How NOT to Buy a Paint Booth
By Brandon Lowder, Vice President of Auto Refinish Sales, Global Finishing Solutions
As any article about paint booths is likely to tell you, purchasing a paint booth is no small investment. The right investment, though, can land you a booth perfectly suited to your shop’s needs and one that will likely serve you through most of your career. The wrong choice can lead to any number of problematic outcomes: overspray on vehicles and in your shop due to airflow issues, a booth not compliant with current laws, a health and safety hazard to your workers and shop, and even an expensive booth investment that will never repay itself. A great way to begin the process is to understand how not to buy a paint booth.
Make Your Own Booth
A quick internet search on homemade paint booths will lead you to countless discussion boards documenting how a trip to the local hardware store can yield everything you need to put together a booth for your shop. As easy and cheap as it may seem, these guides often ignore the logistical hurdles and safety concerns involved in constructing a paint booth.
Unlike buying a paint booth that has been carefully engineered for your needs and with your shop layout in mind, a homemade booth will likely not provide the correct airflow. There are a number of consequences of these airflow issues: overspray on the item being painted, overspray on anything or anyone else in the booth, and overspray on components of the homemade booth. Many of these components are likely not designed to handle these coatings and will then need to be replaced often or risk becoming nonfunctioning or hazardous to your shop.
In addition to airflow, and partially because of it, there are a lot of safety concerns involved with homemade paint booths. It is nearly impossible to get perfect containment with these booths and therefore, that harmful overspray is also being released into your shop, where workers less likely to be wearing protective equipment will be exposed to harmful chemicals. Many of these booths are also constructed using plywood, which, when soaked with overspray over time, become quite the fire hazard.
If, after all of that, you are still interested in a homemade paint booth, there is someone who may take issue: your fire marshall. Basically nothing about the homemade paint booth plans you find online would be code compliant. Depending on placement, many booth elements such as fans and light fixtures must be explosion-proof. There are also strict requirements about air velocity, UL-listed components, fire suppression systems and more that must be approved before you can start painting.
A homemade booth may seem desirable due to the low cost and its easy DIY nature, but the end result is not a true paint booth—it lacks proper airflow, proper parts and much of the safety assurances that come with investing in an actual engineered paint booth.
Get a Used Booth
Buying a used booth is an improvement on trying to cobble together your own, but there are still significant concerns you may have not considered. The price may initially seem low, but once you factor in the potential condition of the booth, lack of proper documentation, and the prices of teardown, shipping and assembly, it can quickly become an expensive, time-consuming situation.
Since the booth is used, you are at the mercy of the seller to know what condition it will be in. In addition to that, you won’t know what maintenance has been done on the booth, which is an especially important factor in the longevity of a paint booth. Ideally, if a used booth is well-maintained, it would be reasonable to expect to get a decade or two of use from it.
Depending on the former owner, documentation about the booth may be hard to come by. This includes items such as assembly instructions, booth manuals and replacement parts lists. All of this is needed for many reasons: putting the booth back together once it has torn down, ordering replacement parts and filters, and receiving the permits required to begin painting.
Assuming the booth was well taken care of and all of the documentation has been provided, the next hurdle is getting and assembling the booth. Even the most careful teardown and packing will likely lead to damaged and missing parts. Shipping is also not as straightforward as you’d think. Shipping a package via the post office is one thing, shipping a large crate or several crates on a truck is a whole different thing, and by no means cheap.
Once it arrives and you start assembling the booth, you will likely find that the used booth you purchased was designed with a different shop in mind and will require modifications or altering the workflow of your shop to make it work. If the floor of the shop the booth was originally installed in or the floor in your shop isn’t perfectly level, the alignment of the booth panels will be off, making installation nearly impossible. Unlevel flooring is a common issue, and for that reason, GFS’ Ultra® Booth line features floor track leveling to accommodate flooring differences and make installation easy and secure.
A used booth will alleviate many of the concerns brought up in making your own booth, but it can also come with significant costs: shipping, replacing missing or damaged parts and, most importantly, time. The cost alone of the amount of time spent figuring out how to reassemble the booth, get it up and running, and get the proper permits when or if anything ends up lost or not included with the booth should make a new booth seem like a steal.
Buy the Most Expensive Booth
On the opposite end of the spectrum is buying the most expensive booth thinking it will get you what you need. A salesman isn’t likely to fight you on it, but it is more than likely that you don’t need the booth with all the bells and whistles included. Chances are, you just need a booth with the right bell or whistle.
Top-of-the-line booths are packed full of features designed for high-production shops. But just as there is good reason a collision center would be interested in a premium airflow system option on a higher-end booth, there are reasons why a shop may not feel the need for options like a 4-wing entry door, dual-skin insulated panels and a sidewall observation window.
By simply selecting the most expensive booth on the market, you are shorting yourself the opportunity to optimize the booth for your shop’s needs while taking into account shop space and output. Having options provides shop owners a lot of flexibility in creating the exact booth for their operation. For some, this may mean an economy-level booth with some added options, while another may be best suited to a more premium booth with nothing added on.
How to Buy a Paint Booth
The truth of the matter is that even a no-frills booth will perform leaps and bounds better than a homemade or used booth. The price tag to make your own booth may sound great, but it comes at the cost of putting the health and safety of yourself and your workers in jeopardy. A used booth may then sound like the best of both worlds in getting an actual booth for a much lower price, but the reality is that the chances that it will be in good condition, have the proper documentation and survive both teardown and reassembly are basically nil. This means the price will increase significantly and the amount of time correcting these issues will as well.
On the other hand, there is no question that going all in on a premium booth will yield great results, but what if you could get similar results with a less expensive booth tailored to your operation?
Many paint booth manufacturers, such as GFS, sell through distribution so that a shop that needs a booth has a resource to guide them through the process to ensure they get the right booth and are saved from all of the hassle described above when buying a used one. With local representation, shops have a resource knowledgeable on local codes and regulations. Local distributors also assist in replacing parts and filters, as well as any service needs. Working with these experts, whether you are designing a new facility or buying a new booth for your established shop, will ensure you are paying for a booth that matches your expected shop output instead of one that won’t turn you a profit in the long run.
Take for example choosing booth airflow. In the early stages of a shop being planned, it would make sense and be cost effective to dig a pit for a booth to have downdraft airflow style. Alternatively, a shop in operation may want to elect for a semi-downdraft, side downdraft or crossdraft airflow style when it isn’t feasible or economical to install a pit. Even if it isn’t feasible to install a pit, a downdraft airflow booth can still be installed with the addition of a raised basement.
After selecting an airflow style, you can use the number of vehicles processed per week, your future anticipated needs and the layout of your shop to select the features and options best suited to your operation.GFS has designed booths in many configurations ranging from drive-thru style to side-loading booths in which vehicles are moved in on a track system.Within the booth, systems such as our AdvanceCure® and REVO Accelerated Curing Systems can greatly reduce the amount of time needed to cure or dry any type of coating, and a Controlled Airflow Ceiling can create more optimal lighting while creating an extra airflow zone within a booth.
This just scratches the surface of buying a paint booth but should give you an idea of where to begin. If you do it right the first time, your money will be well spent on a reliable, efficient paint booth and you will avoid the stress and wasted time involved in investing in a homemade or used one.