When less is more

by Jim Williams

InPaint_May2017_FINAL_singles_Page_20_Image_0001We all understand how critical it is to maintain your professional reputation, and using an economy coating might seem counter-productive to that objective.

After all, explained Debbie Zimmer, director of the Paint Quality Institute (PQI), these are typically a lower-quality, inexpensive paint that doesn’t provide quite the performance or application benefits one might see with a top-of-the-line product. “Economy coatings often contain lower-quality raw materials or ingredients,” Zimmer said.

And when it comes to the makeup of paint, Zimmer is uniquely qualified to comment. PQI is the education arm of Dow Coating Materials, which is part of The Dow Chemical Company. “We don’t make paint, but instead invent, develop and manufacture raw materials that go into a paint can. We are the world’s largest supplier to the paint and coatings industry.”


As Zimmer can attest, coatings pretty much always fail the duck test: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Not so when it comes to economy coatings.

“Often, an economy product will not apply as smoothly or quickly as a quality paint, which can impact the professional painter’s labor cost,” Zimmer said.

“The paint may drip and sag during application and, especially with an exterior job, may peel, chip and flake—or exhibit poor fade resistance very quickly,” she said. “In addition, the finished job may not have the appearance or performance attributes that the home or building owner expects. This can certainly create issues for the painter in callbacks, complaints, etc.”

However, as Zimmer notes, there are some widely acceptable uses.

“Economy products have their place. They are often used in apartment complexes, college dorms, etc., where people move in and out often. Also, many tract home builders spec or encourage their use in new construction because they know the new homeowners plan to paint after moving in, either by hiring a contractor or as a DIY project.”

Robert Hahn agrees. He sees many practical applications for economy coatings. As a property manager with Latham, NY-based Empire Real Estate Management, LLC, he manages more than 550 properties.

“Every product has a purpose when you’re dealing with a large number of rental units,” Hahn said. “From an economics standpoint, economy paints are a good way to go. Some rental units have a high turnover rate and, of course, we like to give every tenant a fresh coat of paint when they move in. However, if our painters are using a higher-end paint, we would be wasting a lot of money. When you have a unit that is frequently turned over, you don’t want to be constantly covering up high-grade paint.”

On the flip side, Hahn has seen instances when an economy coating has been used and something of a higher grade should have been applied instead.

“Unfortunately, that happens in this business. You may have a tenant who is very clean, respectable, and takes very good care of their apartment, but they have a paint job that just doesn’t hold up over time. Having to go in and repaint the unit while the tenant still lives there is a very large hassle for them. Making their life harder is something we do not strive to do.”


Like Hahn, Eric Stalter feels economy coatings make good business sense under the right circumstances.

“I think economy coatings can be a great fit in the professional painter’s portfolio,” said Stalter, who owns Rock Solid Painting Co., LLC, in Mogadore, OH.

“I believe economy coatings sometimes become the standard ‘go-to’ rather than another option in the pro’s arsenal. The professional must use discretion in their application and usage. They have their proper time, place, application and usage.”

For his company, Stalter has found that economy paints can work well for investment or ‘flip’ properties, closets, low-traffic areas, and homes that are going onto the real estate market. Also, for new homes, apartments and price-sensitive customers, he said.

“Ultimately, you need to communicate with your customers and ask questions in order to find the proper and acceptable coating fit,” Stalter said. “What are their expectations? What are their needs? And what is their pricing threshold?”

Economy coatings are especially useful for adding a fresh, clean feel when used in homes entering the real estate market, in new homes, or apartments, Stalter said.

“These coatings can last for a while and, more than likely, will be covered again when the next owner purchases the property and adds their own decorative touches,” he said. “These coatings can have a shorter duration due to overall lack of scrubbability, washability, and a tendency to burnish and scuff easier. As a general statement, they tend not to hold up over an extended amount of time.”

Stalter said he’s seen where economy coatings have been used in the wrong areas; when a premium paint should have been used instead. “An example that is often seen is using economy coatings in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms. We feel that premium products will hold up better to moisture, humidity, and heavy foot traffic, and their performance is superior to economy coatings.”


Professional painters have an obligation to educate their customers on the differences, both pros and cons, of what they are getting.

“One thing the general public would probably find surprising is that unless you really know your stuff, the average tenant walking into a room probably would not be able to tell if it was a high-grade paint or an economy coating,” Hahn said.

For Hahn, he’s learned to ask questions about what works best. “For advice on which paint will give me a long-lasting application, I talk to painters in the field and ask them what they prefer; what works better for them, and what they like and dislike,” he said. “I am lucky enough to know a paint rep from Glidden/PPG Paints; I ask her questions several times a month about paint, new products, preparation and application.”

As a paint pro, Stalter says his company strives to set itself apart from other painting companies. And one of the ways he does that is by changing perceptions.

“I feel that the general public assumes that professional painters always use economy paints,” Stalter said. “For us, this doesn’t hold true. We pick and choose the battles in which we send in economy coatings for projects. They have their place in our profession, as another tool in the chest.”

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