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Tape and Back Fill

This phrase can get you in trouble if you don’t know what it means.

Recently I was called out to a project because the homeowner was not satisfied with the quality of work from his current painter. These situations are never good, and I try to steer clear of them and not get involved when possible. This time though, I wasn’t aware of the situation before arriving on site for the estimate. During the meeting with the homeowner and his contractor I asked them to show me the problem so I could determine if it was something that could be fixed.

After looking at the room, the homeowner expressed that he felt the painters had done a poor quality job. To be honest, I was not sure what he was unhappy with! Then he pointed it out… the painter had done what the industry standards call “tape and backfill”. This process is fairly new to the industry and has been used for about 15 years.

There are a couple of reasons why professionals use the tape and backfill method. First, to fill in any gaps between wood trim and the wall surface. Second, to seal the tape down so paint doesn’t bleed under it onto the wood trim. And third, because you cannot get a straighter, cleaner line than tape and backfill produces.

So how does it work?

The painter tapes off the trim (after it has been painted) so just a small fraction of the wood will show along the edge nearest the wall. This gives the caulking something to adhere to. Next, a very small amount of caulking is applied to fill any spaces/cracks between the wall and trim, and to seal down the tape. Once the wall is finished, the tape is pulled revealing a straight line marking the edge where the wall meets the baseboard. Painters take special care to use as little caulking as possible because if they use too much, when they remove the tape, the caulking will strip off taking the paint with it.

That all sounds fine, right?

Well the problem with this project (and many like it) is that the seam between the wall and the trim had a gap, in some places as much as ¼ inch or more wide (see picture). That makes for a sizable gap to fill. Also, the wall color was orange, and the orange paint covered the caulking and appeared to be bleeding down the wall and onto the white trim. Because of such a large gap, it gave the illusion that paint was on the baseboards, when it fact, it was just on the caulking. Now this could be addressed, and that clean line moved back further towards the wall, but it would require a couple of extra steps.

A word on industry standards:

What the painter did was correct per the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PCDA) standards.

However, to give the customer the outcome they envisioned, here’s how this could be addressed…

First the gap between the wall and trim gets caulked, and is given adequate time to cure. Second, tape would be applied on the caulking up to the wall. Third, backfill the tape with caulking to seal the tape down (so paint doesn’t bleed under). Since there is an extra step, it will take more time and product and that equals more money. Plus, you’d have to be even more careful when pulling the tape after painting, so that it doesn’t pull out the caulking in the gap.

In conclusion, the painter did what is considered the industry standard, however the home owner had a different picture in mind. It is good to be informed and ask questions, but it is impossible to know what the other person is envisioning or expecting. The PCDA industry standards can be viewed here, or you can visit our FAQ page, where we explain painting terms and the practices we use each day in our business.