To coat or not to coat

Is adding a low-maintenance coating option a good idea for your business?
By Russell Slaybaugh
January 6, 2010
RETAIL : COATINGS AND FILMS

Hydrophobic Coating versus No Coating – The glass panel on the left has been treated with the hydrophobic coating Diamon-Fusion, causing the water to bead up. When tipped vertically, a portion of the water on the untreated panel at right would drip off, but much would stay on the glass, depositing its mineral content and creating “hard water” stains. The water bead on the treated left would quickly roll off the glass leaving little or no water to stain.

Low-maintenance glass coatings have been around for decades. Protective coatings have become more popular in the residential and commercial glass market during the last several years. Many claims and promises have been made about their benefits and capabilities, but how do you sort them all out? The best approach is to understand your business, ask the right questions and pay attention to the answers to determine if your business is ready to capitalize on this growing industry trend.

The basics
Coatings help protect all kinds of glass surfaces, from exterior windows to etched glass and even fine art glass. However, the group that is adopting the technology at the highest rate is the shower enclosure industry. The most significant reason for this is the fact that the typical shower enclosure endures exposure to hard water and body oils every day, making it more susceptible to staining than most other glass surfaces.

Consumers buy clear glass shower enclosures to enhance the beauty of their bathrooms. However, that beauty can quickly diminish as a result of soap scum and hard water stains. Once those stains are on the glass, they can be difficult, if not impossible, to remove, unless it is protected with a low-maintenance coating.

The market offers several different low-maintenance coatings. Most coatings fall in one of two categories:  hydrophobic, meaning they repel water, or hydrophilic, meaning they attract water. The developers of each will tell you their product is best, so let’s take a closer look at the differences and similarities.

Both types of coatings fill in the microscopic peaks and valleys present in virtually every glass surface, resulting in a smoother surface. That is where the similarity ends.

Hydrophobic coatings create a surface that repels water. Supporters claim that by repelling water and the minerals it carries, fewer drops can stick to and dry on the glass, resulting in fewer spots. When it comes time to clean the glass, those spots can’t stick as easily to the smooth surface and are easier to remove.

Hydrophilic coatings create a surface that attracts water. Supporters claim that by attracting water, it sheets off and carries away any loose materials. The remaining water that sticks to the glass is spread out, so it deposits the mineral content broadly, and staining isn’t immediately noticeable.

Proponents of both coatings agree on the main benefit they provide: Consumers have to clean less often to maintain the beauty of their glass shower enclosure. Coatings also create a more hygienic environment, because mold and mildew spores, and the water they need, can’t stick to the glass or are washed away. The lower cleaning requirement also is touted as environmentally-friendly. Shower enclosures treated with coatings need to be cleaned less often. As a result, fewer chemicals are washed down drains that ultimately lead to streams, lakes and oceans.

Choosing a coating and supplier
There are several factors to consider when choosing a coating and supplier.

Performance and longevity. “How long does it last?” is one of the most commonly asked questions. It is a critical question that can directly impact a customer’s overall satisfaction. As mentioned, lower-cost coatings won’t last as long. Longer-lasting coatings will be more expensive. You need to ask yourself how long you want to keep your customer and what kind of word-of-mouth you want for your business. “Going cheap” on anything can cost you much more in the long run.
Many coating suppliers provide a product warranty, so be sure to inquire about warranties when evaluating potential suppliers.

Cost per square foot. Yield will vary from coating to coating, so, it is important to understand how many square feet or inches a milliliter or ounce of the chemical will coat. You don’t want to end up buying a coating that costs half as much as other competitors only to discover you need five times as much to coat the same shower enclosure.

Labor and training requirements. A clear understanding of the coating requirements will save money in the long run. Can you do it in the field on installed glass, or only in your shop? If it’s not easy to apply in the field, you won’t be able to present the product to any of your customers with existing uncoated glass products. A coating that can be easily applied in the field also is repairable in the field, so, if a coating is damaged in some way, you can simply re-apply it instead of having to replace the entire panel. You also need to know how much training your staff will require to apply the coating. Field applicable or not, some coatings are simple to apply while others are more complex. Not understanding the difference can be the deciding factor on whether you make money on the job.

Cure time. Some coatings need time to set or cure. During this time, you cannot touch or move the coated glass. In some instances, the coating cannot come into contact with water for 24 hours. With thicker coatings, you have to be careful not to let shop dust get trapped in the coating. Unless you have a lot of extra shop space, and can afford to hold the inventory, cure times can create significant problems, especially as the amount of glass you treat increases.

Equipment requirements. Often, suppliers can sell you equipment that will reduce the amount of time and/or labor needed to apply the coating. Some coatings cannot be applied without special equipment. When evaluating coatings that require equipment, be sure to include the cost in your overall analysis. You can do so by projecting the total amount of glass you expect to coat with that piece of equipment over its useful life, and then dividing the price of that equipment by that amount of glass to determine how much per square foot that equipment will cost. Next, add that per-square-foot equipment cost to the per-square-foot price of the coating itself (based on the yield, mentioned earlier) to find the total cost per square foot to apply that coating. For a fair comparison to coatings that don’t need equipment, you should also add in your projected labor cost per square foot. You can do the same analysis on any optional equipment offered by a coating supplier to determine if it’s a good investment.

The bottom line
Now that you’ve determined your costs, figure out how much you’re going to make by adding this coating to your product offering. This is where fellow National Glass Association members can help. Ask around to see who is using which coating. Ask them why they made the choice they made. More importantly, ask them how the coating has benefited their business. In the majority of cases, whether they use it as a differentiator to grab more market share or as an add-on sale to increase their bottom line, you’ll find adding a coating has helped their business grow.

In the end, it is a business decision for each individual company. When you do your evaluation, remember that asking the right questions in advance can be the difference between a coating that increases your sales and margins, and a coating that results in a failed investment.

 

The author is general manager, Diamon-Fusion International, San Clemente, Calif. Write him at dfi@diamonfusion.com.

  • Key questions to ask

    Ask yourself the following important questions before talking with a coating supplier:
    • Am I going to be coating only the glass I sell or do I see potential for coating glass that is already installed?

    • Am I going to be coating a job here or there, or thousands of square feet each day or week?

    • How much shop space can I dedicate to the application process of the coating, and holding the glass, if necessary?