What Makes a Quality Product?
As with most building products, fiberglass bathtubs and showers run the quality gamut, from cheap "builder grade" models which hold on just long enough for the loan to close, to top quality units with solid reinforcement and lustrous finishes which will last generations. Many will pay hundreds of dollars for an upscale faucet only to skimp on the fixture which contains hundreds of pounds of water and their person, and whose failure can result in nightmares of floor rot, costly water damage and major reconstruction. If you are a home buyer or contractor who values quality in the true sense of the term, here are some criteria for choosing well made fiberglass products.
How is it made?
The quality of any fiberglass reinforced bathtub or shower stall begins with the basic raw materials used to manufacture them; surface coat, polyester resin, fiberglass reinforcement and fillers. The raw materials themselves vary in quality from brand to brand, but in general all manufacturers of gel coated tubs and stalls use these basic materials. How well a product performs and its longevity depends to a large extent on the amount of these raw materials that are contained in the finished product, and the care with which they are applied.
Gelcoat, the smooth polish-able surface of the product, is a mixture of polyester resin, color pigments and fillers, which is sprayed onto a mold to a desired thickness. In the industry, surface thickness can range from 9 to 20 mils. The greater the thickness, the more durable, lustrous and long lasting the surface will be. ARP units are at the upper end of the thickness spectrum, using a minimum tolerance of 18 mils on all of their products. Gel coat's advantages are its warm to the touch, easy to clean, it is more slip resistant and less expensive than acrylic, and is easy to touch up and repair. If the thickness is substantial, gelcoat can be buffed to its original luster.
Acrylic is an alternative surface material to gel coat. It is typically supplied in sheet form, heated, and then vacuum formed around a mold, over which fiberglass and reinforcement is applied. Acrylic is a very smooth hard surface with very little porosity. Acrylic's advantages are its easy to clean and its very high luster. Disadvantages are that it is slicker when wet, very difficult to repair to original condition, it can be prone to delamination and is more expensive.
Also crucial to the quality of a bath enclosure is the reinforcement of the floor and walls. The ingredients that make up the body of the product are polyester resin, fillers (calcium carbonate, aluminum tri-hydrate, etc.), fiberglass, and structural reinforcement , such as wood or foam, for rigidity. The formula that a manufacturer uses in combining these raw materials has a definite effect on the quality and cost of their product.
Products with high filler content are more brittle, and have a tendency to crack during transporting, handling, and use. A certain amount of filler is required by building standards for fire retardation, but too much results in a considerably less durable product for the end user. It is not uncommon for some manufacturers to extend the resin component with fillers on a pound for pound basis to as high as 60 percent. High filler content will lower the manufacturer's cost per unit considerably. Although this may result in a slightly lower price to the ultimate consumer, be aware that the quality, and therefore the value, has been substantially diminished.
ARP uses the minimum amount of fillers necessary. Thus, ARP products retain their flexibility and are less prone to cracking in corners and floor panels.
Reinforcement of walls in ARP units is core-mat laminated between three layers of resin impregnated fiberglass. Some manufacturers substitute cheaper materials such as corrugated cardboard to lower the cost of the unit. Core-Mat is superior in its bonding capability with the resin meaning less air gaps between laminations. Cardboard will also breakdown when subjected to outdoor elements- a condition of storage at the building yard and in transit. The longer a unit stays outside the more chance of damage to the part.
Is the bottom fully supported?
One of the most common failures of fiberglass units occurs at the floor level where it meets the side of the tub. Most manufacturers' products skip the step of integrated floor support and rely on the installer to support and level the units on the job site, leaving it up to the plumber or contractor to ensure proper leveling, draining, and weight support considerations. Many times all it takes is one person setting foot in an unsupported unit to damage a unit’s floor with hairline fractures that show up as leaks and faults down the road.
Continuous beams of cast resin and 5/8" wood sheathing provide ample support and pre-leveling as shown by this undersides cross section of a typical ARP bathtub bottom.
For floor stability and ease of installation, ARP units come equipped with a self-leveling system. The bottoms are supported with either recycled resinous bars or poured urethane foam, giving each unit a continuous base between the unit bottom and the floor, for a long trouble-free life span. Though the extra effort results in extra cost to the unit, it’s simply redirected from the cost of the plumber having to perform a similar task onsite. It is more efficient and economical to pour these supports in the controlled conditions of a manufacturing facility. In fact, the time it takes a plumber or carpenter to install an ARP unit is actually reduced due to the pre-level feature. Thus a few dollars more at the buying stage can result in a more cost effective and satisfying end result.
Is it flexible or brittle?
A good quality fiberglass unit should feel solid in the floor, but forgiving in the sides without being brittle. A small amount of flex in the walls is acceptable and desired as it will conform to house settling and temperature differentials.
How easy is it to maintain?
Quality surface coats mean ease of maintenance. Gel coat, though more porous than acrylic, is easy to clean with appropriate nonabrasive cleansers. If the original thickness is ample, gelcoat may be buffed with polishing compound to regain its original luster.
Are there any blemishes in the finish?
An even shine and consistent color are marks of care and craftsmanship in the production and detailing phase. Inspect for blemishes like orange peel, pin hole bubbles, de-lamination between layers and air pockets beneath the surface, particularly on outside corners.
The True Value of Quality
ARP's Assurance of Craftsmanship
We also consider customer service our top priority. All our products are guaranteed for up to five years against factory defects, and because we are local, we offer quick turn around times on customer orders.ARP has long been noted for quality products and service. Likewise we are recognized for a higher priced product as well. However, by comparing ARP's products to others on the market, the difference in initial price is very small compared to the value you receive for your dollar. For example, on a 30+ year period, the difference is less than $1.50 per year, not accounting for repair costs that may be incurred with lesser quality units. This is why we encourage our customers to shop and compare. We know you'll find that ARP units not only meet the highest quality standards, but are a truly good value as well.