During 2014, I learned two valuable lessons from one project for a great client. We’ll call him Jeff. Jeff called and said he bought some 4×8 sheets of Formica laminate for his main bathroom walls upstairs. He decided it was too much of a do-it-yourself job so he wanted me to give him one of my free flat-fee quotes to install it. After all, I have the tools, the experience, etc, etc. I thought no problem- how hard could it be? After all, I’ve put Formica on cabinet counter tops before and it was fairly easy to do. Using contact cement, you just spread it evenly on the laminate and the wood counters and when it’s dry, you slap them together and that Formica would never ever move again. It shouldn’t be much different for walls, should it? Right. I never looked at the bathroom before I quoted, I just gave a flat price quote for one full day of labor, assuming that should suffice. Once I started the job, I discovered that the amount of cutting I had to do was about ten times more than I had thought. I had to cut out for lights, wall switches, mirrors and sink. Lesson one learned.
Then I also discovered that Jeff bought Type 1 adhesive for ceramic tiles to adhere the laminate to the walls. I told him I wasn’t sure about using ceramic tile adhesive because I had only used contact cement in the past. He assured me that the Lowe’s guy said it would work fine. I gave in and started the job. Right off the bat, we ran into our first problem. One of the Formica sheets was broken because of the way Lowes curled it up too tightly. So we used my truck to go to Lowe’s to get a replacement piece.
Once I was got started, I carefully cut the shapes I needed and started to apply them to the walls using the Type 1 adhesive. This is where lesson two becomes apparent. The cement did not stick properly to the laminate so some edges and areas had to be held in place by wood strips until the adhesive dried. I worked methodically around the room and got it all done. I actually performed the work in a few hours more than my original quote called for.
So the lessons learned were not going to be as bad as I thought and I was feeling pretty good about the project. That is, until a week later and at least 14 showers later (he has a son and they both shower in that bathroom daily) when I got a call from Jeff telling me that the Formica had developed a large bubble. I scheduled a visit the next day to see what the problem was. By the time I got there, more bubbles had erupted and there were now about 5 five major bubbles and one of the pieces above the vanity was starting to come down completely. This time I used my better judgment and brought contact cement with me to fix the bubbles as much as I could.
The section on a wall with a mirror, had to be completely removed and put back up using contact cement. The good news was that the mirror and the sides were already cut out so it simply was a matter of holding it for a few seconds using two people. The bad news was Jeff let his side slip and the piece broke in half so now we needed to go get yet another sheet from Lowes. To add insult to injury, Lowe’s was out of that design until a few days later so I had to come back for a third trip once they came in. I convinced Jeff to let me take down the piece above the sink completely and do it right using contact cement when I returned.
The following week, Lowe’s got the laminate sheets in to match and I went and picked up the two new sheets for him. I had to start fresh and re-cut both pieces and then install them (of course using contact cement this time). All in all, I wound up with 24 hours of labor plus six hours of driving back and for a quoted eight hours of work. Without exaggerating, I figured I made about minimum wage for this job!
To recap, the second lesson is never do something using the wrong adhesive, especially when you know better. My problem was I was not assertive enough with Jeff to tell him no. The good news for Jeff was I did not charge him a penny over my original quote. I’ve performed many more small projects for him since and I know him really well now. I can freely advise him and say no when it’s appropriate. I will also never install laminate on walls again and I will not be shy about telling a new client that what she wants is not right.
Jeff is a great client and I thank him for all the projects he has allowed me to perform.