Prep and patience key to painting a house, inside or out

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Painting is one of the easiest way to transform the look of your home, and yet, often, weíre just not good at it. We think we can do a room in a day, the whole house in a weekend.

"People think painting is a very easy thing," says Michael Parreno of 78 Painting, Textures, Plasters and More, in Austin, Tex.. "Itís all about the prep and many years of experience. Ö Patience is everything in painting."

That prep work is going to be about 75 percent of the job, says Louie Funk of Funk Paint Contractors. "If people take time to tape off the room, they can do almost as good a job as we can. Theyíve got to be serious about taping it off."

Painting also is about knowing what jobs you can do and what jobs are best for the professionals. And, most importantly, itís about having the right kind of tools and paint for the job.

Choosing the right color is also important.

Gray is the big color right now, says Stacy Paulson of Stacy Paulson Design. Itís a light-to-medium gray, but you have to be careful because some grays tend to go blue and when itís too cool, gray can go wrong, she says. "Youíve got to find the right gray that stays gray," she says.

Clement Ebbo of Clementís Paints says heís selling a lot of Benjamin Mooreís Revere Pewter. Paulson says people are playing with all-gray walls and white trim. "Itís really clean."

Ebbo and Paulson also see people going for bright colors as well and definitely ditching the beige that was so popular for so long.

"People are more adventurous with paint," Paulson says of her clients, including one for which she just did black caviar walls. "If you donít like it, in a year or two, you can repaint."

Before you pick any color, spend $5-$7 and get a sample. Paint a square of it on the walls and look at it at different times of day to make sure it looks right in any light and with your furniture.

Paulson says she hires professionals for her clients, but for her own home, she paints the interior walls herself. Light colors are less risky than trying to do dark colors.

For dark colors, as well as trim work and exteriors, the professional might be worth the investment.

When youíre looking for a professional painter, you want to make sure the company is bonded and insured. Ask how long the painter has been in the business. You also want to know how many people will be on the job. If youíre doing your whole house, know that if the company is bringing only one or two people, they are going to be there for weeks versus the time a whole crew would take.

Ask for detailed estimates. How many coats will they do? What kind of prep work? What kind of paint will they use? The paint is also going to be only about 15 percent of the total bill. Labor is your big cost.

For exteriors, if you decide to paint it yourself, know youíre going to be on a ladder a lot (especially for two-story homes). Youíll need to pressure wash to start with a clean surface, but hand scrub around the windows and other delicate areas. Youíll need to check the condition of the wood and siding to know whether there are spots that need to be replaced.

Youíll fill in holes and caulk around the trim, windows and doors.

Many professionals use paint sprayers for the exteriors, but you have to be careful. Spray can go everywhere and be influenced by the direction of the wind. Youíll also lose about 25 percent of the paint to overspray. Cover with tape and paper 3 feet to 4 feet around the brick and cover the windows and doors. Painters should apply at least two coats with a good paint.

While you can paint indoors any time of the year as long as you have the air conditioner or heater running to pull out the humidity and keep the temperature consistent, painting outside is a different story. Avoid days that are excessively humid or raining or drizzling.

Cold is an issue with painting. If itís going to be colder than 35 degrees at any point in the 24-hour to 36-hour drying time, do not paint.

In the heat of summer, you also have to be careful. Paint in the morning and follow the shade of the house. If paint dries too quickly it wonít adhere to the surface and can crack or peel off later. Make sure youíre using paint designed for exteriors.

With trim and cabinets, you want this paint job to last because itís not the kind of job youíre going to do often. Choose the best quality paint you can afford, Funk says. Traditionally youíd use oil-based paint, which has powerful fumes. Thatís why professionals use masks when working with these products. Homeowners usually have to stay elsewhere for a few days. Now a water and oil hybrid can cut down on some of those fumes. Not all the professionals have had good results with the hybrids.

With oil-based or the hybrid, youíre going to sand the wood smooth, use caulk around the edges and to fill in holes and cracks, apply a primer that is made for the kind of paint youíll use and then paint.

So, if youíve decided to do the interior walls yourself, first move everything you can to the center of the room so you have space to work. Remove electrical and light switch covers.

Take time to place tape carefully in a straight line around the windows, doors, baseboards and crown molding. Some professionals use brown paper trim rolls in addition to tape to cover crown molding and baseboards.

There are a lot of tapes to choose from, and whatís important is the release time. If youíre able to complete the job in a day or two, you can pick a three-day release tape. But for bigger jobs, such as faux finishing or more detail work, choose a 14- to 60-day-release tape. Parreno also likes to run a line of white caulk between the ceiling and the wall and the wall and the baseboard to get a clean line.

Make sure to tape down the drop cloth or the brown paper you are using to cover the floors to avoid leaks from between the wall and the floor. Never use plastic to cover the floor. It wonít absorb paint and if you step in a drop of paint, youíll spread it everywhere.

When youíre ready to remove the tape, run a utility knife between the wall and the tape to make sure you have broken the seal. Youíll avoid ripping some of the paint off the wall.

Not every job needs a primer. If you have a flat, light-color paint on the wall already, you can skip the priming step. If you have dark colors and want to go to lighter colors, use a primer. If your walls have a semi-gloss or another paint with a sheen, priming will make painting easier. If youíre painting light colors, you can use a white primer. If youíre painting dark colors, use a gray primer. Your paint store can help you determine whether you need a primer and what kind.

More paints are coming as paint and primer combinations. Most of our professional painters say this is just a marketing tool. Itís basically a high-quality paint that will cover well, but itís not that much different from what was already available in high-quality paint.

Donít go cheap on interior paint, Ebbo says, because youíll just have to do more coats. Some of the higher-end latex paints might be $60 to $75 a gallon but will take only one coat with touch-ups, or two at most. You donít have to go that high-end, but avoid paints that are less than $30 a gallon; with those youíre going to be painting again and again. Some of the new higher-end flat paints are scrubbable, so you donít have to go with semi-gloss if you have children.

Low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) or no-VOC paints are becoming more common, but ask whether the tint is also low VOC or no VOC. Some brands have low or no-VOC in the base paint, but not in the tint, which means youíre still getting VOCs.

Donít scrimp on brushes either, Funk says. Instead of an $8 brush, you want to choose a $16-$20 brush in either nylon or a nylon and polyester blend. Avoid straight polyester. Immediately wash brushes with soap and water and dry after use. "Treat a good brush like a screwdriver," Ebbo says. Hang it up in the paper or plastic case it came with to protect it for the next job.

Martin Ortega, owner of MJD Ortega Painting, says if he cleans his brushes well, he can get many jobs out of them. Even rollers he can get three or four jobs out of with proper care.

Youíll use the brush for detail areas around trim and windows. Use rollers for large, uninterrupted areas. Professionals use sheepskin, but you donít have to go that high end. You do have to make sure you know which type of nap (thatís the thickness) you need for the texture you have. If you have a light texture or smooth walls, youíll use a nap of 3/8 inch. For thick texture, you need Ĺ inch.

Now for the actual painting: Most people get a pan to pour paint into and then use a roller or a brush. That can make for a messy job with a lot of drips and the constant need to refill the pan. Parreno uses a 5-gallon bucket with a grid and mixes the gallons together to make sure the color is the same; one gallon could be a slightly different tint. He dips his brush and roller in the paint and then knocks off the excess paint on the edge of the bucket.

Most professionals use an up-and-down stroke, but a lot of home improvement television shows recommend a W stroke. That stroke works well if you have a lot of texture and are using cheap paint. With good paint and the right roller or brush, you can just go up and down.

You want your roller or brush to have a lot of paint on it and frequently dip it back into the paint to avoid painting with a dry brush or roller. Make sure the brush and roller have an even coat to avoid streaking. "You can feel it on the roller if itís dry or needs more or needs less paint," Ortega says. "You can feel it in your arms."

Seal up unused paint and store it in an air-conditioned space so you can use it for touch-ups later. A hot garage or attic will destroy the paint.

If you do need to get rid of the paint, check with your city or garbage company about how to do so.