How can I fix my walls?
February 10, 2009 9:02 AM   Subscribe

DIY home repair - I would like to re-paint the walls in my apartment by myself.

I live in a studio apartment (about 515 sq ft). The walls currently have several layers of oil-based paint on them.

I would like to re-paint. I guess, first, I would need to strip (I'm not sure if this is the right word or term) the walls, so that the surface is smooth. I would also like to use latex paint when re-painting the walls. Of course, I have no idea how to do any of this or what the optimal solution is.

The foyer is painted red, the dressing area is burgundy, and the rest of the walls are some off white color. I believe that there are at most 2 layers of the darker paint colors, but I am not certain how many layers of paint there are beneath those.

My load at work has decreased, and I am only working half days, so I think this would be a good project to do while I am at home. I'm pleased that I may be able to apply some of my project management skills to this DIY job.

Please tell me (VERY SLOWLY) what I need to do to get awesome, smooth walls, including:

-what tools I might need to buy and their costs;
-best practices and tips for this sort of procedure;
-applicable terms (like, is it stripping?) so that I may speak intelligently about this when buying things at Home Depot;
-what would be an approximate timeline based on my beginner's skill level; and
-any advice (i.e. don't switch to latex, hire a contractor instead)?
posted by alice ayres to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rather than removing the oil based paint, it would be easier to apply a primer that will degloss the oil paint so the latex can adhere. Ask they guys at the paint counter; they have certainly dealt with this problem before. If you are unsure, test a small area first to make sure everything works. Lowes and Home Depot, among others, have some pretty good tutorials for this sort of thing so check those out for a better idea of whats involved. I have done a lot of painting over the years and would defintely say to do it yourself. You will probably not be as fast as a pro, and if you have to buy some equipment you will save less than if you already have brushes/rollers/dropcloths, but if youtake your time you will very likely be more satisfied than if you hired someone; I find I take more care with my work than the average housepainter and appreciate the satisfaction of doing it myself.
posted by TedW at 9:22 AM on February 10, 2009

Okay, I am not an expert by any means, but since I just finished repainting my kitchen with help from an expert, I will take a stab at this. First off, if the walls are just painted and not wallpapered, I don't think you need to strip them and frankly, I wouldn't try. Stripping paint is a terrible lengthy business and involves serious solvents that might well render your apartment uninhabitable for a couple of days even with all the windows open.

Instead, I would go to Home Depot or Lowes and buy a can of Kilz Primer. Make SURE that you get the latex kind and not the oil based or clean up will be miserable. Killz will cover the paint, even the oil based, just fine. However, if your walls are full of dings and dents and you want them totally even, then you will need to get some spackle to fill in the dings and a plastic scraper thing to smooth over the spackle before you do the primer. Once the holes are filled and everything is smooth, wait 24 hours for it to dry and then sand it for even more smoothing. (I am lazy and do none of this, myself, and I think it still looks fine, but I am very far from a perfectionist and YMMV.) Anyway, then you will need to tape the room with blue painters tape. You tape the parts you don't want primered - the edges of the ceiling, the baseboard, the glass, the door - and then put on a coat of primer, possibly two coats if the colors are still bleeding through. Leave the tape up and then you can paint with your chosen latex. You'll need several sizes of brushes as well as the rollers and don't forget drop clothes - I did and I may possibly be scraping paint off my kitchen floor for the rest of my natural life.

It took me four full - and I do mean full, like 10 hour - days to do my kitchen but it was complicated: faux finish and a lot of cabinets and detail work and also, dark colors take several coats, oh yes they do. Doing your whole apartment is probably going to be at least a week if you're only doing half days. Keep in mind that even latex, even theoretically odor free primer and paint actually smell quite a lot. I have another room to paint and after living with the fumes from the kitchen I decided to wait to do it until the weather was better so I could keep the windows open the whole time.

I really ended up enjoying the whole project. Have fun!
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:34 AM on February 10, 2009

If the surface is uneven, you have a few other things to consider:

Firstly, any small dents, holes or fine cracks will need filling. For this you just need a filler knife and some filler (or spackle), either powder that you mix with water, or ready-mixed in a tub. This is a very cheap and easy job, and very satisfying to do. Lightly sand the filler when dry. Also sand off any small bumps in the paint caused by drips or stray brush hairs.

Sanding large areas of uneven wall is not something you want to do. If you have this problem, the best bet is often to use lining paper (basically rolls of plain paper you paste to the walls to even out irregularities). This comes in different thicknesses depending on how uneven the wall is. You can then prime and paint the paper as if it were the wall.

For really uneven surfaces the best option may be to get the plaster skimmed by a professional. A skim coat can be applied even over painted walls (using diluted PVA to bond the plaster to the paint). This is the most extreme option, but it will give you 'new' walls to work with.

And yes, don't strip the existing paint. In particular, if it's old paint, it may contain lead products which you don't want to release into the air.

When painting, it helps to use masking tape for clean lines around the edges (especially if, like me, you don't have a steady painting hand). Loosening electrical sockets and switch plates (danger! electricity!), and then covering the edges with tape, will give a nice clean result.

Whatever you decide to do, the main expenses will be professional help and good paint. It's wise to spend more on a good primer/undercoat because you'll need less topcoat. Beyond that you can probably get all you need for less than $20.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:50 AM on February 10, 2009

In terms of specific product recommendations the guys at the paint store will be your best resource. I recommend going to a store that deals, if not exclusively, then primarily in paint. The folks at the Home Depot or Lowes tend to be very good generalists but what you want is the advise of a specialist. Lay out exactly what you have told us to them and don't be embarrassed to admit that you're a noob and don't know all the lingo.

The most successful painting projects I have done are the ones where I have taken lots of time to prep the area properly. In general the actual putting-paint-on-the-walls part should be less than a third of total time spent. Make sure that everything that you do not want paint on is removed or covered. Spend extra time to make sure that all of your tape lines are ruler straight. Its a lot easier in the long run to spend time on the front end making sure your prep work is perfect than running around with a rag and solvent afterward trying to fix mistakes that could have been avoided.

Lastly paint is one of those products where there really is a significant difference between the cheap stuff and the good stuff. I have always been much happier with both the application and the final result when I have bought the more expensive product rather than trying to save a few bucks.
posted by Bango Skank at 9:54 AM on February 10, 2009

Best answer: I guess, first, I would need to strip (I'm not sure if this is the right word or term) the walls,

No no no. Sand them lightly, if at all. I don't think it's even possible to strip paint from drywall, let alone necessary; all you have to do is sand any really rough spots and put a layer of primer over the existing paint before your new color. (Over the dark color areas you might need two coats of primer.)

You don't want perfectly smooth walls; the faint stipple texture you get from using a paint roller is easier to achieve and less likely to show flaws.

Painting's easy as long as you're systematic about it. The amount of time it takes depends on how many doors, windows, etc there are: 90% of the time is taping and painting around the trim; using a roller to cover a big flat wall can be done in nothing flat.

At the hardware store you'll buy a roller handle and a couple of disposable rollers, a dropcloth, a roller tray, one regular paintbrush (say a 2" brush), a bunch of painter's rags, and a few rolls of painter's tape (the blue rolls. Do not do not DO NOT use masking tape; it tears and adheres permanently and is just a pain in the ass to work with.) You might also want to buy one of those hardware store halogen lamps; all of this is much easier to do in bright light.

Also your paint. Yes, use latex, it's easier. Gloss is better for bathrooms or kitchens, matte or eggshell everywhere else. Buy a quarter gallon first so you can test out the color on a section of wall before committing to the whole job (it's really hard to judge the color by looking at those little paint chips.) I don't know about your area, but our Home Depot is really sloppy about mixing colors, you might want to go to a real hardware store that specializes in painting supplies for this. (They'll also be friendlier about answering questions at those places.)

Step one: put tape around all the trim and along the border of the ceiling or the corners of any walls you're not going to paint. Take your time, get the edge of the tape lined up as close as possible to the corner, but when in doubt it's better to let a little bit of trim get painted rather than taping over the existing wall at all: strips of the old color showing up between the new paint and the trim will be much more obvious than if you get a little paint on the trim. With the blue painter's tape you can peel it back off easily and reposition it if you need to.

This will take longer than any other part of the job, by far.

Step two: go over all that tape again and press it down firmly. Any loose spots will let gobs of paint through.

The following steps, do with primer first, then repeat with the actual color paint after it's had a day or two to dry completely.

Step three: with the hand brush, paint lightly around the edge of all that trim with primer -- this doesn't need to be more than a couple inches wide; all you're doing is covering the area you won't be able to reach with a roller. Don't gob the paint on too thickly, or when it dries you won't be able to remove the tape without peeling off the paint. Don't use the brush like a toothbrush; you'll force paint under the tape. Just a light coating along the edge is all you need; it's much easier to do a second coat later on if it's not enough.

Step four: now the fun part: break out the roller. Avoid the temptation to use too much paint at once (if it's dripping off the roller, you're overdoing it) or to roll too quickly (if droplets are spraying into your face, slow way down). Dip the roller in the tray, roll it back and forth a couple times on the flat part of the tray to get it covered evenly, then paint a diagonal line across a section of wall. Then roll vertical stripes across that diagonal line to spread that paint into a rectangular section of wall. Repeat until the whole wall is covered.

It takes a little practice to get a feel for how much paint to use and how big an area of wall to try to cover each time. Err on the side of too little; if the roller starts leaving lumps or trails of thick paint behind, you're using too much. (Use the painters rags to wipe off any excess paint that gets on the end of the roller if it starts leaving trails.)

Don't try to do it all in one coat; it ends up being faster to do two or even three light coats than to try to do it all in one thick layer, and it'll look better that way anyway. Do try to finish one full coat, or at least a full wall, before you stop for the day, and slightly overlap the sections you're painting while they're still wet. Avoid the temptation to go back and touch things up anywhere before the paint is completely dry; rolling over partially-dry paint will give you terrible sticky uneven texture and you'll have to sand and start over.

Step five: let it all dry for a day or two. Peel back some of the tape to see how well you did, if you're curious, but you may as leave it all up for the next coat.

Step 6: Once you finish your last coat -- make sure you look at it in sunlight or bright light before you decide you're finished! -- you can carefully peel off all the tape. If some of the wall paint starts to come off with it because you got it too thick in the corners, you can cut the corner with an exacto knife where the edge should be and then peel off the tape. If there are spots where paint got under the tape, you can scrape it off with the same knife. Or just ignore it; unless it's huge, nobody will notice slight irregularities.
posted by ook at 10:09 AM on February 10, 2009 [5 favorites]

Brushes: I recommend using roller brushes for the broad areas. Get several of the round brush parts and one or two roller parts (the metal things). Getting some of the mini roller brushes are useful for the tighter areas. You'll still need a few small regular bristle brushes (maybe 1" and 2" wide?) to paint edges and tricky areas - polyester brushes are fine.

Also, having a paint tray is important for roller brushes. You can buy cheap liners for them and swap them out when it's time to change paint colors. When using the bristle brushes, you might want to use a smaller plastic container like for yogurt, so that it's easy to handle and keep near.

Use drop cloths for your furniture, move the furniture to the center of the room and cover them. Drop cloths (or plastic, or whatever) beneath you while you're painting will make sure you don't get paint on the floor. The nice thing about latex paint is that you don't have to panic if it gets on the floor though. Just let it dry and then you can scrape it off with ease -- latex stays soft for something like 24+ hours.

Don't forget to take off face plates for light switches and sockets! tape over the sockets to keep paint out! Paint around the edges of things first, using the bristle brushes and/or the mini roller brush, give it a good wide border. Then you can use the big rollers. Let the paint dry in between coats and stand back to see if you're getting good coverage.

If your plan is to go with substantially different/lighter colors than what you currently have, then you'll probably have to use several coats in addition to the primer layer. Primer doesn't necessarily have to be white, it should actually be a color similar to what you're going to use as the main wall color. Don't forget to measure the sizes of the walls you want to paint, as the people at the paint store will then be able to recommend how much paint you should buy of each color.

Good luck!
posted by lizbunny at 10:10 AM on February 10, 2009

I would advise going to a local paint store instead of a big-box. Less headache, more help from people who know what they're doing.

Consider your bedding/sofa/etc when you go buy the paint color. If you're getting new bedding, buy that *first* - easier to find paint that goes with your bedding than vice versa! Bring a pillowcase or an armrest-cover in to the store with you.

Painting is not particularly difficult, it's just messy and time-consuming. I recommend enlisting friends by bribing them with pizza. :)
posted by radioamy at 10:11 AM on February 10, 2009

Step Zero: If you haven't already done so, make sure your landlord is OK with you painting the walls yourself. You describe your place as a studio apartment, so I have to assume you're renting. I've rented quite a few apartments over the years (damn you, San Diego housing market!) and none of those units would allow tenants to paint the walls.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 10:16 AM on February 10, 2009

are you sure it is oil based paint that is on the walls already? usually oil based paint is reserved for outdoor applications, as it's both more durable and more smelly.

to prep the walls, you'd need to scrape/sand any areas that are peeling or cracking. if it's an old-ish building (pre-1980) it likely has some lead-based paint, so you would need to take precautions to contain any paint chips and dust that may be released by this scraping/sanding. this is especially important if you are pregnant or if there will be a small child in the apartment.

you can use spackle to repair any nail holes or gouges. sand that once it's dry to keep the surface smooth.

wipe down the walls to remove any dust that would prevent the new paint from adhering.

if you are painting a light color over a dark color (i.e. the red and burgundy), you most definitely will need to prime the walls. if you don't prime, the new lighter color may not cover the older, darker color so well. ideally, it should only take one coat of the new color.

is there trim/mouldings/windowframes/doorframes/doors that you are painting? if there is, you want to paint that stuff first. it's more labor intensive, so it's better to get it out of the way. plus you can afford to be a little messier if you paint the trim first, because it's easier to cut in right next to your trim with your wall color than vice versa.

then with the wall color, you cut in an edge next to the base boards, in the corners, along the ceilings, around the trim -- anywhere it would be hard to get a roller. you want a nice small brush for edging (a 2-inch angled head is my fave) anything that you can make a nice clean line with. i personally find that blue "painter's tape" to be more hassle than it's worth. if you have a reasonably steady hand and a brush that isn't all scrubby, you'll do fine. i like to pour a small amount of paint into a plastic container (like a quart size yogurt container or something like that) so that i don't have to lug the whole bucket around, especially if you are climbing up and down from a chair trying to do the top edge next to the ceiling, kwim?

now for the fun part. the rolling. get a pan and a roller. go slowly and carefully, and don't load the roller with too much paint, as you don't want to splatter all over the floor. even so, it goes really fast and is immensely satisfying.

pick up a couple of t-shirts or towels at the thrift store that you can cut up for rags to wipe up the inevitable splatters and drips. also a big towel or dropcloth that you can put underneath the bucket and rolling pan once you start that step.

good luck!
posted by fancyoats at 10:18 AM on February 10, 2009

Some more tips I forgot: use wide rolls of tape. Better to use too much tape than to end up accidentally painting a stripe two inches in from the edge of the ceiling because you got too close with the roller. If you get tape anywhere it's not supposed to be, wipe it up immediately with water and a rag, it's a lot harder to get out when it's dry. You can wrap a wet roller in plastic wrap if you need to take a break (or even overnight) and don't want it to dry out. If you're not tall, a stepladder is easier than trying to use a roller at the end of a long pole. And don't fear color; white is boring.

Can you tell I kind of enjoy housepainting? :)
posted by ook at 10:22 AM on February 10, 2009

Best answer: If you're concerned about fumes, look into the low-VOC paint from Sherwin Williams. I used it to paint my living room last winter and the lack of smell was amazing and thrown into even sharper contrast when we painted the trim with actual oil based paint.

But yeah, what everyone else said -- don't worry about stripping the paint. My trim was FUSCHIA and a couple of coats of kilz and a couple of coats of paint and it's white, as god intended.
posted by sugarfish at 10:40 AM on February 10, 2009

Best answer: I just did some painting using a low-VOC paint purchased at Menards for ~$16/gallon. Store clerk insisted that it's basically name-brand paint sold under another name. Check around before you buy. You needn't spend $30 - $60 a gallon for paint, really. Someone will surely disagree with me there, and certainly there will be some differences in coverage or etc. with price, but my house is painted, it didn't cost much and it looks just fine. There was no noticeable odor, and this was in a basement in the winter with no windows open.

For an interior you want eggshell. Flat isn't great for walls because you can't easily clean it, but it works fine for ceilings. If you're painting something like a bathroom, you want a glossy finish to repel water, look for kitchen + bath paint (it will be labeled as such).

Always paint the light color first. Dark covers light better than the other way around. And don't do a half-ass job, either - if you're going to paint, do it right. Remove ALL electrical outlet and light switch faceplates, do your best to remove any other wall attachments (ceiling lamp covers, wall sconces, etc.) and definitely tape over anything you can't remove. Nothing says "hack job" quite so much as discovering the last person painting was too lazy to do this.

Colors nearly always look different at home than they do in the store - the lighting isn't the same. If you can get some small sample cans to test before painting the whole thing, do it. Remember that it looks different as it dries, too. Be sure previous coats are completely dry before going back over, or you'll just end up lifting off some of the prior coat. For both primer and finish paint, do at least one coat first, then check to see if you missed spots or if the coverage is too thin. Put a second coat on as necessary.

Finally, be sure to save any leftover paint, and definitely write down the name, finish and color for each (get the actual numbers for mixed-in color if you can, save the color sample sheets if nothing else). You'll want this to be able to do touch-up work when and if you need to patch holes, fix scrapes, etc.; make sure all paint cans are tightly sealed to keep them from drying out in storage.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:29 AM on February 10, 2009

Best answer: Just a couple of random tips from when I worked for a painter -

Instead of waiting for spackle to dry all the way and then sand it, just wait an hour or two for it to firm up and them smooth it with the scrubber side of a damp scrubber sponge. This works really well and saves time and effort.

Instead of using a paint tray, get an empty five gallon bucket and a roller grid (more info: ). It's easier to use and makes spills less likely.
posted by Mark Doner at 11:31 AM on February 10, 2009

Before I paint, I scrub the wall with TSP then apply the primer coat. It's a bother, but the results are worth it.

I've used Kilz, but I've had better luck wit Zinsser Bulls-Eye.

When I paint the walls a color other than white, I have the primer tinted to match. It makes the coverage of the latex paint much easier.
posted by 26.2 at 8:45 PM on February 10, 2009

Response by poster: thank you ALL! this is way better than i could have ever expected. thank you for sharing those tips, links, and pictures.

i will be re-painting the hardest area, the foyer with red walls, this weekend for a Valentine's day project. i will be sure to post pictures.
posted by alice ayres at 8:15 AM on February 11, 2009

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