I'm a painter! (not)
May 30, 2011 7:43 PM   Subscribe

How to paint my house?

I would like to paint my new house (interior first, then exterior). I have never done a better than average job painting a room and I want to figure out what is the best method?

I recently saw one of these online and was wondering if it is really worth a darn. I have done mostly hand roller painting in the past and I must admit I have never been wowed by my work. I have a small compressor for a spray gun type system, but again I am looking for info on how best to get the cleanest finish possible. I have been told it is all in the prep and that makes sense, but what is a properly prepped room look like?

The existing house is in good shape, built in 1947, plaster walls. Windows and doors are all nice and true.

Any thoughts on methods, materials, prep and gear would be greatly appreciated.
posted by silsurf to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I really like these links over on Young House Love.
posted by OLechat at 7:47 PM on May 30, 2011

I am half way through painting the interior of my house. Here are a few tips that I wish someone had told me. (If you've done it before, maybe you know all this, already - sorry):

1. Masking tape, even the proper painter's tape, WILL damage your existing paintwork and new paintwork, at least a little. To minimise this, avoid taping painted surfaces you are not going to paint over again later. I am not good enough to not mask off at all, although some people swear by that. But I find I need to remove the masking tape within ten minutes of having painted that area, while the paint is still wet. That leaves the cleanest edge. Then I have to remask for the second coat.

2. Smaller brushes are essential for the edges and corners. Not the big 63mm ones. I gave up using an edger pad and just stuck to brushes. I felt I had more control.

3. You really do have to sand, fill and wash thoroughly before starting. Filling any gaps between trim and walls, however tiny, makes a huge difference too.

4. I did some walls with primer and some without to compare (I had some leftover primer in the garage). One coat of primer + two of paint doesn't look any different from 2 coats of paint with no primer. One coat of primer and one of paint looks worse than 2 coats of paint with no primer. Presumably the primer+2 coats walls will stay looking good longer. I'm not convinced enough to go out and buy more primer. I was painting white, though. With a darker colour I assume it actually matters.

5. Basically put the paint on as thick as you can without getting drips. Keep experimenting until you get drips, then scale back a bit. The first room I did I had to do four coats because I was putting it on too thin. The next was okay, but you could see more brush strokes in the edges because it was drying slightly before I hit it with the roller. For the rest of the rooms I finally got the paint on thickly enough that the brush strokes smooth out before it dries.

6. Either really really clean your rollers and brushes and trays, or use cheap ones and replace them each time you start. Even the tiniest bits of dried paint on the trays, brushes or rollers flake off while you are working, get into the fresh paint, and cause lumps on the wall that you may not notice until after it dries. I can't really get the roller sleeves clean enough to avoid this, so I bought a huge pack of cheap ones and am using fresh rollers each time. I know it's a waste, but it makes a big difference. The brushes and trays are easier to clean thoroughly.

7. When you have finished a wall or a section of a wall, you will see spots that don't quite look perfect. It's a big temptation to go back over them there and then. Don't do it. If the paint has even started to dry a little bit, it will act weird when you rebrush or reroller it. Even if it hasn't, every time I do this, it ends up looking worse than it did before I "fixed" it. Instead, wait until it's totally dry (like overnight), and then if it still doesn't look good, sand and repaint. But generally you won't be able to spot the imperfections any more once you have stepped away for a few hours anyway.

8. If you decide the colour is not quite right after you painted, you can make it look slightly different by putting different colours near it. E.g. if your off-white white looks yellower than you expected, you can un-yellow it by putting up yellow curtains, or a yellow painting, or painting a yellow feature wall. By contrast the off-white will really look much whiter. If it looks TOO white, you can bring out its undertones by painting the trim or the ceiling whiter again.

9. I really like ESP (Every Surface Primer) for spraying on awkward surfaces (window frames, glossy cupboard doors, etc).

10. Don't work in sessions of more than 2 hours at a time. You get sloppy, and your paint starts to harden around the edges in your tray, and then you will get lumps like I mentioned above.
posted by lollusc at 8:56 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was going to write a big thing, but it looks like this covers everything I was going to say. Also, professionals may have paint sprayers for some things, but will generally use (high-quality) 'standard' paint brushes and rollers, not any 'systems'. (My summer job during college was remodeling houses. Good times.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:57 PM on May 30, 2011

Oh, and if I had to buy my supplies all over again, I would buy cheap rollers and expensive brushes. I see no difference between my $18 roller cover and the 8-for-$5 set, but I LOVE my $10 paintbrush and hate the $1 ones. I would also buy only black paint trays, because it's much easier to see where the (white) paint is when it comes time to clean them. And make sure they are more than 1cm wider than my roller for ease of use. I would buy the wider masking tape, even though it's twice as expensive, and I would buy the heavy cloth dropcloths instead (or as well?) as the cheap plastic ones. The plastic ones shift and tear too easily, and get caught on things, and my cat keeps attacking them.
posted by lollusc at 9:01 PM on May 30, 2011

Did some DIY painting a year ago.. advice I can recall:

a. Remember that "painting" is 90% not-painting (i.e. scraping, patching, filling, waiting for compound to dry, sanding, priming, waiting for priming to dry, masking, etc....). The actual painting of the top coat(s) is a joy compared with the rest of the work, IMHO. But the first 90% is what determines whether not the top coat looks good.. so if you are getting average results, it's probably worth spending time improving the prep work.

b. Interior: Wear a respirator and/or use Zero-VOC paint. Actual painters seem to prefer full-VOC paint because "it lasts longer".. of course, they're gone the next day and don't have to live in the space. I painted with Zero-VOC and could use rooms the next day without a problem. Then I had painters do a few remaining rooms -- they used Full-VOC and you could smell it for months. Never again. (Also, DIY makes you realize that you're basically dealing up close with some pretty nasty substances, and you may re-consider whether it's worthwhile to subject yourself to that vs. getting some help.)

c. Exterior: I haven't painted the exterior; the common wisdom seems to be "spray then roll" or "roll then brush", i.e. use two methods to make sure the paint adheres well. The guys we hired for the exterior just sprayed. Seems fine, but we'll see how it holds up.

d. Buy the best paint you can. Cheap paint is going to wear out sooner, and this probably isn't a job you want to do again soon.. plus the differential in cost between average and best grades of paint vs. the total cost of the job is something like 15% i

e. Keep the paint codes / names / vendors for easy re-ordering. Some places keep all your orders in their system for years so it's easy to order paint that will match exactly. If yours doesn't, it's helpful to keep a little around for touch ups.

If you decide to DIY, I agree with some other comments above, like getting good brushes, limiting work sessions to a couple hours (using breaks to go to the hardware store, no doubt!), laying it on thick (but without drips).

Good luck!
posted by EricT at 10:25 PM on May 30, 2011

The zero VOC paint is good in theory, but when we went that route while my wife was pregnant, I found the paint to be of a much lower quality in terms of how it went on the walls. We tried 2 different brands, and while it smelled much nicer, I had to put on an extra coat, and it dripped much much more, which made applying it harder, and cleanup was a lot more involved. If you are painting rooms you don't need to stay in and you can keep a window open, I would go with high quality standard paint.
posted by markblasco at 11:46 PM on May 30, 2011

I painted for a high-end contractor as a summer job in high school. As Green Eyed Monster suggests, we never used any powered applicators. The B&D product you linked to is intended to speed up the work, not improve finish quality. My guess is that such a product would make it more difficult to get good results.

Good brushes make a world of difference. I prefer angled "sash" brushes for most work. Better quality roller covers have some advantages, but you can do a fine job with cheapies.

A properly prepped room has had all cracks and holes filled, sanded almost* flush and primed. Outlet and switch plates will have been removed. Gaps between plaster and wood trim are neatly caulked. Conspicuous ridges in old paint have been sanded out. Loose paint has been scraped or wire-brushed away, and the remaining edges feathered with sandpaper. Badly flaking or peeling areas of wood trim have been completely stripped and primed. The whole room will have been carefully dusted and vacuumed. Oily hand prints on doors, door trim and around light switches should be cleaned up. If it's a room near a kitchen, where grease may have settled on the walls over time, all surfaces should be carefully washed.

When using a roller, fill it with as much paint as it will hold without dripping. Spread that paint around a neat rectangular working area. When you've covered as much as you can with that load of paint, go back over the area again with the near-empty roller and make a series of slightly overlapping passes, applying very little pressure, to even everything out.

When brushing, apply enough paint that the tiny ridges from the bristles flow together, leaving a smooth film after several seconds. When brushing your way along a long / wide area, apply paint to the dry area and brush it towards/into the wet area. When cutting in between walls and ceiling, walls and wood trim, or wood and window glass, make sure the tips of the bristles stay wet with paint; try to cover too much distance between dips in the can, and you just get poor coverage and a ragged edge.
posted by jon1270 at 2:50 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

We're total novices who hadn't painted any rooms for 20 years until a month ago, when we repainted a bedroom.

We went with cheap roller covers and never reused them, disposable paint trays, high quality brushes and high quality paint. Two coats, no primer.

The project came off so well that I no longer dread painting.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:50 AM on May 31, 2011

I am not good enough to not mask off at all, although some people swear by that. But I find I need to remove the masking tape within ten minutes of having painted that area, while the paint is still wet. That leaves the cleanest edge. Then I have to remask for the second coat.

It isn't skill, it is patience. Which, for many of us, is harder to master. But yeah, screw masking tape.

When painting trim, use a paint with a different finish than the field. Depending on the style of the house, some trim looks better dead flat, others look better with a fairly strong gloss. I like to use furniture paint for the trim- Rust-Oleum has a brand called American Accents that works very well imho.

Gaps between plaster and wood trim are neatly caulked.

1000 times yes. This is what makes a good job look like a great job. I will admit to just smashing the paint into tinier cracks, going over them a bunch of times until the crack is filled. Another way is to buy a small container of drywall compound, and mix some into a small amount of paint to create a sort of paintable filler. This goop can be used as a pre-first coat to fill in and mask any rough edges/cracks/ugliness.
posted by gjc at 5:45 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Taking a break from painting the exterior of my 60's ranch. This will be long, so I'm going to paste it in from notepad. Some might be repeat of above comments, oh well. I used to be a painting contractor almost 20 years ago, not much has changed since then.

General notes:
- Most doodads aren't worth buying, such as the painting pads for edging, fancy masking tape with drop cloth attached, etc. Some exceptions: pour spouts, both for gallon cans and for five gallon buckets; quart plastic bucket with adjustable side strap handle.
- Some things are disposable, some reusable. Get good stuff for the reusable (good brushes, roller handles) and cheap for the disposable (disposable brushes, disposable roller covers).
- Preparation is very important. Don't rush to start splashing up color.
- Buy sandwich fixings or other low-prep food. You want to be able to eat on a whim and not have a lot of cleanup. This applies whenever doing home improvement work.
- Drink beer all you want, but only after the ladder work is done.
- If you're working with dark or bold colors, have the paint store colorize your primer with the same tint mix as your top coat. The primer won't come out the same color, but it will be part of the way there.
- Flat paint hides surface imperfections. Generally use flat for walls, and satin (or higher sheen) for trim.
- On woodwork, your brush strokes should always be in the same direction as the grain. This is challenging when working on multiple panelled doors, but it is worth the effort.
-Oil paint is almost never worth the hassle; latex all the way

Recycle/reuse stuff you have:
- old white cotton gym socks make great rags; always have a rag in your pocket, spit for moisture
- miniblind slats, cut to 6” or so long, can be used as an edger, particularly if painting baseboard along carpet – wipe clean frequently (with that rag in your pocket)
- plastic bags that newspapers come in can be used for temporary roller or brush storage

- Powdered detergent – Perfex or Dirtex. Doesn't require rinsing when used according to directions. For really dirty areas, particularly outside, rinse rag in separate water bucket before immersing it in the detergent mix again, in order to keep the main detergent bucket cleaner longer.

Disposable things:
- Get cheap disposable brushes, sometimes 3 for a dollar. Never get the sponge brushes they're worthless. Use disposable brushes for: working overhead (since the paint will inevitably flow deep into the hilt); foundations; the bottom row of siding; any really rough surface --- basically in any situation that could damage a good brush.
- Gallon-size ziplock bags. You can take a cheap roller off the handle, store it in a ziplock bag and reuse it for the same color. This also saves paint, since the roller sucks up a lot. Can also be used for disposable brushes, but do not do this to your good brushes.
- Rag-in-a-box. These are like paper towels on steroids. Not a replacement for cloth rags, but good to have for general cleanup.
- Roller tray liners are cheap. Get lots, throw them away after each use.

Brush care:
- Don't mash the bristles. Don't push the brush. Always draw the brush, holding it at an angle to the surface.
- When dipping into paint, only dip ¼ to 1/3 of the bristle in the paint. Wipe one side against the side of the can as you pull out.
- Don't let the paint flow up into the hilt. The top ¼ of the bristles by the hilt should always be free of paint.
- Wash thoroughly and rinse thoroughly. You can use the detergent mentioned above. Gently massage the bristles with your fingers. Hang up to dry.

- Always buy paintable caulk. Look at the label carefully. If you only buy one caulk, buy clear paintable.
- Cut the tip at an angle, with about a 1/8” opening.
- Smooth all caulk lines. Chunky caulk is terribly ugly and makes clean lines (between wall and trim) impossible.
- Don't seal things that shouldn't be sealed: storm windows often have holes or slits at the bottom for water drainage; undersides of lapped siding.

Latex Paint – the liquid:
- You can buy 5-gallon buckets. This will save you money and can ensure color consistency.
- Stir frequently.
- Intermix containers: when you're down to 1/3 a can, open a new one and pour back and forth between them. This ensures consistency. This is not as much of an issue as it used to be, what with the computerized mixers in use today.
- With metal cans, never use a hammer to seal the lid. Put the lid in place, gently press by hand, then put the can on the floor, cover with a cloth, and step on it around the edge to press tightly. Hammering distorts the lid and often ruins the slight lip that the opener catches.
- Use a paint can opener. Do not use a screwdriver.
- If you're painting outside in direct sun and it is hot and dry, keep a spray bottle of water handy. Mist a light film of water onto the surface of the paint. This will keep the paint from skinning over, and your brush will just slip through this thin layer without consequence.
- It's often a good idea to not work directly from your main stock of paint. Pour into a smaller container and work from that. This way, if you foul your paint with dirt, you won't contaminate your main stock. Also less to lose if you spill.
- Latex paint goes through a curing process. It skins over, then dries, then cures. It remains very tender for up to a couple of weeks after drying.

Hope that helps.

tl;dr: beer
posted by yesster at 9:55 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh - couple more things:

- when painting indoors, work barefoot. You'll feel any spills/splatter before you can track them across your floors

- if you spill on carpet:
- wipe up as much as you can
- use wet/dry vacuum
- continually pour on fresh clean water and vacuum it up until the water comes up clean
- dry by placing towel on carpet and dancing vigorously upon it; replace towel and repeat
- have a beer and relax

Once upon a time, at a customer's house, I had an entire gallon of paint go tumbling down a staircase. Took me half a day to clean it up.
posted by yesster at 10:09 AM on May 31, 2011

I am not good enough to not mask off at all, although some people swear by that. But I find I need to remove the masking tape within ten minutes of having painted that area, while the paint is still wet. That leaves the cleanest edge. Then I have to remask for the second coat.

It isn't skill, it is patience. Which, for many of us, is harder to master. But yeah, screw masking tape.

Yeah, some of it is patience. And that is part of my problem. But I also find that while I can avoid the trim 99% of the time, at least once during each room my hand will slip and I will splash paint all over it. Our trim is dark wood with a strong grain. You can't clean white paint off it entirely as it gets into the grain. Masking tape prevents me from ever splashing it. It's worth it to me.

posted by lollusc at 5:28 PM on May 31, 2011

Response by poster: thanks so much for all the wonderful feedback!
posted by silsurf at 10:42 AM on June 4, 2011

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