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How Much Does a Bad Paint Job Cost?


By Warren Brand

I’m passionate about everything pertaining to our industry. I have one company that consults on technical aspects of coating selection and application, and another that focuses on business development.

So when I ask "What does a bad coating job cost?" it's not a rhetorical or idle question.

Photos: Warren Brand

The author is looking for bad coating jobs—and answers.

We all need to know what coating failure costs us (and thus, how successful coatings benefit us) and, with your help, we can figure it out together. I would appreciate a few minutes of your time responding to a short survey here.

The Price of Peeling Paint

Over 30-odd years in the industry, I’ve wondered about how much our economy spends on substandard paint jobs.

I’m the kind of nerd who can't take a walk without noticing rusty fire hydrants, peeling paint on bridges, and concrete bulging on the wall of a parking deck because of oxidizing rebar beneath.

I even took a photo of paint peeling on the wing of my plane on the way down to SSPC 2014 this month (which was awesome, by the way).

Rusty Urinal Hardware Rusty Urinal Hardware

A coatings investment goes down the drain when the system fails prematurely. But the precise cost hasn't been captured.

We all know that catastrophic paint failures (typically defined as a failure in less than a year that encompasses an entire coating system) are extraordinarily costly.

But how do we calculate the cost of coating systems that, for example, should or could have lasted for 10 years, but conked out after three?

Fish Story

Here's an example: We are working with a local zoo that has a mammal tank (like a big swimming pool) that has been coated seven times in the past 15 years.

In our estimation, it should have been coated once—twice, at most—in that time frame.

By contrast, we specified a coating system for a local aquarium in a salt-water shark exhibit that is coming up on about 12 years of no-maintenance service.

Underwater repair on tank

I've seen coatings jobs fail in a year and others last 12 years. I'm sure you have, too. Share your stories in this quick survey.

What I want to know is how much our economy is wasting on poor paint jobs. 

Epic Fail

We’ve come across dozens, if not hundreds, of situations where coating systems have simply not lasted as long as they should have. I’m sure each of you has a similar story that, frankly, I’d like to hear.

From our experience, this appears to be an insidious trend endemic to a variety of industries.

And yet, although I’ve searched the Internet and spoken to numerous peers, I haven’t been able to find any hard data that capture this cost—just anecdotes, like the one above.

The only data I’ve ever found is from a 2002 watershed study by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration that tried to quantify the direct costs associated with metallic corrosion in many U.S. industry sectors.

$276B, for Starters

To summarize, the report indicated that in 1998, metallic corrosion cost the U.S. economy an estimated $276 billion. The report is highly detailed, but it didn’t capture (nor was it tasked to) what I feel is fundamental to understanding the value that various industries are reaping from dollars spent.

Calder Sculpture - Chicago

A third-party inspection verified the longevity and durability of the coating system used to restore Alexander Calder's Flamingo in July 2012.

What I’m trying to figure out—with your help—is how much value our clients, the nation and, perhaps, the world actually obtain from dollars spent on painting.

That's what led to our survey.

The Value of Coatings

Our initial version was too complex, too long and too time-consuming to complete.

So, we retooled and streamlined with the help of friends, actuaries, peers, and marketing mavens.

The new version (available here) should take only a few minutes to complete.

Our hope is to gather insightful data that address how much value:

  • People perceive they are receiving for each dollar they spend on painting in various industries; and
  • People are actually receiving for various painting projects.

Next Steps

The data will be vetted, compiled and evaluated by Shivkumar Morjaria, a bright and dedicated senior at Drake University in Iowa.


The coating system used on this tank has held up with minimal maintenance for a dozen years. We need to quantify the value of protective coatings done right.

Shiv is studying actuarial science, finance and information systems and has had internships in Des Moines and New York working in insurance and consulting.

All of his work will be supervised and vetted by Professor Toby White, PhD, FSA, CFA.

Once the numbers are collected and crunched, I will present them March 13 in Chicago at our one-day conference, Engineered Corrosion Solutions. I will also submit the results for publication and, perhaps, follow-up research.

And, of course, I will report back in this space.

I know we are all strapped for time, but the survey takes less than five minutes and should provide some unique insights.

So, please take a minute to complete it. And feel free to forward the link to anyone else you think would interested.

And a Thank You

Finally, here's a shout-out to everyone at SSPC. It was a dynamic conference, and I am perpetually impressed and humbled by the intelligence and kindness of those in our industry.

I also want thank those of you who read my blog on a regular basis.

And, oh, did I mention this survey we're doing?


Warren Brand

Warren Brand’s coatings career has ranged from entry-level field painting to the presidency of two successful companies. Over nearly three decades, he has project-managed thousands of coating installations and developed specs for thousands of paint and coating applications. NACE Level 3 and SSPC PCS certified, Brand, an MBA and martial-arts instructor, now heads Chicago Corrosion Group, a leading coatings consultancy. Contact Warren.



Tagged categories: Coating Materials; Consultants; NACE; Protective Coating Specialist (PCS); Protective coatings; Specification writing; SSPC; Chicago Coatings Group; Coating failure; Program/Project Management

Comment from Michael Deaton, (3/5/2014, 7:10 AM)

Being a true painter and in the 1% club, I see everything through a paint magnifying glass. Just like Warren, every structure that I see is evaluated instantly and processed for ratings, whether it be good or for an explanation for coatings failure. I can not count the numerous water towers, grain elevators and other structures that I've observed the coatings breaking down. Most obvious reasons being poor application of the stripe coat (or NO stripe coat)& no cross hatching on the spray application. Both of these a direct result of unskilled painters, poor supervision, and the lack of or no inspection. So, how much does a bad paint job cost? A number can not be put on it, but over the course of time...hundreds of millions!

Comment from Steve Seidman, (3/5/2014, 6:47 PM)

At least double. I'm in residential painting. The painter before me removed wallpaper, but not the adhesive. The paint is alligatoring, I have to remove the alargatored paint, hang heavy duty lining paper & hang new paper.

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