Of all the tasks required for home maintenance or repair, painting may have the most bang for the buck. Nothing has the potential to change a room more than its color. Painting is a straightforward process that will yield great results. But like most things, the devil is in the details. With a few basic tools, anyone can paint their home, as long as they follow a few simple rules.
Start with Basic Painting Tools
The basic painting tool is a brush. A good-quality brush distributes an even coat of paint, won’t shed bristles into the paint, and with proper care, should last years. Nylon bristles are usually specified for acrylic paints, while natural bristles are meant for oil- or shellac-based finishes. Sizes range from 1-in. to 6-in. wide, but a 3 in.-wide brush will handle most tasks. Brushes with angled tips are good for controlling paint when cutting or for windows. After each use, brushes should be thoroughly cleaned with water (if used with latex paint) until no paint can be seen in the water runoff and hung from a nail to dry. Expect to pay between $10 and $20 for a good brush.
Paint rollers are used on walls, ceilings, and other large flat surfaces. The most common size roller pad is 9-in. long, and is available in a variety of nap-lengths, from 1/8-in. (for smooth surfaces) to 1/2-in. (for textured surfaces). The roller itself has a handle-end that’s threaded to accept an extension pole for reaching areas without a ladder. Roller pans, plastic or metal, should be deep enough to hold a fair amount of paint and still not spill when in use. For bigger jobs, you can buy a roller screen that hangs inside a 5-gal paint bucket. For tighter spaces like the inside of cabinets, you can use smaller 3-in rollers or the thin pencil-type pads.
Paint Prep is an Important Step
To create a long-lasting paint job, you have to prepare the surface before applying the paint. It doesn’t matter if it’s exterior or interior, walls, cabinets, or windows, the surface to be painted must be clean, smooth, and free of any loose paint.
Use a spray cleaner to wipe down baseboards and other trim to get rid of dust or mildew. If you’re painting walls, now is a good time to remove switch and outlet covers. Pay attention to kitchen cabinets that may have a residue of grease. If you’re going to paint the outside of the house, it’s a good idea to power-wash everything to clean up insects, loose paint, mold, etc. Any areas that have loose paint should be sanded with 120 grit paper – don’t forget to wear a dust mask. Previously painted trim should be scuffed up with sandpaper to increase the adhesion of the new paint. (Remember that any part of a house that was painted before the mid-1970’s probably has lead-based paint.
For more information on lead paint, go to the EPA’s website.) If you’re going to spray paint metal objects such as railings, sand off any rust first. Use a lightweight spackle to fill nail holes or divots in wood surfaces, then smooth these filled spots with a light sanding afterwards. (Wipe away the dust, too.) Cracks and seams should be filled with a paintable vinyl adhesive caulk. If you have old windows whose muntins need sanding, protect the perimeter of the panes with blue painter’s tape so they won’t get scratched by the sandpaper.
Tools for paint prep:
- Spray cleanser
- Putty knife
- Caulk gun
- Vinyl adhesive caulk
- 120 grit sandpaper
- Painter’s tape
- Paint scraper
Put on the Primer First
Primer paint is formulated to bond well a variety of surfaces, and create a smooth, uniform base that bonds well with finish coats. Some primers are designated for interior use only, while others are suitable for interior or exterior application.
Once you have the surfaces prepped, you should prime any bare wood, previously painted surfaces that are worn, and any surface that’s going to get a distinct change of color. When a dramatic change of color is planned, you can have the primer tinted to match the finish paint. If knots in bare wood or certain stains bleed through ordinary primer, you might resort to a stain-blocking primer.
Tools for priming:
- Acrylic (latex) primer
- Stain-blocking primer
- Painter’s tape
- Drop cloths
- Paint brush
- Roller pad
- Roller pan
Pick the Right Paint
These days, almost all house paint is water-based acrylic (latex). Unlike oil-based paint, acrylic paint contains no lead, cleans up with water, and has no volatile organic compounds (VOC) that release noxious fumes. Manufacturers specify whether the paint is meant for exterior or interior use. Paint is also made in different finishes. Flat dries to a dull finish and is commonly used for ceilings or walls.
At the other end of the spectrum, gloss has a shiny finish that’s often used in bathrooms because it’s easier to clean. In between the two, semi-gloss is commonly used on trim and cabinets. Satin is slightly duller than semi-gloss; eggshell has a bit more shine than flat. Manufacturer’s claims vary, but expect to cover approximately 250-400 sq. ft. with a gallon of paint. Good quality paint can cost between $30- $60 a gallon.
Having a handy organic vapor respirator is a good idea if you’re using spray enamel. These spray paint cans are handy for painting small objects or even touch-ups, but they contain large amounts of toxic VOC’s, so use them outdoors.
How to Paint a Room
Start by clearing the space so you have access to the walls, ceiling and trim. Cover the floor with drop cloths, and use painter’s tape to mask off anything you don’t want splattered with paint—flooring next to baseboards, etc. Unscrew electrical cover plates from outlet and switch boxes, and store plates and screws for reinstallation after painting. Prep all surfaces to be painted. Use a broom or vacuum to remove as much dust as possible.
If the ceiling is to be primed and painted, start there first. (Any drips or splatters that fall below will be covered up later.) Use a brush to paint a strip about 3-inches wide around the perimeter of the ceiling so that you won’t get paint on the walls when you start to roll. Now pour some paint into the roller pan, roll the pad back and forth in the paint until it’s completely covered, and begin to roll out the ceiling. Try to roll in one direction, and overlap each pass for better coverage. Use the same technique to prime the walls. If needed, use a brush to prime any trim.
For the finish coats, start again at the ceiling, cutting with a brush around the edges and rolling the interior. Repeat the process for the walls, cutting carefully so as not to get wall paint on the ceiling. After the walls are rolled out, paint the trim with long, even brush strokes to avoid lap marks. Doors and windows should be painted from the inside out—start with the interior panels (or muntins) and work your way out towards the edges, so that the last brush strokes on the vertical stiles smooth out any lap marks.
When painting built-ins or cabinets, it’s best to remove cabinet doors and all hardware, and paint doors separately. After cleaning all surfaces to be painted, start on the inside and work your way outward.. Sometimes it’s faster to roll out the paint first and then brush it out to remove the roller texture, a process called tipping.
Tools for painting a room
- Paint, brushes
- Roller pads and pans
- Drop cloths
- Roller extension
- Painter’s tape
From start to finish, painting is a time-consuming job. If you have the time and the desire, you can break down even a big painting job into manageable chunks that you can complete in a weekend. But if time is critical or the job too big, that’s the time to hire a pro.
Network with friends or ask for references at the local paint store to find a reputable painting contractor. Chances are you’ll end up with great results that last a long time.