Secrets to a Successful Paint Job

Looking for a painting pro? Expert Barbara Jacobs offers 10 questions to ask before hiring.

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Barbara Jacobs, IACC, has been a professional color consultant and interior finishes specialist for more than 20 years.

As with most projects, preparation and experience in a painting project is a big part of the success. Painting is a project that many people tackle themselves, and many find that it is not as easy as they think. Consequently, many would-be painters end up turning to a professional. An experienced pro will notice things that most homeowners overlook (or choose to ignore), such as water damage, substrate weakness or damage, peeling paint, small cracks, lines from previous wallpaper and old paint layers. Identifying and fixing such problems are all part of a successful paint job.

So how do you find the painter for you? It’s always good to get references from people you know and to check out a prospective painter with your local Better Business Bureau. Of course, a written contract is essential. Its purpose is to make sure all parties understand the scope of work, with clear explanation and details about surfaces to be painted, preparation, methods of working, time schedules and payment procedures for the project. Equally important, a contract protects both you — the client — and the contractor. Reputable contractors will encourage the use of a written contract.

Before hiring a paint professional, ask a few key questions:

  1. How long have you been in business? Experienced painters may be more expensive but also more efficient.

  2. Do you work alone or with others? If using a crew, will the owner be available for questions, follow-up and supervision? Who you will be dealing with and whether or not the "boss" will be on the job or available can heavily influence your level of satisfaction and confidence.

  3. What brand of paint do you use? You may want to just take the painter's recommendation, but you should also feel comfortable discussing this and specifying the brand you want. Painters often suggest substituting name brands with "we can mix any color in any brand." Paint companies have base materials that differ, however, and this affects the outcome. If you have a preference, say so.

    With careful planning, your painting job will go smoothly and you'll enjoy beautiful results and a solid relationship with your team for future projects.

  4. How will you make repairs, such as treat mildew areas or fill holes and caulk seams?

  5. Do you plan to prime the walls under the color coat? General practice specifies two topcoats and, in many cases, a primer coat. Some topcoat colors require a tinted primer.

  6. Will you be sanding the walls for a smooth finish before painting? If so, how will you protect the rest of the home?

  7. How many topcoats do you recommend? What kind of paint will you use for ceilings and walls? In most cases flat finish paint is best for ceilings. The paint that is used for walls is often higher quality than "ceiling white," however, especially if a tint or stronger color is used.

  8. How do you deal with cleanup and conduct while on the job? It’s difficult to enjoy a new paint job if the dust from sanding is still on top of your ceiling lamps or if the painters eat on your new dining room set without asking permission.

  9. Are you comfortable working with a color or decorative-painting consultant? Many painters advertise that they do "faux painting" but this doesn’t make them specialists in decorative finishing; their repertoire and the materials they use may be limited. If they do decorative work, check out samples before hiring. If you’re going to be using a decorative finisher at the same time as the painters, determine your decorative finishes before asking for a quote from the painters; various finishing techniques can require different preparation work or materials, which might affect the cost of the paint job. Since professional quality in the base painting is essential as the foundation for high-quality results in decorative finishes, it’s important that your painter and decorative finisher be comfortable communicating regarding the kind of preparation necessary for the job.

  10. Do you carry liability insurance? If you are concerned, you can request a certificate of insurance from the painter’s insurance company. Any quality painting contractor will be happy to provide you with this document.

When you request estimates, make sure you ask for the same thing from each painter so that you can compare apples to apples. If someone has advice or recommendations for something a little different, ask that that be priced separately from the rest of the quote. While you want to get a fair price, don’t overnegotiate. "Nickel and diming" usually doesn’t end up saving money, it erodes client-painter respect, and it breeds resentment. If you really want a particular painter but can’t afford him or her, consider modifying the scope of your job so that you can use that person. Then as time goes on, you can return to that contractor for more work.

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