Choosing A Refinisher


Anyone claim to be a refinisher, but there are few truly professional refinishers in the Honolulu area. As with anything, you may be tempted to price shop. However unlike buying a new TV, or even selecting a contractor to install new kitchen cabinets, the ramifications of a poor refinishing job can be disastrous and very expensive to fix. We get called often to fix failed refinishing jobs. Most of the time, the problem stems from inadequate preparation, but sometimes is also due to cheap pre-thinned chemicals used by many Honolulu area refinishers, and sometimes is the result of poor technique.

We recommend that you read our case study on how we recently fixed another refinisher’s work. CLICK HERE to read it.

First here are common problems with many refinishing jobs:

  1. Not enough coating is applied. In other words, it is too thin. Amazingly, many refinishers cheap out on the product and don’t put enough on. If the coating is too thin, it will fail.
  2. Not enough prep. The fixture wasn’t cleaned and prepped thoroughly. The new glaze won’t adhere for the long term if it wasn’t prepped correctly.
  3. Poor technique. There are major drips (runs), sags, and/or dry spots (orange peel).
If a job fails, it will cost more to redo the second time because the second refinisher must remove the first guy’s work, or work around it which can be tedious. People who choose the cheapest guy often end up paying the most. Sure, you can call the first guy back, but some guys just don’t have the know how, skill, or equipment to do the job right, and many times he has already gone out of business before you realize there is a problem.

Here are some questions to consider when selecting a refinisher:

ARE THEY BBB ACCREDITED? If not, they may not be in this business for the long haul. A warranty is only good if the business is still around to back it up. We were incorporated in 2002 and are BBB accredited with an A+ rating

ARE THEIR ONLINE REVIEWS FAVORABLE? Look at Yelp and Angie’s List, the two most reliable sources for contractor reviews. Look for LOTS of reviews, and a high rating. You want to see a track record of reviews going back years.

ARE THEY LOCAL? We’ve seen lots of mainlanders come and go in this business. Most pack up after a few years leaving their customers high and dry if there is a warranty issue. Remember, it doesn’t matter how long your warranty is if the company goes out of business. The owners of Oahu Tub are from Hawaii. We understand the culture. We’re not in danger of “going home” because we’re already home. We have nothing against mainlanders. We just feel it is wrong to abandon your warranty commitments.

IS YOUR TUB FIBERGLASS OR PREVIOUSLY REFINISHED? If so, the only way to prep it involves a thorough sanding. There will be dust. Lots of dust. Oahu Tub is the only company that utilizes near dustless sanding technology to minimize disturbance in your household.

DO THEY HAVE THE RIGHT PRODUCT OR SERVICE FOR YOUR APPLICATION? Most refinishers do only one thing: refinish bathtubs and tile. What if refinishing isn’t appropriate for your circumstance? There often are other options, and when we meet with you, we will discuss your needs to make sure the product and/or service you are purchasing is compatible with what you are using the fixture for.

HOW LONG HAVE THEY BEEN IN BUSINESS? Your technicians at Oahu Tub Experts have been delivering quality work for over ten years. Remember that your warranty is only as good as long as they’ve been in business. We recommend looking for a company that has been in business at least DOUBLE the warranty they offer. Remember, you can look up how long they’ve been in business at the BBB. Can’t find them listed at the BBB? That’s a huge red flag.

WHAT PRODUCT/MATERIALS DO THEY USE? As with any skilled trade, you are mostly paying for the expertise of the technician, and the cost of his equipment. The cost of the consumable materials is fairly negligible which is why it is surprising that most refinishers actually price shop when they purchase their chemicals and coatings. All our coatings are premium grade, and are not pre-thinned. Half our business is for commercial clients like hotels and owners of large apartment complexes. We carry a special and unique commercial-grade coating that will stand up to abuse yet looks great with a deep gloss and uniform shine.

HOW PROFESSIONAL IS THE REFINISHER? You know the saying, “A restaurant’s kitchen is as clean as their restroom.” The same applies to most professional tradesmen including refinishers. Unless you really feel 100% comfortable with your refinisher, you should meet them prior to them doing the work. Be very wary of any refinisher who will only give you a phone quote and has no interest in physically inspecting the fixture. Here’s some points to consider:

  • Are they dressed professionally, polite, well spoken and clean when they visit your home for the inspection?
  • Are they able to answer all your questions in a manner you understand?
  • Do they seem honest? Remember, if your bathtub isn’t that old and does not have structural damage, it may only need to be restored, not refinished.
  • Did they provide you with a professionally made business card, and marketing material?
  • Do they have a professional web site to help you through the decision making process?
  • Will they provide you with a written guarantee and care instructions?
  • Are they associated with professional trade organizations such as the Professional Bathtub Refinisher’s Association (PBRA)

IS THE PRICE TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE? As we touched on earlier, bathtub refinishing is not something you can price shop because the downside of getting a lousy job isn’t worth the few bucks you may save. Anybody can offer a “warranty” or “guarantee” but if they aren’t around to honor it, it is worthless. That brings us back to the previous topic about professionalism. A true professional is likely in it for the long haul, and will back his promises. Use your gut instinct when getting quotes. We price our services competitively. We aren’t the cheapest — because we are the best. But we aren’t the most expensive either.

IS THE REFINISHER INSURED? Very important. We can tell you that most Honolulu area bathtub refinishers are not insured. Accidents can happen to anyone and it may not even be the fault of the technician in your home. But you need to know that if anything happens while he is there, his insurance will cover everything.

WHERE DID THE REFINISHER RECEIVE HIS TRAINING? Our technicians were all professionally trained one-on-one by Mike Ripp in Chicago. Mike has over 30 years experience, and has been featured in This Old House magazine and on the DIY Network. Be careful of people who did not receive formal bathtub refinishing training.

HOW DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE REFINISHER? The best home service providers and contractors don’t heavily advertise. They don’t need to spend money on direct mail, newspaper ads, and yellow page ads. If you provide a good service in Hawaii, word of mouth alone will keep you busy.

DOES THE REFINISHER WORK OUT OF HIS HOUSE? Here’s another way to tell if you are dealing with a part timer or a fly-by-night operator. Google their listed business address and look for the street view. If they are operating out of a house, or out of a UPS Store type location this may be an indicator they may not be in it for the long haul. It is illegal to operate a business that uses hazardous chemicals from a residential location. We are based out of a commercially zoned warehouse.