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Reglazing - Refinishing Bathtubs, Straight talk from the pro. by Gene Covington

Reglazing - Refinishing Bathtubs, Straight talk from the pro. by
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Reglazing - Refinishing Bathtubs, Straight talk from the pro.

Career,Home Improvement,Humor
Did you know that there is a process that allows a technician to come into your home or hotel and make your old bath (tub, shower, sinks and countertops) look new again without the high cost of replacing them? First off, let me say, this is not an advertisement, it is meant to be an article of enlightenment; to provide you with information to aide you in your decisions regarding future renovations of your baths or kitchens. While I don’t claim to know much, there is one thing I do know a lot about and that is the refinishing of bath and kitchen main stays: namely the tubs, showers, sinks and counter tops. Most of you may have heard about refinishing rather than replacing these items in your home and probably the majority of you wonder, does it really work. Many have had experiences with this type of refinishing, with really good results, while others have not been so happy with the end product. Well, in this article I will tell you the straight scoop about bathtub refinishing/reglazing; by the way when it comes to resurfacing your bath, the terms “refinishing” and “reglazing” mean the same thing. They both refer to applying a new coating to the original bath surface. “Save money, don’t replace, reglaze,” those in the business say. I’ve been in and out of different baths for over 70 years now. My first civilized bathtub I remember was an old galvanized wash tub that I sat in as a child. Now this tub would be set up next to an old Morning Glory coal burning stove in the kitchen of our family home. It would be partially filled up with cold water. More water was heated up in a large pot on top of that old coal burning stove it was sitting next to. That hot water could then be poured or added to the cold water in the tub, until the temperature was just right. Each family member would take turns washing up in that little galvanize tub, refilling and reheating the water in the tub as necessary. Now I come from a family of 4 brothers, three sisters, my parents, a number of dogs, some cows, chickens, pigs and I was the youngest so, you can probably figure out where I was in the line for getting my bath. I’ll just say that by the time my turn came up to take a bath, the water was pretty thick. Eventually, as time went on, a room was added to the back of the kitchen and a normal porcelain tub was installed. Holy cow, can you imagine that, hot and cold running water right into the tub. Golly, the things they don’t think of. Modern conveniences are nice but, that old galvanized wash tub will always be in my mind. The good thing about it was it was easy to clean and since there was no drain, the water never got stopped up in it. We just dragged it to the door and emptied it out, took the garden hose and sprayed it out and it was good to go, ready for its next chore, washing the clothes, the tools or whatever. I’ve taken baths in creeks, lakes, animal watering troughs, and up in the mountains rainwater catch tanks. Over the years, I have showered in the rain. I have used an old tin coffee can to pour water over me in third world countries, where taking a bath that way was the normal way to bathe. I have bathed aboard ships, trains, trailers, and I have even taken canteen baths in a bunker. You name it, any way one can clean the daily grim off the body, I’ve probably done it, even considering having my dog lick me clean. Can you imagine the feeling of looking up stream from where you are bathing and watching your dog lift a leg? Yep, I’ve taken all kinds of baths, so I was an expert in bathing, long before I got into the business of resurfacing bath related fixtures. Remembering those bathing experiences has helped with knowing what kind of abuse or use the bathing apparatuses go through. It has helped in appreciating a good place to bathe and after reglazing thousand of bathing fixtures, of all types I’ve observed some things that have made me realize some of the things that one probably shouldn’t do if, they want their bath to stay clean and shiny for as long as it can. For instance, I went on a job where the folks had decided to use an old porcelain cast iron bath tub for a planter because, they just couldn’t stand cleaning it any longer. I actually shoveled the dirt out of it in preparation for refinishing it. The chemicals in the dirt that enhance the growth of the plants had an etching effect on the porcelain – I wouldn’t suggest using your tub as a planter if you think you might use it as a bath tub again at anytime in the future. Target practice? I’ve discovered that some folks have “crayoned” bulls eye targets to the surface of the walls of fiberglass bath enclosures – I have to report that throwing pointed steel tip darts at targets on a fiberglass tub wall is really not a good idea. I have even repaired and refinish bathtub walls damaged by a shot gun blast. I must report that it is also not a good idea to discharge shot guns into the walls of a tub but, if it’s a choice of shooting the spouse or, the bath, please go ahead take a shot at the walls. Bath refinishers in your area will appreciate the business and I am sure your spouse would much prefer you making that decision. Go figure, who would even imagine that dropping an engine block into a bathtub to degrease it would or could ever do any damage to the tub? I can tell you from first hand experience, it does; the majority of bath tubs and most showers are meant for cleaning the naked human body, not for mechanical or other objects. I love children and though no one believes it, I was actually one myself. It is lots of fun taking those metal pots and pans and hard wooden and plastic toys into a bath to play. Even though I was having a lot of fun merrily banging a tin pot on the edge of my tub, I have to admit that my wife was right in taking my toys away from me last week – the party pooper. Those types of play do chip and damage the porcelain or resins of which the surface of a tub or tile is made of. Sally. One of my customers had a cat named Sally, what a pretty cat she was and my customer was determined to keep her pretty and smelling good. From what I saw and what my customer learned, is that before giving a cat a bath, one should probably put thick rubber booties over their paws first. It is truly amazing how much damage they can do to an acrylic tub as you attempt to hold them in the water trying to clean them up. It can get kind of painful to, she explained, showing me the scratches on her arms. It might be noted here to, that dogs, birds and other animals have claws too. Human bathing fixtures really are meant for the human body. But, if you must bathe your pets in your tub, that’s ok, just let me know, I know a number of good bathtub installers or refinishers. Joe, another customer, great guy, “hey Kathy,” he said talking to his wife “looky here, on this toilet bowl cleaner it says ‘cleans those hard to remove stains and mineral deposit rings from around the toilet.’ I bet it would do great at removing that dirt from the tub too.” You know what. Joe was right and he learned what many others have; along with removing the stains and dirt it removes the nice smooth porcelain finish that keeps the tub bacteria free. It’s that surface that makes it cleanable to. Yes, there are all kinds of things we do to our baths that can damage them and make them candidates for replacing or refinishing. At the top of a list of those things that damage our bathroom fixtures the most would have to be neglect. Lazy! Well, if you say so but, I’d think it’s more like tired. With all the things people have going on in their lives these days, we are just plumb tired and the last thing we want to do is clean a bath. Neglect is the number one reason a bath deteriorates before its time. You can call it lazy or being tired but, not taking care of a new or refinished tub really can be a costly luxury. What I didn’t learn how to do for many of my years before getting into my profession was to learn how to clean a bath. We all know that many folks neglect the upkeep of their automobiles by just gassing and going, never checking their oil and eventually blowing a gasket and having to buy a new car. Well, for a long time I was like that with my bathtub to, I was just a bath and go kind a guy. I will get into suggestions for maintaining a new or refinished like new bath a little further along in this article. Just like properly maintaining your car, cleaning and maintenance of a bath really is simple, takes very little time and it can literally save you thousands of dollars. Some say experience can make one an expert at a certain thing. If that is so, then, well, I might just be one in the bath reglazing/refinishing field. Experience comes with the years some also say; and I have certainly tacked on a few of those. I have had two careers in my life. The first was a military life that I lived for 20 years, retiring from it at the age of 36. “Retire at 36,” some said, “that’s too young!” and, I agreed. If you go looking for work at 36 years of age when the only experience you have had is “military” there isn’t much out there in the civilian world that will pay one enough to take care of a wife and the kiddies. So, I had the choice, remain in the military – been there done that or, start a whole new occupation. So, 34 years ago I went looking for a new occupation and ended up starting a business in the porcelain bathtub refinishing trade. Back at the end of the 1970’s it was a fairly new idea. It was an established business, but, not many people had heard of it but, the idea made sense. Best of all, to me at the time, it was a way I could learn a trade that people wanted and I would be able to “be my own boss.” Seems like something all most everybody wants to be, their own boss. Thirty-four years, my how time flies. Along with that time, as I said, experience comes with years; I have become pretty well educated in the bath refinishing business. Some years ago one of my customers referred me to a neighbor of his. He introduced me to his friend as “the tub master.” I don’t know what that is, I’ve been able to sit in a tub, but never been able to make one “sit” on demand. But, it should be sufficient to say, over the past 34 years I have seen a lot of bath rooms and kitchens. In fact, just this morning I was working in another one, so even at 70 the learning and the experience just keeps adding up. I have repaired and refinished tubs of all types. Cast iron tubs coated with porcelain, porcelain over pressed steel tubs, tubs made of acrylic plastic, out of fiberglass, even custom formed concrete tub. I have restored dozens of my favorite, the old antique claw foot tubs. I have repaired and refinished Japanese offuro tubs; made out of fiberglass, acrylic, concrete and tile. There are all kinds of tub and shower combinations. I can’t even remember the number of bathroom or kitchen countertops I have refinished. The countertops I have resurfaced have been made of all kinds of different material (tile, Formica, cultured marble, stone, etc) – and the number I have reglazed over the years is in the thousands. You might ask me (a number have) “Would you, in your own home, put in a new bathtub or refinish your old one?” Well, I say, “I have refinished mine. But, that doesn’t mean you should refinish yours. There are some things you need to consider before making such a choice. “Depending on your particular situation, one of three options regarding rejuvenating your bath is available and one of the three is usually the most practical: You can clean it, you can replace it with new or you can reglaze/refinish it: o Clean it: Cleaning is normally the first thing one should consider because it is the least expensive option to consider. Sometimes a tub seems to be really unbearable and completely wasted when all it needs is a good cleaning. If you’re a “bath and go” kind of person, your tub is a good candidate for this consideration. Mineral Deposits can leave a tub looking like it is “peeling”, even rusting, and no matter how much bubbles or liquid cleaners you squirt on the surface it just won’t clean up. News flash, elbow grease, unfortunately it doesn’t come in a can, but it really is the best cleaner in your house. If you’ve ran out of it, it can be purchased in the form of a human house cleaner, who can come out, razor scrape those hard deposits off the tub and the clean it using their elbow grease and the expertise they have accumulated through experience – tip – get one who has had years of experience. If they can’t clean it then, it’s probably time to look into one of the other two options o Refinish/Reglaze it: Most people resort to refinishing, if the professionals can’t get them clean. “Does refinishing really work?” you might ask. Now at the beginning I told you I would give you the “straight talk about refinishing,” so here it comes: The answer is yes, if. Yes, if it is done properly and professionally by a company who really is personally interested in being of good service to his customer. Unfortunately, like in all trades, there are those out there in the bath reglazing industry who just want to get the job to get the money, say thank you and leave. Also, unfortunately, a refinished bath can look “great” once it is done, even if it was not done properly. Sometimes days, maybe weeks or even a few months may go by and then your bath will tell you that, maybe the job wasn’t the best. The good news is that there are also those out there in the refinishing industry, like all trades, who put their personal integrity and love for fellow man above the gold, those who really plan on ensuring your home is a better place for you, even after they collect their check and leave. That’s the guy you want and you should shop around for him. He is out there, really. You should also note that he is not necessarily the one who charges the most – more often than not he will probably be in the mid-price range of those offering bath refinishing in your area. There are some “good guys” out there, (painters, carpenters, other trades in the area or even your neighbors), who see refinishing going on and think that it looks like a good idea, and they want to get in on the action. With good intentions, but little foresight and no experience they go to their local auto paint store purchase a gallon of cheap automotive paint run down to the rent a center, rent an air compressor and spray gun, wipe a tub clean and spray paint it – they then proudly step back and admire their work “ ah new again,” they think. Even, their customer thinks so and compliments them by saying “thanks, wow you’re a lot cheaper than the other guy I called and it looks great.” The owner waits the required time for their new refinished tub to dry, then as they are cleaning, the now like new tub, they see a speck of dirt wipe at it and the entire spot pulls away from the surface of the tub back down to the original surface coating. Oh, oh! That kind of thing goes on, unfortunately, too often. The one who did the job had good intentions and had no idea that would happen. He or she thought that was all they had to do: wipe clean, spray the surface, get their check and go home. Some home owners who have been thinking about refinishing think “Why, I can do that myself,” when they go to the local hardware store and see a can that says Do it Yourself Bathtub Refinishing Paint - shame on those who manufacture and put out this kind of product for the unsuspecting homeowner to buy. I have seen too many showers just painted with household latex paint even off the shelf epoxy. The folks do have good intentions so I can’t fault them for that. They just never knew. Like so many trades, bath refinishing really is a job that one should let the experts do. It really is a specialty. When I first started out there were not very many in the trade. The pioneers of the business, like the good intentioned good guys, were people who saw a service that people could benefit from. After all, it costs thousands of dollars to replace a tub, where for only a small portion of that much money (figured around 25% of the cost of replacement) one could have their old fixture professionally refinished and made to look and be new again. Refinishing was certainly a great idea, and thankfully those who thought of it persevered and saw it through to be a real viable and affordable option for the people of the world. But, it wasn’t easy. Those who persevered were the ones who even through lot of failed tubs kept saying “this has got to work, this idea can work, it just can.” They eventually realized that no, the paint used on refrigerators don’t work, tried that. House paint don’t work, tried that. Car paint don’t work, been there and done that. Even epoxy marine paint don’t work, it just peels off the old porcelain. But, they didn’t stop. They finally got smart and took the idea to the chemist. Then after a lot of laboratory experiments and after multiple changes in formulas to coatings to make them harder, shiny and hard like porcelain yet flexible to give with the movement of the tubs they came up with products that worked. Yes they finally came up with top coatings that worked, - they thought. Then as they put their products on the market they found that conditions compatible for refinishing tubs in one geographical part of the world can be different from another. The top coats developed finally were getting to be good and tough and almost as strong as original porcelain but, they wouldn’t adhere to some of the bathing fixture surfaces. What would stick well to fiberglass for instance would not adhere to porcelain or ceramic tile. So back to the chemists they went. More experiments and tests were conducted, the top coats were refined, and epoxy top coats were found to yellow after awhile so most of these were abandoned for use as a top coat. More refined urethanes were developed just for a bathing environment some that could simulate the look of porcelain that resisted scratching, staining, and chemical damage – finally, finally, they had top coats that worked. But, still failures, enough to make a refinisher curse and many of us did. The problem finally evolved, it was found that in most of the instances it wasn’t the top coats fault, it was the preparation of the surface. Each type of surface being refinished required its own unique special preparation in order for it to properly accept the finish. So, new products for the refinisher were developed to clean and prepare and bond the new surface to the old tub or shower. Refinishers had to be trained to know that what works on one surface or in one geographical location might not work in another. Humidity and the climate of the town the tub was in, is something the specialist had to consider before reglazing a surface. You can see, I could go on and on, but what I’m trying to convey is that when the idea of refinishing an existing bath tub was thought of back in the early 1970’s, refining the products and process took quite awhile and the business took a hit because of the initial failures. Resurfacing of baths is a specialty and it did take some time to develop into a real possible option for the homeowner. I am happy today to report that it is a real workable alternative for one to choose in refreshing or when renovating their home in this day and age. It does work and there are lots and lots of professionals out there doing hundreds of tubs each day. Anybody can do refinishing – that is anybody who has the knowhow, right products, equipment and experience. It is a specialty. Now days the products and processes that have been developed allows the professional refinisher to recoat you bath in the same color it was, just renewing it or, you can custom choose colors to coat your bath to any color you desire. You can even recoat your bath or countertop from one solid color or any other solid color or change it to a coating that resembles shiny, semi-shiny or stone like textured granite. Some refinishers even specialize in custom coating your countertops or items to match the new floor tile you have installed. It truly is amazing what a professional refinisher can do and what is even greater about it is that the cost compared to replacing can be significant, like mentioned around 25% of replacement cost or less. If you are going to be satisfied with this choice though, there is a catch. You have got to be aware, there are those out there; like in all trades who profess to be but really are not professionals. They don’t get properly scientifically developed surface preparation products or refinishing coatings from companies who specialize in products for bath refinishing. They also may not use the special application equipment required for applying these products. A caring professional is the key. Bath, shower and countertop reglazing/refinish does work and it can perform some miracles. It is also a much quicker and a less evasive way to a beautiful bath than replacing. Today’s products even allow your old bath to be done in one day and used that same night as opposed to a week or weeks out of commission when replacing. But, there are certain situations where a God like miracle would need to occur to make the home owner happy. In these situations you would be advised to think about installing new. o Replace: Maybe cleaning or refinishing might make your bath look real nice cosmetically but, there is sometimes more to a bath than just the looks. It just might be time to replace that old bath. For instance: If, the wall on which your tile was installed has become saturated with water and the tile is buckling and falling off (if it’s just a small section of the wall, sometimes a refinisher can repair the substrate behind the loose tile, reinstall the tile then refinish), but if the whole wall is coming down or the backer board has become unusable to hold the tile then it is time for new. If it is a porcelain tub with pressed steel and you have holes rusting all the way through. It would be advisable to put in a new tub. Many people ask them to be repaired just to get them by for awhile longer, and they can be, but if at all possible it is more practical to apply that repair money to a new tub. Extensive rust is an inevitable indicator; the tub is on its last days. If your bath is a fiberglass tub or shower and the bottom has cracked and there is a lot of give movement in the tub when you step into it, or you can tell the area under the tub is saturated with water then replacing is probably the better solution. Again, sometimes temporary repairs are possible through refinishing, but from my experienced standpoint, if the money is available it would be more advisable to put the repair money into the purchase of a new bath because more than likely the repair will crack out again in the near future. If you have any reservations about refinishing, if you are a perfectionist to the extreme, then probably a new installation is the thing for you. Refinishing is good and it is amazing how great an old bath can become through refinishing. But, in an in-home environment, where you can’t control the bugs flying around, or dust floating in the air, minor imperfections are near impossible to avoid. In a factory environment where porcelain is melted to tubs or resin poured and converted into countertops, the environment can be controlled but even they most times have minor flaws in the surface. It is amazing how the microscopes and flashlights come out when ones tub is refinished in their home. It is equally amazing how these minor imperfections become an issue for the “picky.” Refinishing does work. Even the professional technician sometimes have a bad day and you may need to ask them to return to fix a run or a minor flaw or some roughness in the tub – stuff happens, but the professional will be right back to take care of it for you; another good reason to make sure you get a pro. Most professionals give a 5 years warranty of sorts. The new installation of a tub and walls is normally anywhere from $3000.00 on up. A refinish of the same costs around $600.00. Clean, Refinish or Replace. Those are the three choices one has when it comes to bath refurbishing. Refinishing nowadays really is a great and viable option, unlike the old days. The refinishing products just continue to get better and better and better, but the key to it working is getting it professionally done. Hopefully this article has given you some insight and will help you in your quest to make your home a better place to live – or to make it the better home to buy, in your neighborhood, when it comes time to sell.

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