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How to Hire A Painter

I never understand why people say “it’s just paint”, or “painting is easy”, that “you can just change it” or that “paint is cheap”, etc etc. People who say that must not have gone through the process of choosing colors, hiring painters, having your home covered in tarps and smelling like weird plastic for a week. True, painting is cheaper than moving, but it’s not inexpensive either. A good paint job takes time to accomplish and should last at least ten years, and if you are going to go through the above mentioned process, you want to be happy with the final result. The best way to achieve this? Educate yourself a bit on the painting process, determine what results you want to see, and learn how to communicate your needs effectively so that you and your painter are on the same page from day one.

How do you find a painter for starters? Ask for recommendations from people that you know and trust. Ask them what was the best thing and worse thing about the experience, and what they would have done differently had they the chance. Once you’ve narrowed down potential painters then set up individual walk throughs. The walk through is going to be the most important part of the process. Take time to do a thorough walk through. Trust me. This is where the communication comes into play and sets the tone for the whole process going forward.

Start with your walls. Are your walls drywall or plaster? If plaster, how much repair do they need? Do you want the painter to simply fill in cracks, or do you want him/her to smooth your walls so much that they look brand new? A level five drywall finish is when your walls look perfect. Do you need your plaster walls to look like drywall? Or do you want your plaster to retain some character? Decide what you’ll be happy with, and the quote you receive from the painter will reflect this.

Next, move on to millwork. Millwork refers to baseboards, crown, door casings, window trim, bead board, chair rail, any detail on your walls. Painting millwork is time consuming and therefore can add a lot to a painter’s quote. Sometimes it’s necessary to paint to get a finished look. Decide with your painter what millwork, if any, that you want painted.

You also need to discuss doors. A painter may paint your crown and baseboards but do not assume he/she is including doors. If they are in good shape, you may not need them painted. But if your millwork is getting painted, will your doors match? Will your painters paint both sides? And what about your closets? You need to specify if you want the inside of your closets painted. Most painters will not assume to paint the inside of closets unless asked.

Now on to ceilings. Ceilings that are in good shape and do not have signs of cracks or water damage don’t necessarily have to be painted. But if there is damage to them, will the painter fix it? If you have stucco or popcorn ceilings, will the painter paint them so that they look seamless with the rest of the ceiling?

Do you have kitchen or bathroom cabinets that you want to see painted? Cabinets, like millwork, require a different types of paint from wall paint. Make sure you understand the product that your painter is going to use on your cabinets, as well as the process to prepping and painting cabinets.

Now on to paint. There are many different types of paint out there and you need to educate yourself a bit on the types of paint because there can be big differences in cost. The most basic level of paint offers the minimum of coverage (called hide) and is generally used for commercial purposes, like landlords needing to repaint after a tenant leaves. Paint companies offer products up from here and they can range in coverage and VOCs (volatile organic compound) and specialty, such as moisture resistant paint, primer and paint in one, etc. You must specify with your painter which type paint you want to use because painters will usually buy the paint for you and include it in the overall cost. I don’t want to be alarmist here but I’ve heard of painters charging a client for a higher level product and then purchasing a cheaper paint and pocketing the difference. And the difference in cost can be significant. Imagine paying up front for ten gallons of paint at $50 a can but your painter then uses your deposit to buy $25 gallon paint and hopes you don’t notice the difference. To avoid this scenario, tell them you want to see the cans, and tell them that you want the cans left at your home when the job is done. Don’t assume they will – I have heard stories of painters taking cans purchased by one homeowner and using them on another job, all the while charging the second homeowner for the same can of paint!

Once your colors and the type of paint you want to use are chosen then you need to specify what sheen you want on your walls and millwork. Flat? Matte? Eggshell? Pearl?Satin? If you are not sure, pick up a sheen chart at your local paint store. You know how your home is used, not the painter. If you have lots of kids in high traffic areas, put a sheen on the wall that can be easily wiped off. If you hate the wet look on trim, make sure to tell your painter you want a more matte finish.

Compare quotes. You should get at least three detailed quotes from the painters and compare them, apples to apples, on what is to be painted and which product and whether paint and materials (drop cloths, brushes, etc) are included.

When will they work? 9-5? Do you want them in your home on the weekends? At night? Early in the morning? Specify when you want them in your home. Ask them how long the project will take. Will they call you if they can’t come that day?

Specify low VOC or no VOC paints if you want them. Most paints are low VOC these days, but not all, so make sure you are on the same page. Primers have VOCs in them, so make sure you know how much odor the primer will give off.

Educating yourself on the painting process will insure that you are 100% happy with the finished product. And believe me. Once the job is done, you’ll be happy you won’t have to repeat it for a long time.

What color should you paint your ceiling?

This is an old post but I got asked this a few times recently so thought I would repost for today.

The short answer? It always depends. Some decorators use the 8 foot rule: If your ceiling is less than 8 ft high, then paint it 2 tints lighter than the wall color. (Tint just means the color has more white in it and is therefore lighter. If it had more black in it, you’d say it was a shade darker).

If your ceiling height is more than 8 feet, paint it 2 shades darker than the walls.

Other decorators feel that painting a ceiling white always makes it feel lower than it is. I disagree with this. It’s true that when you break up the color  –  when the wall color is different from the ceiling color – your eye notices the change. But if the ceiling is lighter than the walls, and especially if it has a semi gloss finish to it, it actually looks more expansive and higher.  But you may need to play with this a bit,  because if your walls are really dark, then the change from dark (walls) to light (ceiling) is much more noticeable and therefore the ceiling appears closer.

Another trick to make that ceiling appear higher is to bring the ceiling color down the walls a bit: paint the same color on the ceiling a foot or so down onto the wall. This makes the ceiling appear taller than it is.

Painting a ceiling is definitely a personal choice. There really is no wrong answer. Just decide the effect you want and go from there.  As I always say, if you don’t like it, you can always paint it over!