain isocyanates. A couple of manufacturers have formulations they say are nontoxic, and Zynolyte Products claims to have the only waterbased coating on the market, but it is never wise to breathe atomized paint in a closed environment. “I use an air pack with an air respirator, and have to have fans to get the smell out of the house,” said Fredella.

“You have to protect yourself,” said Richard Myers. “You need outside ventilation, protective clothing, and a respirator.” Many contractors even recommend that customers clear themselves and their pets out of the house while the refinisher is working.

Coming clean: As with any type of painting, surface preparation is key. Contractors and manufacturers all say they’ve seen jobs where the coating failed after six months, or even six weeks, because the substrate was not cleaned properly. Most manufacturers said a properly applied coating properly cared for should last 15 to 20 years.

Unfortunately for anyone looking for cookbook directions to follow, cleaning and surface preparation methods vary from coating to coating, and even from contractor to contractor.

John Kordosh, technical director of Zynolyte Products in Carson, CA, said the first crucial step is to get the substrate “very, very clean.” Myers agreed. Ninety percent of the time there are problems, it is because the applicator “didn’t take the time to clean properly. You have to get all the old soap scum off.” Myers cleans first with lacquer thinner, and then again with denatured alcohol.

Fredella uses a soap and scum remover packaged by European Coatings. Byhower uses a similar product from Kott Coatings. Integrity Coatings has its own cleaning system as well. Like other companies, Integrity only guarantees its topcoats if the applicator uses Integrity’s whole system, including its cleaning product. Ark Labs also has its own scrubbing solution.

After cleaning, most contractors etch porcelain surfaces with either muriatic acid or hydrofluoric acid – other surfaces need only a light sanding — which they then have to thoroughly rinse from the surface. After rinsing, they chemically dry the surface and wipe with a tack cloth.

The Miracle Method does away with etching. It uses a proprietary bonding agent, which Pistor said gives better adhesion than the mechanical bond from etching. (A Miracle Method franchise is actually a bonding agent franchise.) Franchise operators are free to use any topcoat they want, said Pistor. Other companies, such as Hawk and Kott, also have their own bonding agents. European Coatings has a bonding agent, but still recommends etching.

Most companies follow surface preparation with a primer. Fredella, for example, sprays two coats of primer followed by three coats of topcoat. Hawk Labs and Diversified Coatings both have an etchless wipe-on primer. Ark’s Newar and Zynolyte’s Kordosh said their products do not need primers.

The market in kitchen and bath refinishing is there for whoever wants to get into it, said Fredella, and fixture refinishing often leads to repainting walls and ceilings. There are several good refinishing systems out there, and all of them offer training and technical support. But whatever system you use, “it’s no better than the person that does it,” said Myers. “If done properly, a refinished bathtub will last as long as a brand new one.” iF

Copyright Finan Publishing Company, Inc. Jan/Feb 1999

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved