Paints & Coatings Resource Center

Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

March, 2004

Primer and Paint - Differences

Q. My contract calls for contractor to sand, prime and paint. It says: "Owner to provide paint" The contractor wants us to buy the primer too, but it only calls for us to provide paint. Are they correct? Or should they provide the primer? There is definitely a difference between primer and paint.

A. First, you must know that I am not a lawyer in any way, shape or form. Therefore, my opinions are strictly those of a technical person in the paints and coatings field.

Clearly, this is a case of semantics. To you a "paint" is the colorful topcoat which is applied over a previous coat, which you call a "primer." Most painters whom I have met use the words in the same manner as you do.

To me, a chemical engineer and coating consultant, "paint" is a generic word to describe a polymer coating that forms a thin film on a substrate for purposes of corrosion protection, substrate protection and/or decoration. If I were to hire a contractor to paint my house, I would talk about the "primer" and "topcoat", because to me the word "paint" is too generic. To the best of my knowledge there is no formal definition that says that "paint" is a decorative topcoat. You and I don't use the word "paint" in the same way.

To a non-painter, in your case the homeowner, a "paint" is anything that you, the contractor will apply over the walls and ceilings. The homeowner might not be aware of your terminology or mine. In any case, why would he/she want you to purchase the topcoat while he/she purchases the primer? To me it seems clear that your customer relies on you to go to your local paint store and purchase all the supplies you need to perform the job. That includes primer, topcoat, fillers, sand paper, drop cloths, etc.

Therefore, in my opinion the two of you have a different understanding of the terminology. If you were to take this matter to court the judge, who himself/herself is also a homeowner, might also not know that the two words can be used to have different meanings.

How to proceed? Perhaps you can point out the discrepancy to the homeowner and ask him/her to split the cost with you. You pay half for the primer and he/she pays the other half.

Good luck and please let me know how it turns out.

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