Lessons Learned

Note: the following is a slightly modified version of a real letter from a homeowner to a painting contractor. The names have been changed.

The main lesson to be learned form this case has to do with the need for detailed specifications in every contract. No matter how well you know the contractor. And, if the contractor is a good friend, than having detailed specifications up front will help assure a continuation of the friendship. - George

Larry Latex Primer Painting Co.

Re: Painting at XYZ Street

Dear Larry:

I am writing to follow up our various conversations and to confirm our last conversation, which occurred on October 13.

As you know, I have had some strong objections to the quality of the painting you performed at our house over the past two weeks. Most serious is the problem with the paint applied to the upstairs bathroom. Within a couple of days after it was applied, I noticed that the paint was pealing up away from the tile above the bathtub (where the bathroom tile above the tub meets the painted wall) when the paint was moistened while I was taking a shower. When I scraped the paint on the wall with my fingernail or rubbed it hard with my finger, the paint in that area also came loose from the wall. The paint that had previously been used in that area, a semi-gloss, repelled water and withstood scrubbing to remove stains and mold for more than five years. The new paint, a satin latex, seemed to absorb water and was easily removed with only modest pressure.

I expressed my concern to you shortly after I discovered this problem, and then repeated my concerns several times. You initially explained that you had applied that type of paint to bathrooms in a number of houses, including your own, all without problems. You also suggested that the paint might need additional time to cure, after which it would adhere to the wall without pealing, even when rubbed. I relied on your statements and waited several more days to see it the situation would improve. It did not, and on October 13, I again raised the issue of whether a satin latex paint was the proper material for a bathroom. By this time you had completed all the painting you had undertaken to perform, and you asked me to pay you in full and rely on your warranty to repair any remaining problems. You assured me that if there were a problem with the paint, the manufacturer, the "Reliable Paint Co.", would stand behind its product and resolve any problems I was having.

Shortly after that conversation I called the "Reliable Paint Co." store and explained the situation. The "Reliable Paint Co." representative with whom I spoke immediately responded that a flat or satin latex paint should never be applied in a bathroom, especially one in an older home like ours. She told me that these types of latex paint absorb rather than repel water, which makes them unsuitable for bathrooms, especially in older houses that typically have poor bathroom ventilation. When they absorb water, these paints both loosen their bond to the surface upon which they have been applied and retain moisture long enough for mold to grow quite quickly. In addition, she told me that scrubbing a satin latex surface to remove mold would damage the satin surface, and that any scrubbed surface will take on an appearance different from any areas that have not been scrubbed.

The "Reliable Paint Co." representative also stated that the company produces two types of latex paint specially formulated for application to bathrooms, and that it has oil based paints that it recommends for these moist environments as well. These specially formulated latex paints have a smoother surface that seals against absorption of water, and they contain a special fungicide that fights the formation of mold. "Reliable Paint Co." guarantees its bathroom paint for five years.

I have also spoken with you about the problems with the appearance of a number of other areas that you painted, where holes, cracks, drips, lint, hair, scratches and other imperfections in the surface appear, or where there was incomplete coverage of the areas you painted. You have taken the position that most, if not all, of these problem areas were created by events that occurred in the past, whether from settling of the house, which caused cracks, or poor painting in the past, which may have caused drips, lint and streaks, or from various other causes. You have also spent some additional time repairing some, but by no means all, of the imperfections we identified.

I have tried to explain that we expected a first-rate paint job, which included sanding and filling of cracks, holes and drips in the surfaces to be painted. Indeed, in the bedroom upstairs, you went so far as to paint the walls three times to assure proper coverage. In addition, you filled several holes in the wall, then sanded, primed and painted them so that it is nearly impossible to tell they were ever there. It was this level of quality that we were expecting, though as you have pointed out, neither you nor we ever spelled out explicitly whether that quality of work was to be applied throughout the job, or just selectively, here and there. Our expectation was based on the fact that we received a very thorough repair and paint job when we hired you to paint the exterior of our home four years ago, and the fact that you seemed to be doing that quality of work when you started working on the small bedroom.

We have also raised the issue of the increased visibility of the imperfections in the trim with the paint store representative. You painted the trim with a semi-gloss, oil-based paint; it had previously been painted with an eggshell latex. The "Reliable Paint Co." representative told us that they commonly warn customers that applying a gloss or semi-gloss paint to trim in an old house usually makes any imperfections in the surface much more visible than they would be with a paint that is more flat. This means that a surface must be prepared very carefully before applying a new gloss or semi-gloss paint, because the reflective surface of the new paint will accentuate the underlying surface. You failed to inform us of this collateral effect of using a semi-gloss paint on the trim in the three rooms you painted, and we were extremely disappointed to see the many defects in the surfaces there after you finished painting. As you have pointed out, you did not "cause" many of these imperfections. Still, the paint you encouraged both of us to choose does in fact accentuate them. You focused on how much easier it would be to clean a semi-gloss surface than a more flat surface, but you failed to warn us of what became obvious after the paint was applied, i.e. that any underlying imperfections would be much more visible.

At this point, we know that we must repair the bathroom. The "Reliable Paint Co." representative has told us that the latex paint in the bathroom, having now absorbed water from our showers, must be removed. Otherwise, if we simply apply a sealer and an appropriate bathroom paint over it, the water in the underlying latex will cause bubbling.

In lengthy conversations with you over the tel