Interior & Exterior Painting

Interior & Exterior Painting

Understanding how to choose a house painter:

There is a huge difference in painters' ability, skill level, knowledge and professionalism. Often times people remark that painter "X" is expensive while painter "Y" is cheap.  Many times there is a reason for the prices painters charge; often the more expensive painter is the better painter. Inexpensive painters often don't know how to adequately factor in all their costs and usually price the job too low. When this happens, the customers pays the price because the painter has to rush off the job, will use low quality materials and/or will not return your phone calls or return to the job if there is a problem.

Call three competent painters: 

Don't call out ten different painters and get estimates from each one, that wastes everyone's time.  Know what type of painter you want before you call people out to your house.  If you want an inexpensive paint job, and you are willing to compromise on quality, tell the painters that.  If you want a high quality job and are willing to pay a fair price for it, tell the painters that also. Know what you want and be direct with the painters. This saves everyone's time.

Call the painters and interview them by phone first.  Listen as they speak to you.  If the painter doesn't sound right, don't invite him over for an estimate. Phone estimates are your first phase of information gathering.  Invite the painters who sound competent to your house for an on-site estimate.  Ask the painter to speak to a few of their past customers.  If they cannot supply these names for you, consider that.

Ask for a painter recommendation from your local paint store:

A great place to ask for painter recommendations is your local paint store. Paint store managers know their painters.  They know about the painter's professionalism, skill and quality level.  They see the quality products the painter buys and whether or not they pay their bills, if they show up at the store drunk or sober, if they are responsible, and if they know the painting trade.

Beware of using low-end paint from cheap painters:

Often, cheap painters use low-grade paints and products in people's homes and the customer has no way to check on this. This is unfortunate because the cost difference to the customer between the best and worst paints is only about $20 per galon.  A small price difference, but the difference in quality and how well it will last in your home is significant. Expect the cheap painter who low balls your bid to buy the cheapest paint.

Homeowners should have the painter specify the specific paint product they will be using. It is not enough for them to just specify the paint manufacturer. Every major paint brand makes several grades of paint ranging in quality from low to high.  Expensive paint costs more money but is worth it.  

You can buy the paint yourself but you don't have to:

Some people think that to get the best paint they have to buy it themselves. If you verify that the labels on the buckets match the store receipt, you can have the painter get the paint.  If you want to purchase the paint yourself, ask the painter to give you a bid for the labor portion of the job and materials separately.  Pay the painter for the labor only. The painter will tell you how much paint to get. Another advantage of this is that the paint store will typically track your purchase history and then can look it up for you years later when you need to touch-up. Don't count on your painter to keep track of this for you.

Just because your friend/neighbor got a "good" job , doesn't mean the painter is good:

Using a reference from a friend is the most common way of finding a painter. And while sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Your friend may not have had any problems or may not know of any problems they do have. It is fine to consider their recommendation, but make sure you check additional references and use your instincts.  Know the type of job you need.  Friends and neighbors think they know a good painter from an unskilled painter.  My experience has shown me that they don't a good painter from a bad one.  They form their opinion on one being a good painter based on if he was cheap and if the house looked clean when the painter finished. That isn't the way to determine quality house painting. 

Important questions to ask your house painter:    

1.  How many men will work at the house and for how many days?  2.  Is the painter licensed and insured?3.  How long has his painters been working with him? 4.  What brand of paint will be used?  What specific grade level of paint will be used?  All manufacturers have many grades of paint.  They run from high quality/expensive to low quality/inexpensive5.  What are the bathroom arrangements for the workers?6.  Will you be priming the surfaces before you paint?7.  How many coats will you be applying?  8.  Have you included everything in your estimate or could there be additional charges for work?9.  How will you dispose of the trash and old paint? 10.  What type of paint is currently on my house?  Will the new paint stick to it?  11.  How will you clean the house prior to painting?  12.  What are the payment arrangements? 13.  Is there anything else I haven't asked that you should tell me?   

 Interior Painting

Painting preserves and beautifies.  Painting your interior can liven up living spaces for very little money.  It's easy to do good interior painting by following simple but important steps in both preparing the work surface and painting it whether it is a room or a whole house.  

If you aren't planning to do the work yourself, do yourself a favor and hire a licensed painting contractor especially one accredited by PDCA's contractors college.  There are no guarantees offered, but your chances of getting a good job done by a reputable painting contractor are much better than hiring a cheap painter off the street or getting a recommendation from your buddy "Bob".    

Expert results in painting depend largely on the thoroughness of preparation work, especially pre-paint cleaning, crack filling and sealing.  All decorations, curtains, blinds, pictures, and other items nailed or screwed to the walls should be removed prior to the start of work.  Carefully remove plates from around wall switches and outlets.  Tape over them to protect them from paint.  Clean and dry the plates before replacing them. 

A professional appearing job generally (but not always) requires the removal of hardware from doors, windows and cabinets.  When moving and replacing appliances, it is best to have a trained appliance mover handle that.  If you plan to move them by yourself, check with the manfuacturer and follow their safety rules. 

Paint should never be applied to a dirty or greasy surface.  Dirt and grease must be washed off prior to the begining of the painting process.  Any glossy surfaces must be dulled to insure adhesion of the primer or paint.  Here are some of the first things you should do.  Note to DIY'ers.  The best person to accurately answer your paint questions is the Paint Store Manager.  In many paint stores, the guys working behind the counter know less than you do about painting a house.  I have seen some exceptions in well run stores that have knowledgeable staff, but in general, it is best to ask the Manager your questions. 

Painting it yourself:  

Step #1.  Examine the work area.  

You can save a considerable amount of time and effort if you configure your paint job intelligently.  Feel free to post any questions on the Q & A portion of this site.  Someone will get back to you with good painting advice.  Also, consider the items that will not be painted or changed such as upholstered furnitue, art, lighting fixtures, window treatments, carpets and floors.  Protect items not being painted from drips and spatters.  

Step #2:  Color selection, Color Scheme and Paint Sheen.

Be sure the color you choose for your walls, woodwork and ceilings will be compatible or complementary with the items that will not be painted or changed.  Select your general color or color scheme first, then pick up color cards from various paint manufacturers which often show color combinations and exact shades of the colors they suggest. 

Check the list of the paint companies with color visualizers and their links on our picking your colors page above. 

Once you have colors in mind, make draw down samples (paint the samples on an 8.5 x 11 piece of cardboard.  Take those samples to the room to be painted and look at them in the different lights of the day.  Once you are satisfied that you have the right color, you need to calculate how much paint you are going to need.  Overbuying paint is wasteful to the environment and your pocketbook.  The paint store manager should be able to help you figure out how much paint you need based on the square footage of your room.  Also, mention if you are going to be covering over deep colors or if you have a deep color to apply.  It takes more coats to cover and paint deep colors. 

Sheen is a personal preference, but there are guidelines that will help you choose the right sheen within an acceptable range for a given application. Bathrooms and Kitchens (walls, ceilings and woodwork) traditionally are painted with semi-gloss enamel.  Woodwork, windows, doors, and trim are also traditionally painted with semi-gloss enamel.  Ceilings in dry rooms (bedrooms, living room, dining room, etc.) are painted with flat paint.  Walls in dry rooms are traditionally painted with flat or satin finish.  Sheen is a function of the ingredients of the paint and certain properties are built in for a given application.

Step #3:  Surface Preparation

You are ready to go to the paint store.  In many areas of the country, expect to spend one to three hours at the paint store waiting to be served.  A time saving tip is to call the store first and tell the manager you are coming in to get paint.  Feel free to ask for personalized service.  It could save you hours. 

Bring your material checklist:  Ask the Paint Store for an in-house check list.  A check list will be found on the Products and Tools page.  For the best looking and lasting paint job, must make sure all surfaces are clean, cracks are filled or caulked.  Cracks within the same material are generally patched, cracks between dissimilar materials like wall and floor are generally caulked.    

Figure in plenty of time for painting preparation. Good preparation takes as long or longer than the acutal paint job.

Note the surfaces you’ll be painting, such as wood, wall board and paneling. Also note the condition they are in –previously painted or new surface. You need to know what types of paints and primers to buy.  There is a right paint and primer for almost every surface. 

Step #4  How Much Paint to Buy and What Type?

Repair damaged areas and caulk where needed.  Most homes have some gaps – between walls and floors, where molding meets walls, floors or ceilings or around door or window frames. Top quality 100% acrylic caulk is the best material to fill these gaps to achieve optimal aesthetics and minimize drafts that reduce your home’s energy efficiency.
Measure the room or rooms you’ll be painting, you don't have to be exact, just close.  Most regular sized bedrooms will take two galons just for the walls.  You want to buy slightly more than you need to ensure you’ll have enough and that you’ll have some left over for touch up.
Make sure to box all your colors.  It means that if you have three cans of the same color, empty and mix them all together in a bucket before you apply them to a wall.   No matter what kind of paint you choose, you’ll find a variety of prices and a wide range of quality. Lower quality paints cost less, but don’t let that fool you. You generally get more for your money, and a much better value, with a higher quality paint.

High Quality in Paint Means better product:
A good quality paint goes on faster, easier and gives better coverage.  Good hiding and flow means the paint will go on with less brushing and give an attractive uniform appearance.  For exterior work, the cost per year is lower with a top quality paint. If the surface is properly prepared and you use the right tools, you’ll need to repaint less often and there will be less maintenance. You probably won’t have mildew to remove, nor should you have to worry about chalking, cracking, etc.
For interior work, you should expect a top quality paint to last longer and give you more value. A quality paint resists dirt and staining better and stands up to repeated cleaning better than an "economy" paint.  High quality exterior paints have more durable pigments that resist chalking and fading better than lower quality paints and "bind" the pigment into a tough, continuous film and help the paint adhere to the surface.
Many top quality exterior latex paints are called "100% acrylic" and give maximum adhesion when wet for resistance to blistering and peeling and resistance to mildew and dirt.  Most manufacturers have a wide variety of paints from cheap to expensive.  Just because you are buying a "big name" paint doesn't mean you aren't buying their cheapest variety.  You have to ask what is the best paint.  Expect to pay between $30 -$60 per galon for the good stuff. 

Step #5  Painting

The trend in paint these days is to use water/latex or acrylic based paints.  Water based paints are now longer lasting and more durable thaning oil based paints.  Oil/solvent based paints are being phased out of use in the United States.  When possible, choose to use water based paints.  

Ladder Safety:

Here are some useful tips about ladders that apply to both interior and exterior use:

•Check your ladders before use. Make sure that the rungs are connected and free of dirt and paint buildup that could interfere with footing.

•When extending or retracting an extension ladder, pay close attention to what you are doing and hold the pulley rope firmly; if the rope is released, the upper section could drop on your fingers, arms or feet.

•Obey the "four contact" rule: When using an extension ladder, make sure that the tops of both rails make solid contact with walls, and that both legs make solid contact with the floor or ground.

•Never stand higher than the third-highest rung on a ladder. Make sure that the ladder reaches at least three feet higher than the highest level you need to stand.•Place foam protectors or wads of cloth on the tops of extension ladders, to prevent them from scratching the walls.

•On a A-frame stepladder, make sure the spreader bar is fully extended and locked in place.

•With a straight or extension ladder, make sure that the base is one foot away from the wall for every three feet of height.•Make sure your pockets are empty of knives, scissors or other pointed tools before climbing any ladder.

•When on the ladder, keep your hips between the rails for good balance.

•Do not push or pull too hard with a scraper or other tools while balanced on the ladder.

•Always wear rubber-soled or another type of non-slip shoe on a ladder.

Solvent Safety:

Non professionals should not attempt to paint or spray solvent based paint.  Occassionally, solvent products have to be used on a job.  Professional painting contractors should be familiar with handling solvent based products.  Ask them to make sure they are.  Everyone should, when spraying oil-based paint or any other solvent-based coating, make sure all sources of flame are extinguished, including cigarettes and pilot lights. 

Be sure to wear rubber gloves and work in a well-ventilated area when using any solvent-based product, such as oil-based paint, paint thinner, liquid sandpaper, de-glosser, or paint remover. Also, avoid mixing any of these products together; toxic fumes may result.

Rags and sandpaper used to clean up solvents should be spread out in the open to dry, then placed in a fireproof container. If left wet in a pile, they can and will spontaneously combust and cause a fire.  Working with solvent and rags is very dangerous.  Avoid using paints with solvents if possible.  If you are unsure if a paint has solvents, ask for an MSDS (material safety data sheet) sheet.  Among other things MSDS sheets provide detailed information on the paint and safety issues.  It is safest to stick with water based paints. 

Dealing with Lead in Paint:

Lead hasn't been used in American paint since 1978.  Houses painted before 1978 may contain lead.  Some states like New York and Ohio have the highest percentages of houses with lead.  If you are not sure if your work will release lead dust, test the surface prior to disturbing it. 


DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE PAINT IF YOU SUSPECT IT CONTAINS LEAD. This can cause an extreme health hazard. Lead paint was common until 1950, but was not outlawed in the U.S.A. until 1978. If you think you may have lead paint, contact the EPA hotline for information: 1-800-424-LEAD or visit

If you suspect the presence of old paint containing lead, do not sand the area. Contact a local Environmental Protection Agency office or health department for instructions on how to proceed. (Lead paint is most likely to be found in buildings that were build prior to 1978.)  Sources of Lead Paint: Lead carbonate was used prior to World War II. A white powder, it was used as a primary white pigment in oil-based paints. During the 1940's and early `50s, "white lead" was replaced by titanium dioxide (TiO2), which is more efficient in providing whiteness and hiding. In the early 1970s, the use of lead compounds began to be phased out. In 1978, legislation eliminated them altogether. All interior and exterior house paints and primers are now made without lead. Some buildings, especially those built before this legislation was enacted, may contain lead paint. These paints present potential health hazards, especially for infants, small children and pregnant women.

A booklet entitled "Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home" (Publication No. EPA 747-R-94-002) has been produced by the Environmental Protection Agency. It provides information concerning:

•Testing for the presence of lead paint. 

•Steps to take to minimize exposure to lead where lead-containing paint may be present. 

•Removal and in-place management of lead-containing paint.

Personal Protective Equipment

Painting isn't an inherently dangerous activity, but it's always best to follow good safety practices. Carelessness is the quickest way to get injured or into trouble when doing any project, and painting is no exception. Personal Protective Equipment: Good painting practice dictates that the skin, eyes, and lungs be protected at all times. This can be accomplished by purchasing GLOVES, SAFETY GOGGLES and a DUST MASK or RESPIRATOR. 

FABRIC OR LEATHER WORK GLOVES are necessary when scraping, wire-brushing, sanding and patching. Wear them at all times when working around splintered wood.

RUBBER GLOVES should be worn when working with bleach solution, paint thinners and removers and any type of acid.  Also wear them when cleaning painting equipment using paint thinner or mineral spirits. (NOTE: Be sure that the gloves are the kind of rubber that will not be softened when exposed to lacquer thinners or other harsh chemicals.)

EYE PROTECTION is recommended when wire-brushing, scraping, sanding or painting overhead. SAFETY GOGGLES are a must when handling acids, bleach or other chemicals.

It is also a good idea to wear a DUST MASK when sanding. And, if you are doing any painting with a sprayer, wear a MIST FILTER plus an ORGANIC VAPOR RESPIRATOR to avoid breathing paint spray into your lungs.

Finally, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing when painting.

Clean Up/Storage:

Brushes and Rollers

Latex Paint -The best practice is to clean your brushes and rollers after each use. If you have used latex paint, rinse your brush