Ask Brian: Tips for Professional Quality Interior Painting Projects



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question from Kathy in Milwaukee: Brian, My mother-in-law is coming for an extended visit and I’m working at making our guest room as homey and comfortable for her as I can. Actually, I’m just about to get started on this project by taking out all of the furniture to start with a fresh coat of paint. I figure that since I’m going to all of the trouble, I might as well do it right. I know painting a room is one of the easier projects but what tips do you have?

Answer: Hello Kathy. Kathy, taking all of the furniture out of the room is a great start. That is a lot better than covering and trying to work around it. Most people can do a decent job of painting an interior room but a few professional tips never hurt. Not only do professionals have more experience but they also know some techniques that assure the project turns out better and is accomplished easier. These tips aren’t likely to save you much time but they will give you results to make you proud of your work. Depending on the room size and how much preparation is required, most rooms take between two and four days to completely paint.

Besides taking out the furniture, also remove the doors, electrical cover plates, light fixtures, and other hardware. Also, cover the floor with the right kind of drop cloths. Old bedsheets don’t make good drop cloths because paint drips and spills soak through fabrics. You want to use plastic or something that paint won’t soak through. There are good quality plastic drop cloths on the market that have a paper backing. The paper isn’t slippery to walk on the way plastic is.

After the room is cleared and spill-proofed, you need to prepare the walls and ceiling. Hopefully, you don’t need to make any major repairs because that is a different set of skills. What you are looking for are minor cracks, dents, and peeling paint. If there is peeling or flaking paint on the wall, use a putty knife to scrape it off and then sand it smooth. For small holes, use spackle to fix them (or a patching kit for slightly large holes). For damaged trim, use painter’s putty or a wood filler. It’s a good idea to clean the damaged part of the wall before applying any fillers. After the repairs are complete, you want to sand these areas down to blend in with the surrounding wall. Professionals often use a pole sander to make it easier to reach the high parts of the walls and ceilings. For molded trim, you want to use a sanding sponge rather than sandpaper. Sponges mold to the shape of the trim. But you’re not ready to start painting quite yet…

Kathy, something homeowners often overlook is checking the type of paint that is already on the walls and ceiling. You want to determine if it is latex or oil-based paint. You can’t paint directly over oil-based paint with latex. If you are going to do this, you need to sand the entire wall and apply a bonding primer before you can add the new latex coat. A simple test is soaking a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and rubbing it on the existing paint. If the paint comes off, it’s latex. If it doesn’t, it’s oil-based. If you have to sand oil paint, do it before cleaning all of the surfaces.

Always clean the surfaces that you will be painting. Most professionals use trisodium phosphate (TSP). It’s also a good idea to rinse the TSP off with clean water. If something like cigarette smoke has been absorbed into the old paint, you want to use a strong cleaner like a 25/75 solution of bleach and water (rinse with clean water). Let the walls dry completely before painting (usually overnight).

This isn’t directly related to painting but you might want to seal any drafty cracks or gaps. You typically find these around the trim on floors. Use a paintable acrylic-latex caulk.

You’re getting close to starting to paint but there are another couple of other steps to consider. One is taping off anything that you don’t want to get paint on. There shouldn’t be much taping required because you have taken everything out of the room including electrical cover plates. But if the ceiling and walls will be different colors, taping between these might be a good idea. You may also want to tape window frames. Professional painters have mixed opinions about taping. The reason some don’t tape is that paint can bleed behind the tape and/or remove the paint it’s stuck to. If you do tape, use “blue” painters tape and seal it tightly to the surface using a putty knife.

Next, you need to decide if you can go straight to the finish paint or if you need to primer the surface first. You should primer first when:

  • Painting over bare drywall or bare wood.
  • Using high-gloss paint.
  • The walls are stained.
  • Repaired damage should have a primer applied.
  • The color change is drastic (from a dark color to light color).

Finally, make sure the paint you select is correct. There are many different paints to choose from and each has different reasons for being selected.

Flat or Matte Finish doesn’t have a shine. These work well on surfaces that still have some imperfections. But they are more difficult to keep clean. These work well in rooms that aren’t used much like bedrooms but not in kitchens and bathrooms where stains are likely to happen.

Satin finishes are better for kitchens, bathrooms, or children’s rooms where frequent cleaning is needed. Satins also work well on interior woodwork.

Eggshell finishes go in bedrooms but not in kitchens, baths, or high traffic areas like hallways. Eggshell doesn’t wear as well as other finishes.

Gloss finish is shiny and works well on window frames and trim to make them stand out. But these aren’t great for large wall sections where imperfections will stand out more. Gloss is the easiest to clean and the most durable.

Semi-gloss can be a good substitute for gloss. It isn’t as shiny, so imperfections won’t show as much. But it is easier to clean and is more durable than flat, satin, and eggshell finishes.

You also want to select the right tools to apply the paint. Large surfaces like walls and ceilings are rolled. This requires the right “nap” on the roller. The more texture your walls have, the thicker the nap you’ll want on your roller to fill in crevices for complete coverage. But if the nap is too heavy, the paint goes on too thick and creates a texture that you don’t want. The best thing to do is talk to a salesperson who can match the nap to the paint you are using and the texture you are covering. Also, talk to the salesperson about the best brushes that you’ll use in small areas where precision is needed. Don’t be afraid to spend a little more money for quality brushes. If you clean and store them properly, they will last for many years and many projects.

Now that you’re ready to start painting, work from the top down. Paint the ceiling first with a roller on an extension. Then use a good brush to cut the line on the wall between the ceiling and the walls. If you have crown molding, you’ll need to carefully use a brush to cut a line between both the ceiling and the walls. Next, roll the walls. Professionals do the door and other moldings after the walls and the baseboards last. The thought is that splash from the roller won’t get onto freshly painted moldings.

Kathy, I hope this helps you achieve the results you want and gets you off to a good start with your mother-in-law’s visit. Happy Painting!

What tricks of the painting trade can you offer? Please leave your comments.

Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.