A post about painting

When Mike got laid off in December, we decided we needed to move. But in order to move, we needed to sell the house.

Colorado Springs is a pretty city with nice people, clean air and no traffic, and it’s close to nature and camping and fishing. But the political climate is ultra ultra conservative, which is not our thing at all. Plus, there are no jobs. I might have been able to eke out a living doing restaurant and real estate photography, but since the wars overseas are pretty much over, my glamour photography business is over, too. We need to be in a bigger city where I can find more clients and Mike can have access to more job opportunities.

Since we bought the house in fixer-upper condition, we had to get to the fixing up. We started with painting.

The whole house had been painted apartment white, the walls, the moldings, the doors, windows, cabinets, hardware. All of it. The same color. We wanted to freshen it up and give it a custom paint job.

The bathroom paint

You can see that whoever had this place before us painted the entire thing off-white. Not sure why anyone would do this, since it really doesn't make anything look better. To freshen it up, we chose a light blue for the wall above the trim and installed some beadboard, which was painted to match the trim. Don't be lazy: Remove the toilet tank and paint behind it.

So yea, this post is about painting and what we learned along the way.

  • Prep. I know you’ve heard it before, everyone has. Prep is 80% of a good paint job! Honestly, prep is 80% of life, isn’t it? It’s the most tedious part of the job, which is why so many people (us included) tend to half-ass it. But I can tell you, there really was a huge difference between the times we properly prepped and the times we didn’t.
    • Move everything out of the space you’re working in. Yes, everything. If it can’t be moved then cover it with a dropcloth or two. If you really want to do a good job, tape the dropcloth down so you aren’t always tripping over it. There will be drips and drops, there will be accidents. Someone (who will remain nameless) will probably knock over an  entire cup of paint at some point. Also, you will have a lot more room to move around and not have to be so careful to not knock things over if they’re out of the room.
    • Remove the hardware. All of it. Hinges, handles, doorplates, doorknobs. There’s a special place in hell for people who paint over hardware. Don’t do it. Cleaning all the old paint off the hardware is kind of time-consuming, but it’s easy.

      Hinge painted over

      People who paint over hinges don't deserve hinges. Also, either replace all the screws or don't replace any. Seriously, previous homeowner, what were you thinking?

    • Cover the floors. Yikes, I know, that’s a lot of work, plus you’ll probably have to spend a bunch of money on dropcloths or floor paper and tape. But if you don’t, you’ll get paint on the floor. You will. You just will. Then later when the rest of your house looks awesome you’ll be on your hands and knees scrubbing the dried-on paint spatter that you got all over the floor when you were painting all those weeks ago. D’oh!
    • Decide if you’re going to paint just the walls, or the walls and trim, or everything including windows, doors, ceiling.
    • Figure out how much sanding, spackling, and patching you want to do: It depends on what condition everything is in and how perfect you want it to look in the end. The more fixing you do, the better it will probably look, but there is a point of diminishing returns.

We patched holes and cracks in the walls and ceiling and lightly sanded the trim. But Mike did a ton of sanding, scraping and patching on the doors because they were in pretty bad shape. Now is when I am probably supposed to tell you to be careful about breathing in any lead-based paint dust and blah blah blah. Just use some sense and don’t be breathing in dust of any kind. Also, don’t lick it, either. Since our house is 100 years old, the walls and ceiling are mostly plaster, which is a huge pain to deal with. For significant cracks, gaps, etc., we used plaster patching compound, which works just like regular spackle.

Clean and sand. Sand and clean. On doors, we used wood putty to fill in any gouges or other trouble spots. And again, sand and clean, clean and sand. (We sometimes caulked after we painted, which worked fine because our trim color was the exact color as the caulk, LOL, YMMV.)

    • Decide whether you need primer:  We did one whole room with water-based primer and it didn’t seem to make much difference as far as coverage (we still had to do two coats of paint, or at least touch up a second coat in that room as well as the rest of the house) so for the rest of the house we skipped the full primering. But in the areas we patched we did use oil-based primer (at this point we also stopped using water based primer at all- the oil based stuff isn’t as stinky as I thought it would be, it goes on easily, and it covers so many more problems than water based does) so that the wall paint would go on better and the result would be more even. The patching materials are sometimes porous and won’t look the same as the rest of the wall if you don’t use a good oil-based primer before painting.

If you’re painting over raw drywall or plaster or wood, use some primer. Also, if you suspect there has ever been water damage go ahead and use some oil -based primer. We painted one whole section of our hallway without using primer, and a few days later noticed there was some old water staining coming through the paint — even if a leak has long been repaired, like ours, the water staining still comes through the paint for some reason. We primered it with oil-based primer and painted it again and it was fine. But we were lucky it was only in one small area.

If you’re painting a dark color you will need several coats of paint, you can just go ahead and use a tinted primer as one of those coats. It can’t hurt and might make the paint go on better, depending on the condition of your walls. Finally, if you’re painting regular latex paint over oil-based paint, you’ll need to primer. You can tell if it’s oil or latex by rubbing a cottonball soaked in rubbing alcohol over a small section. If the paint comes off onto the cottonball, it’s latex and you don’t need primer, if it doesn’t, it’s probably oil and you should primer first. Latex doesn’t like to be put over oil paint and will eventually flake off and do other strange things.

Painters coveralls

Somehow, paint gets everywhere. Everywhere. Hair, arms, eyes, floor. You think, I don't need to change my clothes because I'm just going to touch up this one little spot. In 10 minutes, you're coated in semigloss, and your "good" jeans are now work pants. Next time, we're wearing these.

    • Material: We experimented with a variety of brushes and rollers and eventually settled on a few sizes of Purdy and Proform brushes. We went through several crappy brushes before realizing that the expensive brushes really were better. We painted virtually every surface of this house, and the good brushes are still with us. So get some good brushes! Except for when you use primer! Use crappy brushes with primer. Water-based primer can clean up with soap and water but your good brushes will never be the same. Oil based primer cleans up with mineral spirits which is a pain in the butt and they never get really clean anyway. We used cheap brushes for oil based primer and then threw them away.

You will hate yourself every minute of painting with a cheap brush. Same with rollers. We used a lot of cheap ones from Home Depot, but after awhile, we gravitated toward pricier ones simply because they lasted longer and had better coverage. Whether there’s a huge payoff at the end for the extra expense, I don’t know, but it for sure makes the work easier and more enjoyable. For our rougher walls, the ones not covered in wallpaper, a roller with a heavier nap worked better. We also went through several pans, cups, buckets, paint sticks, etc. For dropcloths, we used old sheets and couch covers. Next time (god help us), we’re going to invest in a set of painter’s overalls so we don’t ruin so many of our real clothes (and by “real clothes,” I mean pajamas).

    • Paint. You can get paint at Home Depot if you want but I will tell you now that it isn’t the best paint out there. We chose to spend a little more money (maybe $150 more for the entire house) and went to a Benjamin Moore dealer. They have pretty colors, and the paint is excellent. Excellent paint goes on smoothly, has good coverage, and drips less. If you’re getting a lot of drips, you’re using crappy paint.  And you’ll need two coats no matter what paint you use, even if the ads for Home Depot tell you that their paint will cover in one. It won’t, so put that out of your mind. And if you use a dark color you will probably need more than two coats, possibly even up to five. So my advice is, choose light colors. If you’re doing more than one room and painting the trim, make sure you use the same trim color throughout the whole house so that you have some sense of flow and consistency.

Also, it helps to have somewhat of a plan for all the walls in the house, even if you aren’t going to do them all at once  so that they all look good together when you’re done. We like eggshell finish for the walls and semigloss for the trim. A scrubable paint is awesome, and all of Benjamin Moore’s paints are scrubable, even the eggshell and flat finishes. Benjamin Moore sells small samples of all their paint colors for like $2 each, so that’s also a plus. To avoid The Paradox of Choice just try and choose from 3-5 colors for each room. Choose your basic color (gray, blue, green, beige, whatever) and then get a few samples of that color and make it work with one of them! The Benjamin Moore samples are big enough to paint large swatches on each of the walls, which you should do so you can see how it looks throughout the room. Also go ahead and wait a day or two if you can so you can see how they look in different light.

      •  If you’re doing the ceiling, do it first. We used “ceiling paint” which comes in a huge bucket. It doesn’t matter if you do the walls or the trim first after that! I always thought you were supposed to do the walls and then the trim, but you so don’t need to do it that way. We found it easier to do the trim first. Trim is harder to paint neatly than walls and we messed up a lot, getting the trim paint on the walls. Then when we painted the walls, cutting in the paint against the trim was much easier to do from the wall side than the trim side. Plus since we used light colors when we did mess up, it didn’t show too badly. Then we did the doors and windows last. Windows are a whole other subject — we didn’t really do a great job on ours but there are tutorials all over the internet you can read to learn how to do it. Also don’t paint directly from the can. For one thing, it’s heavy and you’ll be wanting to hold it. For another, the paint can start to dry out and crap can fall into it. Use a large yogurt container or buy a plastic container for this purpose when you get your paint. They’re about a buck each. We bought 5 of them and used the hell out of them. They were probably in the top three best purchases we made after good brushes and good paint. We tried using tape (regular masking tape, blue painter’s tape and even that new Frog Tape), but we could never get it to work right.  There was either seepage under the tape, or the tape pulled off the dry paint. So we found that painting the trim first and using a steady hand when cutting in worked the best. Saved time, too, because we didn’t have to put all the tape up, then take it all back down.
      • Take care of your brushes and rollers, rinsing them out frequently. After just a little while, the brushes and rollers get gummy, so it’s worthwhile to take a break and get them cleaned up. Water based paint cleans up with soap and water. You can wrap a used brush in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer if you need to step away for a little while and don’t want to clean the brush. You’ll need to wait for it to thaw out before using it again.
Overall, the total cost ran somewhere between $800 and $1,000. Of course it took some time to do it ourselves, but it paid off when the house sold for nearly asking price after just 10 days on the market. We think the custom paint job had something to do with it.
Custom house painting

Purple. Couple things about dark paint: It's hard to get a good, even coverage, so it will need two or three coats. Also, dark paint tends to expose every single flaw or blemish, and on 100-year-old walls, there are a few. Best to stick with light colors.

Historic house painting

At some point, someone in the past tried to strip the paint off the trim. You can see that after just a little while, they gave up. Why did they give up? Because getting paint off of wood is really hard. Virtually impossible unless you devote your life to it. Chemical strippers like Jasco will work with limited success, but they're toxic and messy. Razor blades and scrapers work a little, too, but they're time-consuming, and it's easy to gouge the wood. Sanding is OK, but it's hard to get all the little cracks and crevasses. We compromised by scraping and sanding until it was smooth enough, then we painted over the old paint. This room is a good example of what a difference trim color can make.

Historic house painting

While it's worthwhile to lay hands on your walls and to pray for them, you will still actually have to get out a paintbrush and do the work.