What a difference a spray makes: Spray-on coatings appeal to homeowners seeking a low-maintenance exterior.
Credit: Courtesy of Permacoat What a difference a spray makes: Spray-on coatings appeal to homeowners seeking a low-maintenance exterior.

Permacoat of New England began offering customers a vinyl urethane-base spray-on siding product in 2003. The Marshfield, Mass., company expects sales from jobs using this coating to hit $3.5 million this year.

Permacoat's owner, Norm Blair, who has also owned a separate remodeling business for 18 years, is among a small but growing contingent of replacement contractors who are convinced that, given the option, some homeowners will choose — and be willing to pay for — a thick liquid coating that, they say, provides the same longevity and durability as siding made from vinyl, fiber cement, or steel while lending an appealing exterior appearance to a house.

“The product has explosive possibilities,” says Les Stone, president of Remodel America Corp., Memphis, Tenn. This spring, his company started offering an acrylic-base spray-on siding product made by Textured Coatings of America, a Panama City, Fla.–based supplier with more than 50 dealers nationwide.

When Stone began promoting that product on talk radio, his company sold six jobs in the first 60 days.

Concept Reinvented “Permanent coating” has been around since the 1960s. It's been used primarily in commercial applications. The product's share of the residential market is generally thought to be minuscule. That could change, though, as suppliers expand their contractor networks. Through late April, Vancouver-based Canadian Home Improvement Center (CHIC) had 22 dealers in North America (including Permacoat), compared to three a year earlier. Charlotte, N.C.–based Alvis is the largest of these organizations, with 78 dealers and 90 branches nationwide that last year collectively did about $25 million in installations.

Andy Lewis, Alvis' national marketing manager, says his company plans to have a dealer “in every major market” in the United States and Canada within 15 years.

Alvis and its competitors have their work cut out for them, as spray-on siding barely registers with most homeowners. “If you asked 1,000 people about spray-on siding, 950 wouldn't know about it,” says David Anton, who owns Alvis-affiliated Spray-On Siding in West Chicago, Ill. “It's a new idea for a lot of people, so there's no way to go but up.”

His company, which did $3 million in installations last year, expects to do $10 million in 2004 after having opened sales offices in St. Louis and Detroit and extending its territory to five Midwestern states.

Preserve Character Dealers and suppliers are targeting homeowners who are looking for an attractive, yet equally protective, alternative to conventional siding. “Except for the low maintenance, most homeowners would prefer paint to vinyl,” Blair says.

Anton adds that his customers want a product that can “preserve the character and quality of wood. I can sell them hard siding if they want it, but this is a better product.”

The strongest selling feature of these products is the promise to homeowners that they will never have to paint again, with warranties that back up those claims. Suppliers and dealers position the cost of their coatings' installation with “quality” vinyl siding jobs.

Lewis estimates that Alvis' installations average two and a half times what it would cost to hire a professional house painter. Stone says his jobs come in at around $450 per square, while Anton says he can complete a job for $9,300. (Cost is partly dictated by how much surface preparation is required.)

Richard Houar, the 70-year-old president of Am-Vi-Co, a Las Vegas-based supplier, suggests that external forces are pushing the market in a direction that favors this industry segment. As environmental regulations force paint manufacturers to water down their product, homeowners find they must paint their houses every couple of years. That, says Houar, makes the economics of permanent coating more palatable.

Buyer Skepticism But suppliers and dealers still encounter residual buyer skepticism from product failures, unscrupulous installers, and dubious sales pitches that gave permanent coating a black eye in the past. “The industry has lent itself to bad business practices,” says David Bender, VP of operations for CHIC, which has sold permanent coating since the late 1980s.

TexCote is the only supplier that says its product can help lower a home's energy bills.

Claims about energy savings got another supplier, the Procraft division of Tennessee-based Kryton, into hot water. Procraft marketed a product called Multi-Guard R-20, with a ceramic micro-sphere base that the company claimed was essentially the same substance used to cover the shell of the Space Shuttle. The Federal Trade Commission found Kryton's marketing to be deceptive, and on June 14, 2002, ordered the company to submit all future marketing materials, test results, and surveys to the commission for five years. Over the next two decades, Kryton must also send a copy of the order to any resellers it used since Jan. 1, 1999.

To separate themselves from Procraft's debacle, each supplier asserts the superiority of its coating by emphasizing differences in its chemical composition and drying thickness (which ranges from 10 to 16 mm). “There can only be one Cadillac,” proclaims Houar, whose 40 dealers apply a polyvinyl chloride-base “liquid vinyl siding” that's batched by ICI Paints.

Anton believes there's room for several products in a market that is just taking off. He also thinks some companies are squandering the opportunity to inform the public about their own products' benefits by sniping at competitors' perceived flaws. “They are shooting themselves in the foot and admiring their aim,” he says.