Painting Tips & Frequently Asked Questions

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How to select interior color
  • Light colors will help lighten a dark or poorly-lighted room, and provide a psychological lift. Light colors also make walls and ceilings appear to be further away, and can be used to make small rooms appear larger and more open.
  • Dark colors can give a room a dramatic look, and create a sense of intimacy. They can also make walls and ceilings appear to be closer, and can be used to make a large room appear smaller and more cozy.
  • Bright, vibrant colors will give the room a cheerful feel, and a sense of excitement.
  • Reds, yellows and oranges are warm colors. When these colors are used in a room, they make the walls appear closer, creating the illusion of a smaller room.
  • Violets, blues and greens are cool colors. When these colors are used in a room, they make the walls appear farther away, creating the illusion of a larger room.
  • Tans, greys, and off-whites tend not to attract attention, and can be used to create a restful, relaxing atmosphere. They are also easier to coordinate with other colors in the room.
  • For long, narrow rooms, paint the shorter walls a darker color. This will make these walls appear closer together, so the room will seem less like a tunnel.
  • For square rooms, paint one wall a different color, preferably the wall first seen when entering the room. This will give the room a more dramatic look and make it seem less 'boxy'.
How to choose the right sheen

To decide which paint sheen is best for your project, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What room, area, or surface is being painted?
  • Will the painted surface be handled frequently, or subjected to abrasion or excessive wear?
  • Will the painted surface be washed or scrubbed frequently?
  • Will the painted surface be regularly exposed to moisture or high humidity?
  • Does the surface being painted have any nicks, dents, or surface flaws present?

Your answers to these questions will help you select the best paint sheen to use, based on the following advantages and drawbacks of different paint finishes.

How to select exterior color
  • When selecting exterior paint colors, take the fixed colors into account (like the roof, brick, stonework or any stained wood), and make sure all the colors look good together.
  • Light colors will make a small house seem larger, and dark colors will make a large house seem smaller.
  • A large, boxy house can be broken up by using a trim color that contrasts the body color.
  • A small house will appear larger if the trim is painted the same color as the body of the house.
  • Light colors will help keep a home cooler in warmer climates, because they absorb less heat. Dark colors will help keep a home warmer in cooler climates, because they absorb more heat.
  • Because light colored paint films absorb less heat, they will generally last longer than darker colored paint films.
  • Some communities have restrictions on what colors can be used on house exteriors, so check this out before you make your choice.
How to estimate paint quantity

Along with selecting the right products and colors for your project, you'll also need to estimate how much paint you'll need. This is done by calculating the surface area that's being painted, and dividing it by the estimated coverage rate of the paint you're using. When estimating your paint needs, keep the following things in mind:

  • In most cases, it's better to buy a little too much paint rather than not enough, so you don't run out in the middle of the job. But don't overdo it! Ideally, you should end up with 1 - 2 quarts of paint leftover, for future touchups.
  • Paints in ready-mixed colors are returnable (in full, unopened containers), but tinted paints are not. This means estimates for tinted colors must be done much more carefully, so you don't end up with more paint than you can use.
How to estimate the coverage rate

The coverage rate for most paints is 250 - 350 sq. ft. per gallon (check the product label for more specific information). The exact coverage will depend on the following factors:

  • The type and condition of the surface being painted (i.e., age, porosity, roughness). A paint won't go as far on a rough, porous or textured surface as it will on a smooth, well-sealed surface.
  • The type and quality of paint being used. In general, higher quality paints will cover better than lower quality paints, and lower sheen paints will cover better than higher sheen paints.
  • The method of application. The coverage rate will be slightly higher for brushes and rollers, and slightly lower for paint sprayers (due to overspray).
  • The experience of the painter. A more experienced painter will usually be able to make the paint go farther than an inexperienced painter.
  • Some colors cover better than others. Here are some general rules of thumb:
    • Darker colors cover better than lighter ones.
    • Muddier colors cover better than cleaner colors.
    • Yellows and reds generally don't cover as well as other colors.
    • Factory-mixed colors cover better than store-tinted colors (because higher quality pigments are used).
How do I remove mildew?

To distinguish between mildew and dirt, apply a few drops of bleach to the surface; mildew discoloration will disappear, but dirt will be unaffected. For removing existing mildew, use a ready-made mildew removers, or one of the following cleaning solutions:

General tips for a better paint job
  • The following guidelines will help ensure best possible color consistency:
    • Use the same batch of paint for each job or structure.
    • If the paint is a tinted color, it's best to 'box' the paint (mixing the paint by pouring it from can to can) before starting. The next best thing is to always keep the paint container partially filled. In other words, refill the container when it's half-full, not when it's completely empty.
  • Paints should be applied at the right temperature. For best results, the air, surface and paint temperature should all be between 60º - 80º F.
  • Don't stop painting in the middle of a continuous wall or trim surface, or a lap mark may show where the two coats overlap.
  • Allow painted surfaces to dry for at least 14 days before washing. Use a mild detergent to protect the paint finish.
How to estimate exterior coverage

The same general calculations are also used to estimate how much paint will be needed for an exterior painting project. Or, use the following worksheet to estimate how much paint will be needed for the body of a house. This worksheet gives a paint estimate for one coat. Double the total for two coats (Note: for exterior paint jobs, two coats of paint will provide the best durability and colorfastness).

  1. Width of all walls added together x Height of house from foundation to roofline = Wall surface area below roofline.
  2. Width of gable x Height of gable = Area of gable in square feet. Repeat line B for each gable and add together.
  3. Total from line A + Total from line C = Total surface area of walls.
  4. Width of eaves X Total length of all eaves = Area of eaves in square feet.
  5. Total from line D + Total from line E = Total surface area of walls and eaves.
  6. Height of window or door X Width of window or door = Area of window or door in square feet.
  7. Repeat line G for each window and door and add together.
  8. Total from line F - Total from line H = Total from line H.
  9. Total from line I + 250 - 350 sq. ft./gallon for one coat of paint = Number of gallons needed.

To get an accurate estimate for the trim paint, calculate the surface area of the doors, window trim and any other surfaces that will be painted with the trim paint, and add these numbers together for the total trim surface area. Then divide the total trim surface area by the coverage rate of the paint. For a rough estimate, figure on 1 gallon of trim paint for every 8 gallons of body paint.

Interior painting tips
  • Walls, ceilings, and other large, flat surfaces should be painted as follows:
    • First, a 2" to 3" border is painted along all corners, edges and other areas that can't be easily reached with a 7" or 9" roller. A 2" to 3" brush or paint pad works well for this step.
    • Next, a 7" or 9" roller is used to fill in the middle. Starting at one corner of the surface, the paint should be applied over only about one square yard at a time. This way, the paint will be less likely to dry out between passes (this is known as keeping a 'wet edge'). Otherwise, the paint may dry out between passes, causing a lap mark to show where the two coats overlap.
    • It's usually best to paint the ceiling first, then the walls. This reduces the chance of marring a freshly painted surface.
    • When painting ceilings, a little less paint should be carried on the brush or roller, to reduce spattering.
    • When painting the ceiling, the paint should be applied across the shorter side of the ceiling, so the paint will be less likely to dry out between passes.
  • When painting cabinets, doors, windows and trim, start with the least visible and least accessible areas, and finish with the more accessible areas.
    • On paneled doors, the edges and paneled areas are painted first, then the broad surfaces.
    • For cabinets, the inside surfaces are painted first, then the narrow trim and panelled areas, and finally the broad outside surfaces.
    • When painting windows, start with the least accessible surfaces first, and finish with the most accessible areas. Be careful not to get paint on the weather stripping or contact areas, or the window might stick.
  • When painting cabinets, shelving, etc., it might be easier to remove the hardware, then lay the items flat. It's easier to paint a horizontal surface than a vertical one, and the paint will level out better.
Exterior painting tips
  • When painting exterior surfaces, 1 prime coat and 2 finish coats will give the longest-lasting paint job. As an alternative, apply 1 prime and 2 finish coats on the surfaces that will receive the most weathering (the south and west exposures, windowsills and other exposed horizontal surfaces), and 1 prime and 1 finish coat everywhere else. If the surface has been previously painted and the paint film is in good shape, a prime coat isn't necessary.
  • Clear, dry weather and no wind is best for exterior painting.
  • When painting exteriors, start painting from the top and work down. For example, start with the gutters, then the fascia, gables, siding, trim, railings, porches, and finish with the steps.
  • For best results, paints and primers should only be applied when the air, surface and product temperature are all between 60º - 80º F:
    • When solvent-based paints are applied at too low a temperature, they will be thicker and be harder to apply. They will also take longer to dry, which can lead to sagging, wrinkling and a non-uniform gloss across the surface (this is known as 'flashing').
    • When latex-based paints are applied at too low a temperature, they will not dry and cure properly, leading to poor adhesion and reduced durability. The slow drying time may also result in sagging.
    • If a paint is applied at too high a temperature, it may dry too fast, leading to brush marks or lap marks.
    • If a latex paint is applied at too high a temperature, it may dry before the film can set up properly, which can lead to premature paint failure.
  • Paints and primers should not be applied when the humidity is too low or too high. Low humidity conditions can lead to the same problems as painting in high temperatures, and high humidity conditions can result in the same types of problems as painting in low temperatures.
Tips for using a paint brush
  • Before using a paint brush, it should be pre-wetted with water if a latex paint is being used, or mineral spirits for an oil base paint. The excess liquid should then be removed, leaving the brush damp but not wet. This step will help the paint transfer better to the surface, and make it easier to apply.
  • Hold the brush lightly with the fingertips, near the base of the handle.
  • To load the brush with paint, dip 1/3 to 1/2 of the bristle length into the paint, then tap the brush against the inside of the paint container to remove the excess paint.
  • Paint should always be applied with the broad side of the brush, not the edge.
  • Apply the paint to the surface in long, light, even strokes. Hold the brush at about a 45º angle to the surface, applying enough pressure so the bristles flex slightly, and lift the brush slightly at the end of each stroke. To avoid overspreading the paint, brush the paint from unpainted into painted areas.
  • On the last stroke, lightly stroke the brush across the length of the surface. This will help provide the smoothest finish.
  • When applying latex paints, avoid overbrushing the paint. On the other hand, extra brushing can actually improve the finish of alkyd or oil-based paints.
  • When painting wood, brush with the grain wherever possible.
Tips for using a paint roller
  • First, make sure the cover fits tightly on the roller frame. If not, pull the wires on the frame cage out slightly to improve the fit.
  • Before using a roller cover, it should be pre-wetted with water if a latex paint is being used, or mineral spirits for an oil base paint. The cover should then be spun or dabbed with a rag or paper towel to remove the excess liquid. This step will help the paint transfer better to the surface, and make it easier to apply.
  • To load a paint roller with paint, it should be rolled back and forth in the well of the roller tray until the cover is uniformly covered with paint, then lightly rolled back and forth on the upper portion of the tray to remove the excess paint.
  • Instead of using a roller tray, many experienced painters prefer to use a roller grid in a bucket. A bucket holds more paint than a tray, so it doesn't need to be refilled as often.
  • Starting at one corner of the room, the paint should be applied over about one square yard at a time. The paint is applied to the surface by making a large M or W shape, and then the unpainted areas are filled in with horizontal cross strokes.
  • To avoid spattering, the paint should be applied with slow, even strokes. Each stroke should be overlapped into the previously painted area before it dries, for a more uniform finish.
  • Each section of wall should be finished by lightly rolling the last pass vertically (or at right angles to the cross strokes), rolling each pass in a single direction.
How to clean and care for brushes
  • The brush should be cleaned immediately after use, before the paint has a chance to dry. Use a compatible solvent for solvent-based paints, and a warm detergent solution for latex-base paints. Do not clean natural bristle brushes with water; the water will cause the bristles to swell and become limp. Strong solvents like lacquer thinner may also damage brush bristles, and should not be used unless the brush is designed to be compatible with that solvent.
  • The wet bristles should be brushed with a metal brush comb (a fork works well, too!) to keep the paint from collecting on the bristles, especially near the handle.
  • If the brush is to be stored for long periods, it should be placed in the pouch supplied with the brush or wrapped in foil or heavy paper, with the bristles smooth and flat.
  • The brush should always be stored flat or suspended from a nail or hook; make sure that the bristles are straight and that the brush is not resting on the bristles.
  • Brushes should not be allowed to stand on end in either paint or water.
  • Brushes should not be allowed to soak in water. It will damage the filaments and/or the epoxy setting, and cause the ferrule to rust.
How to clean and care for rollers

Rollers should be cleaned immediately after every use, by first removing excess paint by rolling or pressing on a newspaper, then washing in the proper solvent or water. They can then be dried and wrapped for storage.

How to avoid mildew in the future

Mildew can grow on a painted surface because the paint film provides a food source for the mildew. Use the following guidelines to help reduce the chances of mildew growth:

  • Latex paint films are more mildew-resistant than alkyd or oil paint films (alkyd and oil paints provide a better food source for the mildew).
  • Higher sheen finishes are more mildew-resistant than lower sheen finishes.
  • Newer paint films are more mildew-resistant than older paint films.
  • A thick paint film resists mildew better than a thin paint film, and two coats of paint are better than one.
  • A topcoat applied to primed wood will be more mildew-resistant than a topcoat applied directly to bare wood.
  • Existing mildew must be removed before repainting, or it will grow through the new paint film.
How do I select interior paint finishes?
  • For living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms, etc., flat finishes are better because they provide a softer, more muted look, and they don't show surface imperfections.
  • For children's rooms, utility rooms, kitchens, etc., higher sheen paints are preferred because for these areas, higher washability, moisture, stain and scuff resistance is usually needed.
  • Low sheen and eggshell finish paints provide a happy medium, with a nice balance of soft finish and good durability.
How do I select exterior paint finishes?
  • For exterior siding, flat and low sheen finishes are better because they're easier to touch-up, and they don't highlight surface imperfections.
  • For gutters, trim, doors and windows, higher sheen paints are better because they provide better washability, moisture, stain and scuff resistance.
How do I select the right color?
  • The appearance of a color depends on its surroundings, so a color should be checked only with the other colors that will be present in the area being painted.
  • In general, colors will end up looking somewhat lighter and brighter on a large sample area than they do on the color chip; you may want to adjust for this by choosing a color that's slightly darker and less intense.
  • A color's appearance is affected by the sheen of the paint it's made in; for example, a color will look softer and more muted in a flat or lower sheen paint than it does in a higher sheen paint.
  • A color's appearance is also affected by the other ingredients in the paint; for example, alkyd and oil-based paints usually look more yellow than latex paints, especially with light off white colors.
  • The light conditions will affect the appearance of colors: for example, standard (non-color corrected) fluorescent lighting will make colors appear more blue; incandescent lighting will make colors appear more yellow-orange.
  • If you're very particular about the color you want, the best way to check a color is to buy a sample quart or gallon in the type of paint you're going to be using, and paint out a sample on a fairly large piece of wood or drywall that has a texture like the surface you'll be painting. This will make it easy to check the color in different areas, and under different lighting conditions.
How do I select the right brush size?
  • In general, use the largest size brush that can comfortably be used to get the job done. Here are some guidelines:
    • For painting into corners that can't be reached with a roller, a 3" brush works well.
    • For window frames, trim, and other narrow surfaces, use a brush that's slightly narrower than the trim surfaces being painted.
    • For detail work or painting into hard-to-reach areas, use an angled sash brush (these are available in widths of 1" to 3.5"; go with a size that's slightly narrower than the surface being painted).
How do I select the right roller cover?
  • To pick a quality roller cover, look for the following features:
    • A plastic or phenolic core instead of cardboard, so it will hold up better, especially under repeated use.
    • No visible seams. This will minimize streaking on the painted surface.
    • A resilient nap that retains its shape, even after being squeezed.
  • To select the right nap material, follow these guidelines:
    • Natural lambskin is best for flat paints.
    • Woven fabric is good for higher sheen paints (because it doesn't shed fibers).
    • Mohair is good for higher sheen paints, varnishes, and shellacs.
    • Knitted fabric is less expensive, but more likely to shed fibers. This type of cover should only be used with flat paints.
  • When selecting the right nap thickness, remember that the smoother the surface is, the shorter the roller nap should be. Using a longer nap cover on a smooth surface can lead to a rough paint finish and poor hiding. Using a shorter nap cover on a rough surface can make it tougher to get complete surface coverage. Here are some general guidelines:
    • For smooth surfaces and enamel paints, go with a mohair or .25" nap.
    • For fairly smooth or medium textured surfaces, use a .375" to .75" nap.
    • For rough textured surfaces like stucco and cinder block, use a .75" to 1.5" nap.
How do I prepare the area for interior painting projects?
  • Structures built before 1978 may contain LEAD AND/OR ASBESTOS. If you believe lead or asbestos exist, do not remove, disturb or sand old paint or drywall finishing materials without contacting your local health officials for information on lead paint testing, asbestos testing, and safety precautions. Scraping, sanding or removing old paint or drywall finishing materials from any surface, may release lead and/or asbestos dust. LEAD AND ASBESTOS ARE TOXIC. EXPOSURE TO DUST FROM THESE MATERIALS CAN CAUSE SERIOUS ILLNESS AND/OR DEATH. For more information on asbestos: Contact your local American Lung Association for a copy of "Indoor Air Pollution Fact Sheet - Asbestos ", "Air Pollution in Your Home? ", and other publications on indoor pollution at 1-800-LUNGUSA. For more information on lead: Contact the U.S. EPA/Lead Information Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) or log on to www.epa.gov/lead for print materials, including an Environmental Protection Agency booklet titled "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home. "
    • Remove small furniture, window coverings, pictures, etc. Cover large items and the floor with drop cloths.
    • Keep a window or door open for adequate ventilation while painting, especially when using an alkyd or oil-based paint.
How do I prepare the area for exterior painting projects?
  • Structures built before 1978 may contain LEAD AND/OR ASBESTOS. If you believe lead or asbestos exist, do not remove, disturb or sand old paint or drywall finishing materials without contacting your local health officials for information on lead paint testing, asbestos testing, and safety precautions. Scraping, sanding or removing old paint or drywall finishing materials from any surface, may release lead and/or asbestos dust. LEAD AND ASBESTOS ARE TOXIC. EXPOSURE TO DUST FROM THESE MATERIALS CAN CAUSE SERIOUS ILLNESS AND/OR DEATH. For more information on asbestos: Contact your local American Lung Association for a copy of "Indoor Air Pollution Fact Sheet - Asbestos ", "Air Pollution in Your Home? ", and other publications on indoor pollution at 1-800-LUNGUSA. For more information on lead: Contact the U.S. EPA/Lead Information Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) or log on to www.epa.gov/lead for print materials, including an Environmental Protection Agency booklet titled "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home. "
  • Cover and tie back any shrubs or foliage that are next to surfaces being painted.
  • Place dropcloths on the ground to protect against paint spatters.
How much cleaning is necessary?
  • All dirt, dust, mildew, grease, etc., must be removed from the surface for the paint to adhere properly. Be sure to check the following areas:
    • When painting interiors, check the kitchen (especially around the stove, oven and sink), ceilings, around air vents, bathrooms (especially around the sink and shower stall) and around corners and switch plates.
    • When painting exteriors, check under the eaves, around doors and window frames, and any well-protected areas where mildew may be growing.
  • Clean dirty surfaces with warm, soapy water. For very dirty exterior surfaces, a pressure washer is the best way to go.
    • For removing mildew, use a ready-made mildew remover, or one of the following cleaning solutions:
    • 1 part household bleach and 3 parts water; or,
    • 1 cup household bleach, 1/3 cup TSP and 1 gallon hot water (for removing mildew and dirt).
  • Washed surfaces must be rinsed thoroughly to remove all soap residue, and allowed to dry completely before painting.
  • Remove any dust or cobwebs with a brush, broom or tack cloth.
How do I avoid surface leaching?
  • When painting outside, avoid painting when cool and/or damp conditions are present or expected (like in the early morning or late afternoon).
  • When painting bathrooms, laundry rooms, etc., let the paint film cure for as long as possible before exposing it to high humidity levels. If possible, increase ventilation to keep the humidity level as low as possible.
  • Paints formulated with 100% acrylic binders and paints with good wet adhesion are more resistant to surfactant leaching.
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