Case Study: Automotive Service Garage

Do you own a busy automotive shop or manufacturing facility? Does it have 10, 20 or 50 years worth of grime on the walls and ceiling? Your techs possibly have to use several trouble lights just to get the job done? Maybe they even feel like they work in one big grease pit? It may be time to consider giving your shop a complete overhaul. And no, we’re not talking just slapping in a set of plugs and a filter (although we can do that). We’re talking “split the crankcase and start fresh” type of overhaul. But let me guess, just the mention of it gives you a big headache? There’s waaay to much stuff in the way. Pipes everywhere, hoses galore, tire balancers, tool boxes, hoists, the list is endless! Trying to convince your staff to get their hands in a paint bucket is an exercise in futility. You can see the pain written all over their face!

Well, its your lucky day! I am happy to inform you that here at R&H Painting, we specialize in taking care of your headaches. Big or small, we’ve probably already done so for dozens of other shops, just like yours!

In this blog post, I’ll detail what R & H  has done for other MN service shops, not only in the automotive world, but in manufacturing and several other facilities as well. Of course, each job has its own intricacies and challenges, but this will give you a good idea of what to expect. This project was completed over a long weekend, in late November.

Once the job has been sold and scheduled, its time for the production department to get active. This starts by having the Foreman or Project Manager get together with Sales, to gather a comprehensive understanding of the work to be performed. Then they will visit the job site, and come up with a detailed plan of attack specific to that job. Depending on the size and scope of the job, this can take an hour or two, or sometimes a week or more and several site visits. Here is an example of a Production Plan that I put together for a busy Ford service shop that we completely redid top to bottom a little over a year ago. This started with several pages of chicken scratch in my binder, and evolved into what you see here.

R & H Painting production plan. A picture of a piece of paper that lists all of the preparation and painting steps in chronological order, to ensure that the customer gets a fine quality paint job and it's completed on time.

Authentic Painting Production Plan. You can tell it spent a few days in someone’s pocket, complete with coffee stain and all.

R & H Painting Production Plan, page two, which lays out all of the steps to ensuring a top quality paint job for MN shop, factories, and facilities.

Page two of the Production Plan.

A copy of this will get handed out to everybody who is going to be working the job, ahead of time, so that they have a pretty good general understanding of how the process is going to work. This saves an incredible amount of time on the job, which is crucial in “shut down” jobs of this nature.  In addition, I will typically assign a name(s) to each given task, according to that individuals strengths, further increasing efficiency and finished product quality.


Before the job officially starts, some of the crew will be onsite hours ahead of time. We often help the customer with finding places to move equipment and toolboxes so that its out of the way. We are also good at hiding stuff in plain sight. Which means stacking stuff into piles, or storing underneath certain areas where we cannot get a scissor lift anyway. If the shop is too full, it may be worth getting some temporary storage containers outside, so that the bulk of the equipment can be moved out of the way, but still be protected from the elements. By the time its officially “go time,” the work area should look something like this.

A service shop in St. Cloud, MN that we painted in late 2014. Here you can see most of the equipment has been moved away from the walls and other areas that we need to access. The remaining equipment will get consolidated into piles and covered with tarps before painting begins.

Shop equipment out! You'll be able to see better in another picture down the page, but all of the mechanics tool boxes have been removed from the outside walls and put in storage rooms. What's left is in the process of being squeezed as tight as possible under the hoists, to make it easier to maneuver scissor lifts throughout the area for painting the ceiling. Also notice 4+ pallets of paint and sundries in the left corner.


Here you can see what the garage looked like before R & H Painting got started overhauling it. In this picture there are still some mechanics trying to button up last minute repairs just an hour or two before we got started. The walls are lined solid with tool boxes and workbenches. The walls used to be white, but over time have come to look like a large wall of grease.

Typical service shop lined with toolboxes and workbenches.

The general rule, is that anything not physically bolted to the floor or wall has to get removed, and if not removed, consolidated in some way shape or fashion. Every job is a little different, but the rule works quite well. It is often easier, safer, and more efficient to move the things that can be, than it is to spend days or weeks working around it, and protecting it from all the dirt, grime, and paint spray that's inevitably gonna start flying!

So to start with, the walls and ceiling looked like this.... as you can see, the upper portion of the walls were originally white, I'm guessing 20+ years ago. There are a ton of areas that the existing paint is peeling off, as well as the block generating what we call "blisters". In this case, it was due to a faulty roof that didn't get addressed until the water seeping through started to do this to the block. The roof had been repaired a few years before we started painting.

This is a close up picture of the existing paint failing. It is bubbling and peeling at the majority of the joints in the cinder block walls. Large deposits of efflorescence are clinging to the walls where the paint has already fallen off. These "salts" have to be neutralized with special detergents before painting.

Paint de-laminating and efflorescence showing through.

This picture shows from the same location as the picture above it. So far R & H Painting has removed all of the shop equipment, and covered the hoists and the floors. We had also pressure washed all of the walls by this point. This is shortly before the ceiling painting was to begin.

This picture is taken from the exact same vantage point as the picture above it. Only difference being, all of the techs are gone along with their tools! All of the concrete blisters removed and cleaned, ready for primer!

The white powdery substance you can see (left), is called efflorescence. It often happens when you get moisture buildup within the wall. Eventually the water pushes through the block to the surface, loosening the paint film and pushing these "salts" to the surface. Although generally harmless, it can cause issues with getting paint to stick, and getting an even sheen on the wall. It's all part of the process that we call "prep work."

Now here is where things start getting interesting. By this time if I remember correctly we had six to eight painters onsite. So in reality, there are going to be several things happening simultaneously, but for the sake of clarity here, we'll address them one at a time.

Once everything is moved out of the way as best as possible, its time for step 2. A couple guys take rolls of plastic and duct tape to cover all of the hoists and whatever equipment got stored underneath them. While they are working on that, another team (step 3) will be wrapping outlets, phone jacks, etc on the walls that need to be protected from falling debris that will result when someone starts attacking the concrete blisters.

In this particular situation, a determination was made on the fly (blisters a LOT worse than originally thought) that scraping the blisters off with a metal blade was not going to sufficiently prep the blisters for paint because after scraping, there was still a lot of fine granules left in the pockets sitting there loose, not a good painting surface. So we pulled out a couple pressure washers, and used them to speed up the removal process. We also treated (step 4) all areas of efflorescence with a special solution from Great Lakes Laboratories (No Rinse Prepaint Cleaner OR Extra Muscle cleaner, can't remember offhand) to neutralize the salts and help the paint bond better. It took several guys working on the ground with squeegees and brooms to get the water directed to the floor drains while catching the solids and putting in trash cans for removal.

A picture of an aging cinder block wall that has been thoroughly cleaned and dried and is now ready for paint. As you can see, in some areas the paint removal was 100%. There are also some spots where large pieces of mortar fell out and had to be patched back in. Depending on the severity, R & H Painting can handle these repairs, or sometimes may have to bring in another contractor if it is bad enough that entire blocks need to be replaced.

This is what the walls looked like after being thoroughly cleaned and dried.

Step 5 was worked on at the same time as the previous two, and was actually completed before we were done cleaning up the walls. Sometimes we use our own Ingersoll-Rand diesel powered air compressor, and sometimes the customer will supply the air, if they have a big enough compressor, and use 3/4" Chicago style fittings. This particular shop didn't really have any grease on the ceiling (more common in manufacturing) so we opted for the air lance, just mainly to blow down the cobwebs and any other dry dust that accumulates up there. Sometimes when this is done, it can be 1" deep on the floor! In this case it wasn't quite that much, and we got it swept up and vacuumed in no time.


Step 6 in this case had become obsolete for the most part, because it had already been worked into steps 3 and 4, based on my "field decision" earlier.

Step 7 was accomplished by using a paint sprayer to apply the cleaning solution, scrub vigorously with a car wash broom, and rinse it off using the same solution. The main purpose is to get rid of the thin film of oil that is commonly left on some duct work when it was originally manufactured, ensuring a good, solid bond of the paint.

Step 8 had mostly been completed at this point. It had been dealt with earlier, when we had already taken out the pressure washer for prepping the block exterior walls. There were a couple reasons why I had put this step in before, and as you could see, it was contingent on whether or not the customer wanted to add the floor cleaning to the contract. If we did add the floor cleaning, I was concerned that the use of high pressure hot water (via surface cleaner) could damage the paint at the bottom of the wall while we were cleaning the floors. This is NOT a jab at the type or quality of the paint being used. It is because the floor cleaning would end up (and did) taking place roughly 12-14 hours after the walls had been painted. The paint would be dry, but not cured (look for another blog post on dried vs. cured). Suffice it to say that most paints take at least a week to reach full cure strength.

Step 9 is really just an addition to all of the other washing and cleaning steps, but I like to add it as it's own item as it helps me easily distinguish how many people are going to be required to complete the steps. So hypothetically, if somebody gets started on Step 8 "as it was written", I automatically know that the next employee who walks up and asks "What to do next" gets Step 9. Which is essentially following the person pressure washing with a big floor squeegee, and keeping the water running where it is supposed to, without flooding out floor outlets etc.

Step 10 sounds really basic, and it is. But don't let basic undermine it's importance. It is one of a few steps in the puzzle that has the capability of making or breaking a job. I'll tell you why in a minute. Depending on the size of a facility, there can be anywhere from one single thermostat, to dozens of individual thermostats. The heating and cooling equipment can even be controlled from somewhere else in the facility, or even remotely through the internet. This is a crucial part that cannot be overlooked. I make sure that only one person is in charge of this (usually foreman), to prevent any possible confusion or miscommunication. Everybody else knows "Don't touch the thermostats!"

A picture of an infrared radiant tube heater and motor, that is completely wrapped in plastic by R & H Painting to make sure that absolutely no overspray comes into contact with it. We have often seen evidence of other contractors not masking over them at all. They obviously thought that as long as they don't get any paint on the bottom (where you can see) then they will be fine. I don't have any scientific evidence to support me, but I tend to think that any additional dust that gets on the unit will just end up decreasing its overall energy efficiency, not to mention it just looks bad (even if u need a ladder or a lift to see it). So we play it safe, and make sure they are totally protected from paint spray.

Radiant tube heater unplugged and masked off for painting. You can see why its imperative that it doesn't get turned on until it is unwrapped!

This steps [10] execution starts way back in the planning and site visit stage. I will take as much time as I need, to make sure I fully comprehend the function, controls, and location of any and all HVAC equipment. If memory serves me, I think I remember there being around 10 thermostats in this garage, as well as some fan controls being located in a separate attic of the building. Each thermostat controlled a different area of the shop, and was linked to a complex combination of hanging unit heaters and infrared tube heaters. So here's why this is so important! Any of these units being turned on (while they are wrapped tightly in plastic to keep paint off them) could cause some serious damage to the unit itself, or even trigger a fire by igniting the plastic/paper masking we wrapped them with. If it were to happen right in the middle of say, spraying the ceiling with solvent borne paint, well I probably wouldn't still be here to blog about it. So for this phase of the job, I personally went around cranked up the thermostats while double and triple checking that none of them had yet been masked off or tampered with. That, combined with a half dozen 48" fans set to high, made sure that everything would  be warm and dry come morning!


So long before the sun even rose, our crew was back at it. I started by doing the opposite of what I did the night before. I do my portion of Step 1 by going around and turning all the thermostats down to shut off the heaters. I then follow that up by physically unplugging the electricity (and shutting off and taping circuit breakers) at each unit location. That way I can be pretty confident the heaters won't turn on in the middle of masking or painting operations. The rest of the crew is all zipping around in scissor lifts as well, wrapping everything in the ceiling that is not supposed to get painted white! Just to name a handful, this consisted of unit heaters, infrared heaters, light fixtures, air hose reels, electric cord reels, some fabric duct work, overhead door openers, skylights, certain electrical boxes and the list goes on... Don't forget the sprinkler heads! We typically paint the piping white, but use aluminum foil to quickly "shrink" wrap the sprinkler heads themselves. It is important that you don't get any paint on them, as I have heard through the grapevine they won't work correctly in the event of a fire if you do. Haven't tried it myself!

After finishing Step 1 and having a lunch break, its time to tear into the next one (Step 2), which can be tricky at times. It is important that you do a meticulous job of covering the floor. Not only because the customer won't like paint on the floor, but for your own convenience as well. If you don't get the plastic spread out evenly and tightly, without wrinkles, your going to be very frustrated trying to drive a scissor lift across it once you start spraying the ceiling.

What invariably happens is that paint overspray settles to the floor via gravity (duh). Can't have any paint on the floor (duh). But that's only part of it. The other part was learned through trial and error, or what we sometimes affectionately refer to as "denial an error". Most bar joist ceilings get painted using some version of what is called Dry Fall. Theoretically, the paint is specially formulated so that the overspray dust will be dry by the time it falls to the floor below. Manufacturer claims vary, but usually say that it will dry in the neighborhood of 8-20 feet of free fall. Then once the job is done, you just sweep up the dust off of the floor, and voila the floor is clean! What they don't tell you can only be learned through experience. What really happens is that the overspray particles dry on the outside of themselves (usually) forming a sort of shell (like an egg) around what is still a wet particle inside. So if you just leave it alone, it will be fine, and will usually sweep up for the most part.

The nature of painting a ceiling though requires that you drive your lift back and forth all day. Criss-crossing through your own overspray on the floor. This is kind of like driving on eggs. The wheels on the lift break open the paint particles on the floor, and believe me when I tell you it is STICKY! If you have any slack at all in your  poly floor coverings, it will end up sticking to the wheels, and wrapping up in the axles of your lift. Not fun. By the time you realize whats happened, you probably already ripped a hole in the floor covering, and nicely painted a section of floor. Then you get to waste precious man hours cleaning up your mess, and digging and cutting 4 mil poly out of your axles. Suffice it to say, you can prevent this whole mess by doing a thorough job covering the floor, with all seams and edges of your poly securely fastened to the floor!

To finish out the day (Step 3), we usually get all of the paint pumps distributed to their respective area of the building along with a pallet or more of paint. Sometimes we'll even fill up the paint drum and get the pump primed so that in the morning we just literally grab the gun and go! I forgot to mention earlier, I usually will keep a heater or two going overnight just enough to keep the place warm, but pick the one(s) that are easiest to shut down and mask off tomorrow morning when the actual painting portion of the project begins.

During this time we also had one guy spray some small pieces of galvanized ceiling duct work with a conversion primer, as galvanized duct work is generally not compatible with Alkyd borne paint. At this point, we are finally ready to start painting, and the shop looks like this. 

This is a picture down the main center lane of the auto garage R & H painted in St. Cloud. You can see everything has been covered with plastic at this point and we are ready to start spraying the ceiling. The floor is completely covered with all seams securely fastened down using a combination of duct tape and 3m spray adhesive. The vehicle hoists, drill presses, tire balancer, and many more tools are stashed underneath the poly that is hanging over the hoists to keep the paint spray off them.

Here you can see everything masked and tarped off before we start painting. Radiant tube heaters run the long way down the building.


A picture of one of our painters wearing full protective equipment. Jobs like this tend to involve specialized coatings with plenty of "flavor". It is essential that proper precautions are taken to protect employees from exposure to these products. Spraying bar joist ceilings can be a messy job, and sometimes requires a fresh pair of safety glasses every hour or so. This guy here is equipped with steel toe boots, a DuPont spray suit, protective gloves, a respirator, a spray hood, and safety glasses.

Spray man is ready to start putting dryfall on the ceilings!!

Right away the "spray techs" start by getting suited up head to toe to keep the overspray off of themselves and fresh filters in their respirators.  This guy here is officially ready to go (Step 1)!

In this picture, we are just getting started spraying the ceiling with an alkyd based dryfall. The picture is of an R & H Painting employee in a scissor lift spraying a bar joist ceiling in St. Cloud, MN.

Here you can see one man just getting going spraying the ceiling with an alkyd based dryfall paint.


This picture is large shot down the center aisle of the service garage that R & H Painting painted over a long weekend. You can see three employees in scissor lifts still working. Most of the ceiling is now white, with only a few small areas left to coat. This probably is about an hours worth of work left to go on the bar joist ceiling. You can see that the poly on the floor now has a thick coat of overspray dust on it.

Here you can see the ceilings nearing completion. Still four guys in lifts with about an hour to go. It looks like the primer is on the wall to the left, and the guys were just starting priming the far wall at the time this picture was taken.

I think we had five guys spraying the ceiling on this one. Four of them were in scissor lifts and the fifth was in an electric articulating lift, just for the "hard to get at" spots, like over a four post truck lift. Two more painters followed closely behind spraying the first coat on the walls (Step 2). Another was on the ground, "keeping the pots full". It sounds simple, and it is for the most part. But with 7 people actively painting, you stay pretty busy. Hoses get snagged here and there, stuff needs to get moved periodically, an extension cord may come unplugged. The ground man could even be called a firefighter, because they're constantly running around "putting out fires."

Shortly after we completed spraying the ceiling, the walls were dry enough to put the finish coat on them. This was a two tone paint job so it started by having a couple painters go around spraying and backrolling a solid finish coat of white from about 7' off the floor up to the ceiling. The rest of the crew worked on unmasking everything in the ceiling, and getting some of the heaters turned back on.

This picture is of a Reznor hanging unit heater that we uncovered as soon as R & H finished painting the ceiling. All of the hoists etc are still wrapped. Getting these circulating heaters going right away is important to get the paint drying and keep production moving.

As soon as possible after ceiling painting, we use fans to blow out the fumes and then uncover and turn on a hanging unit heater like this one to help speed the drying process.


Morning starts with part of the crew taping off a straight line around the building which will separate the bottom gray paint from the upper part of the walls which are white. Right on their heels is a team of a sprayer and a backroller putting the paint on. Once both coats are on, everybody works together to get everything unmasked, swept, vacuumed and (most importantly) cleaner than we found it. As well as all of our painting equipment hauled out, usually back to the shop or to another job. The length of this paragraph doesn't do it justice. I think that we had 8 painters that Saturday, and it took us well over 12 hours to get everything tidied back up. That would be 96+ man hours right there. There is also plenty of time put in before and after each shift either at our shop, the job or in between.

Floor Cleaning

My floor cleaning plan was mostly laid out in a separate document at a later date. As I mentioned before, at the time of the original Production Plan, the floor cleaning was still "up in the air." I'll let the pictures do most of the talking here. More or less, we have come up with a pretty good system for taking old, dirty, greasy, floors and cleaning them. We use hot water high pressure washers and some detergent. We can also apply a floor sealer that will help keep the floors from absorbing spills in the future. Results can vary a bit, but are usually impressive to say the least.

Enjoy, Bryce

This picture is of me using the walk behind 24" surface cleaner to clean the grime and grease out of the aged concrete floor. You can clearly see the difference between where I have already cleaned and where I have yet to clean. It is hooked up to a Landa hot water pressure washer, which for this job I think we ran at about 180 degrees Fahrenheit. It is amazing how much better it cleans with hot water than cold. The detergent manufacturer states that every 18 degree increase in temperature, doubles cleaning effectiveness. We have found that to be true!

24" surface cleaner in action!

This is a picture of Greg using the 12" surface cleaner. This one is mounted to a regular pressure washer wand, making it easy to maneuver in tight spots, and to go over irregularities in the floor such as bolts that stick up a bit. It is also easier to get up tight to the walls without scratching the wall.

This 12" surface cleaner works good for getting around tight spots and over the bolts that hold the hoists down tight to the floor.



Another picture of R & H Painting in action with the 24" surface cleaner. The difference on the floor is even more striking once the floor is dry.







Another picture showing the effectiveness of the surface cleaning system. The portion that hasn't been cleaned yet is basically black wet greasy concrete. The area that the cleaner just went over is a bright gray, about as close to new as you can get without actually pouring a new floor!

As you can see, the surface cleaner, combined with some hot water and detergent, does a fantastic job of cleaning the greasy pores of the concrete.






This is an overview shot of the whole shop when we are nearing completion with the cleaning and sealing phase. R & H cleaned and sealed this 15,000 square foot facility in one day! The floor is nice and shiny, and will work great for shedding water and NOT absorbing oil like it used to.

Here you can see the floors cleaned and most of it sealed. We had to work it in sections while shuffling equipment and tools around. Once an area was dry, we would move equipment into it, and work on where the equipment was before.

concrete cleaning, cement cleaning, shop floor cleaning, surface cleaner

Before having the customer commit to having the floor cleaning done, we performed a small test patch in a lower traffic area. This is clean and dry, but not sealed.

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