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Painting Contractors:

Learn the Basics of Contracting Your Painting

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Certain home improvement projects absolutely require a professional. I cannot think of many homeowners who are ready to install their own HVAC, pour a foundation, or build an addition. Other projects, like painting, just seem to be begging for the do-it-yourselfer. After all, who isn’t capable of dabbing a brush in paint?

But painting is more difficult than it looks. So, it is with great pleasure that many DIY painters decide that it is now time to hire a painting contractor to take on the job. Let us find out what painting contractors do, how to hire them, and how to negotiate the best price for your painting job.

What is a Painting Contractor?

A painting contractor can work as a sub, or sub-contractor, under a general contractor, or can hire itself out directly to the homeowner. Usually, the painting contractor is a relatively small operation, ranging from the one-man sole proprietor up to 20 or 30 painters working for a small company.

How Do You Find a Painting Contractor? It’s Difficult…

Painting contractors tend to be local (as of yet, there are no nationally franchised paint contractors). While paint contractors concentrate on painting, some perform associated tasks such as plaster repairs, minor drywall work, trim and molding, and wallpapering.

The other difficult part is getting a painting contractor to show up. While this generalization does not apply to every painter, personally I am extremely grateful if I can get a paint contractor to show up to look at the house and to later produce a written estimate. I hardly fault the painting contractors, because I think it is a combination of the contractors being smaller operations along with a high demand for their work.

Because it is next to impossible to find out information about local painting contractors on the Internet, the old adage “talk to neighbors” applies here. Some painting contractors display signs on the lawns of houses they are working on, but you find this more with general contractors and siding and replacement windows companies. So, other than the painter’s white panel van out front, you often do not know what is going on inside your neighbors’ houses.

Urban areas often have local magazines (i.e., in Seattle, there is Seattle Magazine), and many of them have features on renovated houses. These pieces will list the names and phone numbers for the contractor and sub-contractors—but be warned, these sub-contractors are usually very high-end and expensive.

What Will a Painting Contractor Do?

Most painting contractors will take on any kind of job, from merely painting your window trim to a full-house paint job. But let us assume that they are painting your interior. You can usually expect:
  1. Coverage of all areas that will not be painted, including floors, windows, kitchen counters, cabinets, etc.
  2. Minor surface preparation prior to painting, which means light sanding and scraping away loose paint, tapping in a few protruding nails, cleaning off woodwork, using tackcloth in some areas. The key here is “minor,” as the contractor will assume that the house is mostly in paint-ready condition.
  3. Removal of electrical plates, lights, doors, and other obstacles.
  4. Moving furniture away for better access to the areas to be painted. This is not really a painter’s job, so you would need to confirm this beforehand.
  5. Priming new drywall or the current paint with an interior latex primer.
  6. Two color coats of interior latex paint on the walls.
  7. Two coats of ceiling paint.
  8. Painting the trim and molding (baseboards, window trim, window mutins, etc.).
  9. Touchups of missed spots.
  10. Cleanups for accidents (no matter how good the coverage with drop-cloths, some drips will happen).
  11. A final evaluation between painting foreman and homeowner.

How to Talk to the Painting Contractor

Unlike conversing with an electrician, you do not need to know specialized lingo. Most house painting contractors are good at making things clear to the homeowner.

A few topics you will want to discuss:
  • Is the cost of the paint included in the estimate?
  • What type of paint does the contractor intend on using?
  • How many coats will be laid down?
  • How does he intend on covering the non-paintable areas?
  • How long does he expect the job to take?
  • Is it preferable for the residents to vacate the house during the job?
  • Will he use masking tape around the trim or the cut-in method?

How Much Will the Paint Job Cost?

More than you expect. Some painting contractors will have formulas that they use, totaling up square footage of walls and ceilings, along with linear footage of trim. They will calculate preparation time, as well as the “hard costs” for primer and paint.

Most paint contractors will give you an estimate based on their experience with similar jobs. While this estimate cannot be tied to specifics, it is usually a reasonably good figure. For you, the homeowner, the only way you will know if this is a good estimate is to compare it to quotes you get from other contractors.

A whole-house interior paint job like the one described in this article can easily cost around $10,000 or more.

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