Stripping jobs: Know when to fold 'em
In the last several weeks, I have run across a number of specifications that to one degree or another required removal of existing paint or varnish from various substrates, a process commonly called “stripping” in the trade.
by Len Hijuelos
I’ve also noticed a couple of articles relating to stripping in various trade publications, so I thought this might be a good topic for discussion in this month’s issue.
Almost everybody that in any way teaches or does consulting work in the field of paint contracting will suggest that this particular procedure be handled on a T & M (time & material) basis, a CP (cost-plus) basis, or any basis other than a hard dollar bid. Why? Because the labor production rate, in particular, is so hard to quantify. In fact, the PDCA Cost & Estimating Manual (Volume II) suggests production factors of 15 square feet to 80 square feet per hour per application. That is quite a spread, but it is also very realistic, simply due to the nature of the work. The problem is that very rarely in a competitive bid situation does a contractor enjoy the benefit of being able to do this work for anything but a hard dollar price.
If a contractor has to prepare a hard dollar quote, it would certainly be smart and advantageous to do some sampling before attempting to put together a price. In order to develop a realistic price, it is best to do some sampling on as large an area as is practical and representative of the overall project. For instance, if doors are a part of the project, then, if at all possible, do a complete door. If ornate or intricately configured trim or millwork is part of the project, then, again, try to sample a representative area.
Part of the sampling process should, if at all possible, include trying several different types of strippers to determine which will be the most effective. There are many types of strippers (please note that I said types, not brands) on the market today that perform with varying degrees of efficiency, depending on the substrate and the finish. It is only smart to sample several different types.
Several years ago, our company did a rather large historic restoration job, of which stripping was a major part of the project. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to do as much sampling as we thought necessary. We ultimately ended up using four different strippers and procedures on various substrates and finishes. Due to the nature, the complexity and the size of the project, had we not been afforded the opportunity to do this extensive sampling, we would have passed on the project. As the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” goes, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”
The stripping itself is only one part of the overall procedure, and the overall procedure is what will determine the final pricing. For instance, masking and other protection of adjacent surfaces has to be considered. Handling of the items to be stripped must also be considered. In the case of doors, railings, cabinets, bookcases and other millwork, will it be more efficient to move them elsewhere before stripping them, and if so, what will the costs of handling and transportation be?
After stripping and before painting, most strippers will require neutralizing of some sort, another real cost that has to be considered. Neutralizing products and procedures vary from one product to another and should be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions, or most likely the new paint application will fail. Preparation of substrates after stripping, such as sanding, puttying and filling, is another cost factor to be considered. To a large extent these costs will be determined by the architect. What does he want to see in the finished product? Some architects will want to retain the look of an aged and worn substrate, while others will want the substrate to look like a new surface, which will probably involve extensive sanding and filling.
Another area of concern is lead. On older structures, one can be pretty certain that lead is present, unless the structure has already been stripped in the last 30 years or so. The presence of old lead paint opens up a whole new can of worms and forces a decision as to whether or not you, as the painting contractor, want to deal with this issue. Our company has a standing rule that if we suspect the presence of lead and no testing has previously been done, we add a disclaimer to our proposal suggesting the presence of lead and recommending that testing be done by a qualified and certified lab. If the presence of lead is evident, then our price for stripping is voided and the whole procedure is reevaluated. If this is not acceptable, then our proposal is withdrawn, a case of “knowing when to fold ’em.”