A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

I though it looked like a Pollock

I asked my wife once if I could use my drop cloth for painting the house as an artwork for our house. She who must be obeyed was not amused. I attempted to point out the value of a work that imitated a Pollock, but it was not to be. I began thinking of a post about painting when I came across a card for the paint colors used at my last home, and I remembered a paint job from a house which I was inspecting that caused me some concern. Here are a few tips to making your paint job professional.

Paints are evolving. Different manufacturers are developing paints to meet a variety of needs and concerns. I have even seen a paint which is marketed for its environmental aspects. I have heard painters discuss differences in paints from manufacturers, but I find that most paint will work for you in a given application, meaning that you really do not need a specific paint unless you have a concern. Most home centers and hardware do a good job with the paint they provide, but some of the newer formulations, which report better results, will be found at paint stores, like Sherwin Williams. This store offers a new exterior paint which I believe has a polymer composition, that makes it longer lasting. For good results, I would plan on having a prime coat, and then my paint. Going to a store and asking for information on different paints is a good first step for finding a paint that suits you.

Paint comes in two basic formulations: oil and latex. With these bases, you can choose different finishes (flat (also called matte), flat enamel, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss), which is a determination of the surfaces reflectivity. Most homeowners may like the rich look of oil paint, but it is difficult to handle for those not used to working with this product. Latex is easier to clean; it emits less fumes when used; and current formulations provide great coloring. Use a latex primer and a latex top coat (do not mix oil and latex). The primer is a type of paint that creates a base for your color. It helps seal the surface, while giving the surface paint a good basis to adhere. Latex cleans up with water, and oil with paint thinner. Currently the trend among decorators seems to be towards flat finishes for the walls, and semi-gloss for the trim. You want the trim and walls to be different finishes to give the eye a visual cue to the surrounding space. A flat finish obviously reflects less light, and a gloss finish reflects the most. I suggest a semi-gloss paint for the walls, and a gloss paint for the trim. My reason is that gloss finishes are easier to clean than flat ones. With children running around my house, I have found this fact to be helpful when choosing a finish. Of the flat finishes, flat enamel is said to be easy to clean.

When choosing a color, take your time. That wall of sample colors is tempting, but you will have to live with your choice. Painting is a cheap way to give a room new life, but why do it twice. Take the color card samples home to see how that color looks in the light of the room. The light in the room plays a big part in how the color will look, so this step is important in finding the right tone. Most paint shops will now mix up a sample size of the paint color for you to place on your wall. This is a great way to see how the paint will look in an area. You can live with that spot for a week to see how it feels. Once you have your colors, I would create a reference card or board for the future. I take a stiff paper like card stock, but a board painted with the primer will suffice. Place a dab of paint about the size of your thumbnail on the paper, marking it with the formula code (found on the paint lid) and the room where you are using it. When you have to touch up the paint, or if you want to repaint, you can take this paper to the paint center to match the new paint to the old. Write down the room where you are using the paint, since you may use slightly different but similar colors in different rooms.

Preparing the walls is a big step in having a great finish. First remove all outlet covers, service panels, and fixtures/hangers from the walls. In a house that I was inspecting, I found that the painter had not taken this step for a service panel for a tub. When I was opening it, I had to use a knife to carefully cut around the panel, so I would not pull of the surrounding paint off of the walls. Light fixture housings should be easy enough to remove. You will never be able to adequately paint around them. Fill all holes with a proper filler. There is a filling compound for sheetrock walls, and use latex caulk for around windows or trim. There are other substances available, but they will not give you the same quality as you will obtain when using these compounds. Allow them to dry thoroughly. Use painters tape to cover the areas where you do not want the color to be. Painters tape will not pull dry paint off for the first few days, but it will create a stronger adhesion in time, so it will pull paint off after about three days on average. For best results, let the paint on the wall dry for a couple of days before taping it to paint the trim, so it will not pull that paint away from the wall. Drop cloths are cheap and worth it for preventing paint on floors and furniture. If you have wall paper on your walls, do not paint over them. I have seen products which claim that you do not have to remove the wall paper, and I have never seen them hold the wall paper in place. The adhesive for the wall paper will give away with so much moisture. There are various products used to remove wall paper, but all of them will require some effort on your part. Do not be tempted into painting over pieces of wall paper that did not come off with your first effort, since I have seen these peel away eventually. You could now do a surface treatment. I would suggest finding a book to explain those to you.

Once you have prepared the walls, use the primer. There are some primers which can handle difficult walls. These are walls that have stains from a previous water leak or some light mold, which you have cleaned off. Kilz is one of many brands of this type of primer. Choose your brushes and rollers well. Brushes and rollers are made for certain applications and paints. I think you should have at least three types of brushes to work with your rollers. Purchase a 4 inch flat brush for general coverage. Have a 2 inch flat brush for painting around or on trim, and use a 2 inch tapered brush to provide a clean line in corners and around trim. For rollers, you can find many styles, and some do provide you with effects on your wall. Rollers can be cleaned, but expect to use a few. Remember to clean brushes outside after you have stopped using them for the time. You do not want paint in your sink to cause problems there. These foam brushes are useful, but I find a brush better for painting a wall. Treat these foam brushes like your rollers: clean them, but be prepared to replace often. Give the paint a chance to dry between coats. I know that it is nice to get the job moving along, but this will help you provide the coverage you need for a good looking job. Generally, people say white paint only needs one coat, while color paints need two. I always plan on at least two coats, with the possibility of a third. I hardly ever do a third coat, but I have needed some times for difficult spots.

Paint service panels and outlet covers separately if you want them to be the same color. I have read some decorators who suggest never to paint these, but there are outlets or panels that I do not want to be noticeable. By painting them alone, I manage a better coverage. If you are not painting them, consider buying new ones for a fresh look. I like the wood outlet covers, which I paint to match the trim. I think they give a good look.

I hope this gave you some tips. This really is sort of common knowledge, but many people just do not take the time that the job needs to be done right, so that is my biggest piece of advice.


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