When it comes to transforming interior spaces, consumers have always thought of painting as low-hanging fruit — any weekend DIYer with a roller and a drop cloth thinks they can paint a room. But professional painters know better. From assessing and planning a job to prepping and painting, pro painters understand the value they add every step of the way.
We spoke to pro painters who offered some insider tips on how to work your way through a job.
Assess and Plan
On whatever surface you’ll be painting or staining, look at as-is conditions —nail pops, stress cracks, peeling paint, water and grease stains, or residual tobacco stains.
- Jay Emery, vice president of Fred Hamilton Contracting in Delmar, NY, says that his crew uses LED headlamps instead of looking for issues using the homeowner’s lighting and continues using them “all day, every day and on estimates.” Here’s why: Residential lighting can be a distraction by casting shadows; work flood lights, although bright, also can cast shadows, are hot, cumbersome and can be a tripping hazard, and the bulbs blow out. “With a headlight, anywhere I cast my eyes, there’s light in front of me with no shadows. And using one costs me just $1.50 a day for three AA batteries.”
- Keep a running checklist with three columns, suggests Joshua Voigt, president of Paintworx in the Seattle, WA, metro area: One column shows tools needed such as ladders, buckets, roller frames, drop cloths; one column lists sundries such as clean rags, white masking tape, denatured alcohol; and the third is for products such as putty, spackling, paint, stain-blocking primer.
- Take notes or document issues with a cell phone camera.
- As you plan out the job, don’t forget to include repair time in your estimate. And, count the number of doors, windows, linear feet of trim and whether it’s new or existing. “If it’s existing, you may not have to caulk everything,” Emery says. “But with new builds you might have to caulk all the trim and fill nail holes. Take that into account as far as pricing.”
- Consider labor and material costs, and a markup to cover overhead - things like insurance, warranty funds, marketing costs, any office staff salaries — to ensure you make a profit.
- “Estimating software is helpful,” Emery says, “as you can input the number of windows and doors as you consider square footage.”
Hit Reset on Walls
Removing imperfections at the start means being closer to perfection at the finish. (Note that if you’re working on homes built before 1978 there are, of course, likely to be lead paint issues, and you’ll need to have an RRP certification.) It’s good to hit the reset button on the walls with wallpaper removal, sanding and repairing.
- Wallpaper removal can eat up a lot of time. If the wallpaper isn’t coming off, it’s usually because there was non-strippable glue used or it was installed on an unprimed (unsized) wall. “If it’s on sheet rock, it will never come off,” Voigt says. It’s a dilemma. Most painters (and Benjamin Moore) do not recommend painting over it, but if you absolutely see no other way, you may have to paint over it. Voigt suggests the following method: prime it with an alkyd primer. In some cases you can’t use a water-base primer because the moisture will reactivate and loosen the glue and you’ll get bubbles. With an alkyd primer, the wallpaper won’t bubble, and you can texture it and paint over it. “Treat it like drywall. Skim coat it, make it smooth, and spray texture to match the rest of the walls, and nobody will know it’s got wallpaper underneath,” Voigt says. Doing it this way requires less labor and is, therefore, less costly than trying to chip away at the wallpaper.
- Emery uses a dustless HEPA filtration sanding system to sand out any imperfections or runs in old paint. He says he can’t even quantify the number of hours the system saves him. “It’s a game changer,” he says. “We don’t even need to put plastic over the furniture; it’s that efficient.”
- Use quick setting compound for patching and wall repairs. It dries fast and shrinks less than regular premixed joint compound does. “You’re able to patch and paint them within the same day, and sometimes you can get by with fewer coats of compound because it doesn’t shrink,” Emery says. This ultimately means faster production times.
- When priming, if you use a good enough paint, you don’t need to use a separate primer on repairs. Emery’s crew spot primes with the actual finish color itself. This saves time because you’re not putting white primer on the walls. “As long as you fully cover the repair, you don’t get any flashing thru your finish coats,” he says.
Keep It Natural With Stain
Sometimes clients want the wood to shine and choose stain over paint. You’ll need to clean and prep whatever you’re working on — trim, doors — just as with painting. Wet the wood first to find a light spot. “That might be glue and it won’t accept stain,” Voigt says. “You need to sand that off.” Keep in mind that the wood is inconsistent with some parts that are harder or denser than others and so will take the stain differently. In the less dense material, the pulp will soak up more stain.
Condition the wood prior to staining. Some pre-stain conditioners must dry before staining; others can be stained over while they’re wet. With an extremely soft wood such as fir or pine, you may not get a nice, even finish. Voigt suggests conditioning anything you’re going to stain regardless of the wood. “It’s so much work to fix one blotch that I don’t take a chance, and it’s inexpensive.”
Choose Your Paint Technique
When it comes to painting trim, built-ins, fireplaces, cabinet faces and other components, many consumers like the look that comes with spraying versus using a brush and roll technique. Spraying gives these architectural details a uniform, factory finish. But a quality product like Benjamin Moore’s ADVANCE®, flows and levels well with a brush giving a just-sprayed appearance with a bit less hassle.
It takes longer to spray because there’s more preparation involved with masking, setting up, and cleaning the sprayer, but it gives a better finish, Emery says. “We prefer to use Benjamin Moore’s Aura® Interior on trim and doors. It covers well and is durable and looks incredible whether brush and rolled or sprayed.”
If you have a shop space, it can be cost-effective (especially if a job is far away) to bring cabinet fronts to the shop to spray. There, you can control the climate and have the proper ventilation already set up. “To keep the dust down, we wet mop the shop’s concrete floor all day. It attracts the dust to stick to it and the floor dries out by the end of the day,” Voigt says.
Regardless of method, you’ll want to encourage clients to choose the best paint, says color consultant Amy Woolf, based in Northampton, MA. “Good paint makes a difference. It wears better, touches up better, and washes better. As a professional, you can help clients understand that if they choose the best paint, they will get the most mileage out of it. The difference in price for a $60 gallon of paint versus a $40 gallon of paint is pennies per square foot. Since clients are investing in you, the professional, wouldn’t they want to also invest in the best quality materials?”