Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hardtop Project By The Numbers

The hardtop project is finally over.  It took far longer than we wanted with some frayed nerves along the way, but in the end we are proud of the work we have done.  We think it looks pretty darn good for a couple of first-time fiberglass builders.  So now I guess the one question left unanswered is how much did it end up costing us.

One of the reasons we did this project was to save a little money (it certainly wasn't to save a little time or aggravation). The goal was to come in well under the $15,000 (U.S.) that the next best option, a manufactured top, would have cost. So here is the breakdown as best I can figure it.  I imagine I forgot some minor thing, like a roll of paper towels or extra can of acetone, but this should be a pretty fair idea of the costs involved in the project.

The following is a list of suppliers for the parts and supplies as numbered in the cost table that follows.  Those suppliers are:
  1. Severn Yachting Center via Paxton Company, Norfolk VA.
  2. Kings Marine, Hayes, VA.
  3. Home Depot, Gloucester, VA.
  4. Lowe's, Gloucester, VA.
  5. Harbor Freight, Newport News, VA.
  6. Big Lots, Gloucester, VA.
  7. Philips Petroleum, Hayes, VA.
  8. K-Mart, Hampton, VA.
  9. Ollie's Bargain Outlet, Gloucester, VA.
  10. Ace Hardware, Hayes, VA.
  11. U.S. Composites, Online.
  12. Lee and Cates Glass, Brunswick, GA.
  13. D K Hardware, Online.
  14. York Bolt, Yorktown, VA.
  15. Kenseal Construction Products, Norfolk, VA.
  16. Bob Mayer (welder), Hayes, VA.
  17. Hampton Rubber, Hampton, VA.
(see which ones made the Better Marine list.)

Here are the costs for parts and supplies (all prices at time of project - latter half of 2015) and does not include standard tools that I already owned:

Divinycell 1" H80 foam sheet (48"x 96")41$230$920.00
1708 fiberglass 10yd roll41, 11$105$420.00
10oz Fiberglass cloth 25yd roll1111$135$135.00
Polyester Laminating Resin 5gal41$130$520.00
MEKP catalyst 8oz.21$12.21$24.42
West Epoxy Quart Kit.12$51.45$51.45
Clearcote Gelcoat white gallon - no wax41$78$312.00
Clearcote Gelcoat white gallon - waxed32$62$186.00
Collodial Silica Quart121$14.54$14.54
PVA Mold Release - Gallon11$23.85$23.85
Acrylic Tinted Window glass1512$0$0.00
Dow Corning 795 Window glazing sealant213, 15$18.77+
Closed cell foam gasket (window mount)110$2.99$2.99
Closed cell foam gasket (arch seal)23$3.99$7.98
PVC Fence post (wire chase channel)14$15.99$15.99
1" PVC Tubing (handrail) 10' length44$2.49$9.96
PVC Tubing 5' (fiberglass roll/holder)14$5.99$5.99
Stainless mounting bolts, nuts, washers for arch.11, 14$7.29$7.29
Rubber Gasket material (3ft x 1ft)117$7.82$7.82
Aluminum Fiberglass Laminating Roller 1" x 6"11$13.07$13.07
Miscellaneous mixing cups161$1.29$20.64
9" Paint Roller w/ adjustable handles36$5.99$17.97
4" Paint Roller16$3.99$3.99
9" x 1/4" nap Paint Roller covers53$4.37$21.85
4" Paint Roller cover 2 pack33$5.99$17.97
9" Loop Texture Roller23$6.49$12.98
Hole Saw Set14$19.99$19.99
Drywall sanders24$7.99$15.98
Miscellaneous Sandpaper/sanding discs-3.4-$40
Plastic Sheeting roll14$11.49$11.49
Paper Towels roll306$1$30.00
Nitrile rubber gloves (box of 100)45$7.99$31.96
10' shade canopy18$49.99$49.99
Wood for building table top/mold-4-$150
Folding Sawhorse35$12.99$38.97
Router Guide set15$15.99$15.99
500 watt Halogen Worklight & spare bulbs14$18.99$18.99
"BucketHead" shop vacuum13$21.97$21.97
Propane Space Heater13$99.99$49.997
Propane Refills (30#)337$25$75
Misc Tarps245$3.49$6.98
Line (for tying up tarps) 50' roll29$1.99$2.98
Misc Rags (package of 50)29$4.99$9.98
Stainless Steel Forward Supports316-$150.006
Hardware for mounting forward supports-1-$34.50
Grand Total (before tax)
$ 3703.00

1Originally planned to use much more of this fabric but used under 10 yards. 
2Was gifted 5 to 6 quarts more, total used to thicken resin and gelcoat was around a gallon worth. 
3Borrowed propane bottle from friend at marina. 
4Already owned most tarps, had 3 "free" tarps from Harbor Freight.
5Plexiglass was left over from salon window replacement.
6Traded old fabric bimini support, includes generous tip.
7Sold the space heater for half of what we paid for it after the project was complete.

Of course, parts are not the only part of the equation.  There is the time spent at a marina and boat-yard.  In our case, we were able to work out a price that included our monthly stay at the marina and our space in the yard.  It is hard to put a fixed price on this since it is hard to say how much time we might have spent in a marina versus on the hook if weren't tied to land for the project.  But my guess is we would have likely spent some time in a marina.  Given the daily or weekly rates at marinas are higher than the monthly rate, the marina portion of our stay is probably a wash.  So, if we attribute the portion we paid above their normal rate for the yard for 5 months, that comes to a total of  $625.

Then there is labor.  I needed equipment to lift and position the top in place on the boat. Naturally the marina wouldn't let me drive their dilapidated long forklift so there was one employee for that and two more that came along to help. Total cost for their labor and use of the forklift was $490.

So, the grand total to build our new hardtop: $4818.00

That's a savings of $10,182.  To put it in perspective though, the savings equates to earning $2036.40 a month.  Or the equivalent of an annual salary of $24,436.80. And that is for two people working full time.  We didn't actually keep track of the hours spent, but I know they were more than a 40 hour work weeks when the weather allowed.

But it isn't all about the money either.  There is a satisfaction that comes from doing something for yourself and gaining knowledge and skills along the way.  So we are glad we did the project, but having done it once, I doubt we would do it again.  I would be happy to provide answers to questions if you are reading this because you are contemplating taking on a project like this, I just don't think I'd want to invest that amount of time again to build another one. I'll leave you with one bit of advice if you are considering taking on a project like this: don't underestimate the impact of weather.  If at all possible, try to find an indoor project space.  Being able to control the temperature and protect the project from the elements will make it go much faster, and it will also be less frustrating and more comfortable too.

Well, I hope all these posts on the hardtop build were entertaining and informative.  I know we will enjoy having the top down the road.


  1. Fantastic story of the evolution of a marine project. Your detailing of this was a very interesting read and should prove quite helpful to any of those who are consider similar projects. I also really appreciate how you share both the good and bad and include references. Thanks!

    1. Glad you found it interesting/entertaining. You are quite welcome.