Twinkle VanWinkle: Can you state your name, company and location for the record?
Paul Burns: My name is Paul Burns. We are in Bowie, Maryland. We service the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and northern Virginia metro area. The company is Porcelain Tub Restorations, and we do bathtub and surround refinishing. I am the president.
TVW: What is your specialty?
PB: Budget bathroom renovations done in a day.
TVW: How did you get into the business of restoring older bathrooms, refitting or reglazing?
PB: I always knew I wanted to be in business, but lacked the capital as a younger man. My background has been mechanics, auto painting and a sideline doing home improvement. During a management change at my day job in 1988 as head painter at a local auto dealership, the entire crew was let go as they brought in their own people. I took what I thought to be a temporary job at refinishing bathtubs for a local company. With my skill set I was immediately put in the residential department. After a short bit I realized that I could afford the capital and equipment to start my own refinishing company and I did just that. Within a few years, my company grew so much I started hiring and training techs to my standards. Twenty years later we now have a dozen trucks on the road serving most of Maryland, D.C., and northern Virginia.
TVW: Have you seen a decrease or increase in retrofitting or remodeling with older bathtubs?
PB: Definitely an increase, we have grown 10 percent every year since we started. It’s a great way to recycle your bathroom fixtures, making them look new again at a fraction of the cost of replacement or tub liners and also can be done in one day. Also the older bathtubs are often of better quality. There is one problem with new tubs. In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act forced many changes — one being all new bathtubs must have a non-slip surface. When you buy a new tub today, it already has a bottom that can stain due to the manufacturers non-slip surface that is an open, porous area on the bottom. Within a week of using it, the tub’s bottom will be soiled from the oils in your feet and soap residue and it will be difficult to keep clean. Refinishing avoids this by adding a texture to our coating during the process.
TVW: What is an average cost for replacement?
PB: The real costs are tearing out the walls and floor tile due to the new tub being a different shape. There is also the disconnecting the plumbing, removal and disposal of the existing tub, reinstalling the tub, new vapor barrier, concrete backer board, new plumbing and control valves and retiling. So depending on quality of materials used and bathroom size, an average bathtub replacement will run $2,000 to $5,000 and take at least a week to do.
For a standard size tub that has normal wear and tear or color change, and depending on what part of the country you are in and the quality of the refinisher, pricing will range from $300 to $500. In the lower price range, you should realize that the company is using low-cost materials, skimping on the preparation and cheap labor to offer the lower price. Also, they will not cover their warranty by sighting the problem on the customers' care as a way to avoid any cost to them. Our charges are very competitive for bathtub reglazing. At $425, we include recaulking and we add a texture to the bottom to aid in slip prevention at no extra charge. We also stand behind our warranty 100 percent. Tile or surrounds are priced at $9 per square foot and would be approximately $450 for your standard 50-square-foot surround. Both can be done in one day.
If the tub or surround has been previously reglazed, it is always recommended to remove the failed finish before applying a new one so stripping charges may apply and would add an additional $100 to a bathtub reglazing job or about $250 to a tub and surround job. There is one additional item I highly recommend and that none of my competitors will mention: the drain and overflow removal. It’s the perfect time to replace your bathtub drain at the time of refinishing. It simply makes for the best job. I can assure you that when I did my own bathtub, the drain was pulled and then a new one was reinstalled once the job had cured. Why? Two reasons: No. 1, aesthetics and No. 2, the mechanics of coatings. Aesthetically, an old, faded drain will really look out of place against a newly refinished bathtub. It’s the perfect time to replace it. Should your old drain overflow be in great shape it can be reinstalled, saving you money on the replacement cost.
When a coating is applied, its weakest point is its edges. An edge is a point that can be pushed against. In this case when you refinish your bathtub and you do not pull the drain, there will be a coating edge around the drain versus having the material under your drain with no edge. The force of water flowing over that edge, plus the contraction and expansion of the drain itself, going through hot and cold cycles, are two forces pushing against the edge and can cause premature failure of the coating. Once a coating starts to lift from these forces, it can continue to lift and we call this peeling. A coating that could have gone 15 years can fail way short of this life span. When there is rust, soap, bathing oils or moisture trapped under the drain, no amount of preparations is going to remove it unless the drain is pulled. This can prevent any coating from sealing properly around the drain. I have seen coatings go a long time without removing the drains, but it’s a gamble. If rust is under the drain, it will eventually come back if not completely removed and treated before reglazing, causing the material around the drain to blister and peel. We offer removal and reinstallation of the drain overflow for $150 and it requires a return trip. The customers may be able to do this themselves if they are handy, but a plumber will be twice that. With the drain removed, we offer a 5-year “No Quibble” guarantee, meaning if you have a problem, we will simply take care of it. A typical standard tub and surround reglazing with the drain removed can be completed for right around $1,000. Additional services are rust hole repair, failed liner removal, soggy wall repair, regrouting, cracked fiberglass tub repair, chip repair and erosion damage.
TVW: What about liners?
PB: Bathtub liners come in several grades of material and thickness. One material is PVC. It is softer and scratches more readily, and it tends to yellow over time. The other is acrylic — much tougher but costly. The cheaper liners will also be thinner. The other factor with liners is the tendency to flex and pull away from the wall breaking the seal, allowing water to get underneath, which is why I see most liner companies insisting on adding a surround as well, driving the price sky high. A PVC bathtub liner installed will run about $1,000. With a wall surround liner and depending on the options ordered, add another $1,500 minimum. Should you decide on an acrylic tub and surround liner, you can expect to double that price to $4,000 or $5,000.
TVW: What do you do when you are reglazing?
PB: Well, the process is, generally, when we get to the tub it has an erosion layer, the shine is gone. It usually has some scratch and chips from just wear and tear, or they have some 1960s colors they are trying to get rid of. So basically, when we go into a job, we’ll take the caulk out. We also like to remove the drain and overflow. You get a much better job when the drain has been pulled. The tub is etched with a mild acid that we dilute on the job. It’s a glass etch. What it does is remove any foreign material and it gets the tub etched for adhesion. Then the chips or scratches are worked out with diamond abrasives or fillers, depending on the damage. Once the tub has been etched, all the damage is repaired. We protect the room with masking. We set up ventilation equipment to capture the overspray and odors. The materials are mixed up. It’s a two-part process. You want to put a primer down. The primer gives you your adhesion as well as mechanical adhesion from the etching. So you get chemical and mechanical adhesion. Once the primer is set, we add the non-skid surface texture to it, and then the two coats of aliphatic acrylic polyurethane is added to the tub. The best material for coating tubs is aliphatic acrylic polyurethane.
RELATED: How to Refinish a Bathtub
TVW: There are kits for DIY, so why couldn’t I just do this myself?
PB: Well, the chemicals aren’t going to be available to you, the acids aren’t going to be available to you. The materials are, again, not going to be sold locally. You’re going to have to purchase it by the gallon. You’re only going to use approximately a little less than a quart on a job so you lose money on that. Plus the skill set of the spraying application are equal to a car painter, which takes several years to acquire the skill to apply the finish without any dirt, texture or runs. As well as all of the safety equipment as well as respirators, heavy gloves and chemicals. So by the time you get all the gear, it’s not really a practical do-it-yourself job.
TVW: What is the difference between reglazing and lining?
PB: Refinishing is a coating applied to your fixtures, the best being aliphatic acrylic polyurethane. With the proper primers and preparation, the coating is mechanically attached to your original surface. You keep the look and feel of your tub and tile. Bathtub liners are made from sheets of plastic PVC or acrylic and a vacuum mold. The plastic sheet is heated to the correct temperature, placed over the mold and vacuum is applied drawing the sheet into and around the bathtub mold. Once cooled it is popped off. There are hundreds of bathtub shapes, so all tubs are not a candidate for liners. They build the molds to accommodate as many styles as they can, so they do not always fit the tub as well as they should. The liner should be professionally installed as they must be trimmed to fit the application.
TVW: What is your recommendation? And why?
PB: Bathtub refinishing gives you the best bang for your buck, but you must be careful in selecting a professional refinisher or you will be throwing away your money when the job fails and the company is no longer in business or changed its phone number and name or they simply refuse to honor their guarantee. Also the quality of the job depends on the skill level of the technician applying the coating. It is the same skills that a professional auto painter will have. Your coating should be smooth, free of texture, dirt, and runs. You’re saving a bundle with refinishing. It is not the time to pick the cheapest price. Those companies are not paying for professional sprayers or quality materials and will skimp on the preparations. For bathtub liners, I could easily be an installer for the many liner companies out there. My problem with them is I have seen so many liners fail from water getting underneath them and splitting on the bottom when you don’t get the surround with the liner. Also liners have a plastic feel to them and you lose a couple of inches of floor space. With the cost being two to five times as much as refinishing, I believe refinishing to be the best bet. Whichever you choose, just be sure to check out the companies well. There are shady folks doing both. Google any company and add complaint or scam to the name. Check their record with the BBB and, of course, Angie’s List. Another factor: Do they have a home improvement license? It is not required for what we do, but it gives the homeowner recourse from a fund we pay into for protection of shoddy work.
TVW: What do you recommend to homeowners on the best way to care for a reglazed tub?
PB: First of all, my suggestions are for all bathtubs reglazed or not. Clean weekly with mild nonabrasive cleaners, dish soap, scrubbing bubbles, and even diluted vinegar, etc., works well. A sponge or wash rag is all that is needed. Don’t do anything that you would not do to your car’s finish. Never use abrasive cleaners as they will scratch the surface causing dullness. If you use a bathmat remove it after each use and place it upside down over the rail so it may dry. The constant moisture along with the suction of the cups will slowly penetrate the coating and cause early failure. Repair leaking faucets as soon as possible (running water made the Grand Canyon), and a leaky faucet will drill a hole through your tub and your reglazing will not stop it. Drain clearing chemicals are misused all the time. They should not be added to a tub with water in them. Drain the water manually and add the chemicals into the drain without getting in on the surface. These chemicals have extreme pH levels and can literally eat the tub’s surface — reglazed or not. Better yet, use a drain snake or add baking soda down the drain and then vinegar. If you have hard water from a well causing staining, you can use automotive type rubbing compounds to polish out the discolorations as you would an old oxidized car. Don’t make it a habit to leave soap, shampoo bottles, etc., on the tubs rails. Use a hanging basket or corner shelf to keep these items in. The alkaline nature of soaps can mar the finish over time. Use your bathtub as a bathtub, not to store your beer keg or rebuild your carburetor in. Also if you have a large dog, it’s a good idea to put a mat or towel down so they do not dig in with their nails. If you are doing any other work in the bathroom, cover your bathtub with some padding to protect it from something dropping.
TVW: Is there a limit to how many times you can reglaze or reline a tub? At one point do you tell a customer, “Dude, buy a new tub.”
PB: Actually you could reglaze or reline indefinitely. We have fixed holes the size of dinner plates, about the only time I turned down a job is when a customer has applied drain acid to a tub with water in it and the next morning it looks like the rocky mountains, we could repair it but the amount of rebuild work is just too much, that’s about the only time I refer them to check into liners or replacement.
TVW: Can you tell me what the price of a standard tub is if there was a need to replace it?
PB: The tubs themselves are not the costly factor — $200 to $800 for a quality standard tub. The real cost comes in when you start having to do the demolition — removing the tile, you have to dissect the plumbing, removal and disposal fees, reinstalling the tub. You have got concrete backer boards. You’ve got new plumbing, new tiling. So depending upon the tiling and the quality of the replacement, it could cost $2,000 to $5,000 and take at least a week to do.
TVW: What’s the No. 1 most damaging thing people can do to their tub?
PB: No. 1 is misuse of abrasive cleaners. It’s a vicious circle. Once you scratch up the surface and it starts holding dirt and oils, out comes the bleach and Comet and the problem is compounded. If bleach and Comet are the only thing getting it clean, it’s time for a reglazing job or if you want to spend a bunch more, a liner.
This interview took place on Jan. 6, 2010.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on Jan. 13, 2010.