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Communicating about Quality in Painting Work


By Burt Olhiser

Some paint jobs are recipes for disaster-for both the contractor and the facility owner hiring the contractor. Telltale signs of this kind of set-up (ambush) are vaguely worded requirements describing the end-condition of surface preparation: "sand it smooth," or "remove loose paint;" or "apply paint to achieve a consistent finish."

When quality requirements are not clear, the owner is likely to get a huge range of bids. Removing loose paint and feathering edges to get a smooth appearance may take 5 hours for a "lowball" contractor with no self-imposed standards, while it may take 50 hours for a conscientious contractor.

If the low bidder wins, he may be in for a surprise when the owner demands better work. And the owner may be in for a surprise when he sees the kind of shoddy work he has purchased. Everyone is unhappy.

Question: Paint jobs often have unwritten, unclear, or no standards for surface preparation and paint application. How do you feel about bidding and performing jobs where there is little or no communication about quality requirements? Answer this question


Burt Olhiser

Burt Olhiser founded Vantage Point Consulting in 1991 after a 15-year stint as a successful Northern California painting contractor. He initially provided safety, training and business consulting services to fellow contractors. He was an instructor at UC Davis’ EPA Western Regional Lead Training Center until the program’s closure, at which time he moved to UC Berkeley's Center for Occupational & Environmental Health program where he still serves today. Burt also served as Environmental Health & Safety Director and Quality Control Manager for one of California's largest industrial painting contractors. A member of SSPC, CSI, PDCA, and NACE, Burt is a CDPH Lead Related Construction Professional, Certified Asbestos Consultant, Certified Professional Estimator, and NACE Certified Coatings Inspector. Burt is a contributing editor to D+D.



Tagged categories: Brushes and rollers; Paint application; Purdy; Certifications and standards; Good Technical Practice; Quality control; Surface preparation

Comment from Brian Chapman, (3/28/2011, 9:04 AM)

Certainly no-one likes these ambiguous specs. It has been my experience that in the face of unclear specifications the best route is to quote according to the Technical Data Sheet for the chosen coating. If you then win the work and the owner asks for something different than the manufacturer is recommending, it can be handled as an add or deduct depending on what they truly want.

Comment from Nancy Godfrey, (3/28/2011, 2:01 PM)

I run into this periodically here in Myrtle Beach, SC and the way I normally deal with it is to offer options. For instance, we can do minimum prep, spot prime and apply "x" coats of Product A OR we can do more extensive prepping and priming followed by the same finish OR we can strip and fully re-prime and coat with the same finish OR ... You see where I'm going here - it leaves far less to be assumed. I usually present my proposal with a discussion about these options and my recommendations for the one I think will work best for both their budget AND their expectations. In the end, the owner selects and signs off on the system he prefers and we then perform based on that preference.

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