I have to admit, sometimes a cheap paint job looks pretty good when it’s done, in fact, without knowing what was done a bad paint job can look a lot like a good paint job. Sometimes even with close scrutiny it is difficult to determine. How can this be?

The first thing to remember is that there is a psychological transition occurring: it looked lousy, now it has been painted, ergo, it looks great – this is huge; you may be delighted because it looks so much better, but in short time you will see evidence of things not done well.

Paint seldom falls off, and never fades, overnight. Improper caulking and other surface prep shortcuts seldom show themselves right away. It takes time, so the job looks fine but then – then you notice a caulking seam has buckled, or there’s fading, peeling, etc., and it’s only been 6 months, or a year or two, but it’s beginning to look like you need to paint again.

That is, if you were looking but you’re not because its spring, and your house was painted last spring or summer or fall or just the ___ before so it’s fine, we don’t even have to think about it – so let’s go for a bike ride…

So what is the trick to knowing – before signing the contract – what you’re getting? You’re contract may specify: “prep, prime and 2 coats” but that isn’t good enough.

If you were baking bread and your recipe specified: “combine all ingredients and bake in a hot oven” how good would your bread be? It might be great but if you weren’t doing it by repetitive-memory what are the odds of that?

The Top 5 Short Cuts to Know and Avoid (just paint mechanics, not insurance, financial or security related – these 3 deserve special attention)

1. Prep: scraping loose paint, removing buckled caulking, sanding where necessary, priming prepped areas, re-applying caulking, priming again, then washing the house. There’s a lot that can be avoided here, days’ worth of work in many cases. Skipping some or all of this doesn’t mean the finished paint job will look crappy right away, but crappy it will look.

2. Primer: using the right primer for the situation, not just the cheapest can that has “Primer” on the label. There are dozens of primer types and they’re specific to the need and the surface. Some primers cost $100/gallon and others $10, and just like everything else, you get what you pay for. Why use a cheap primer and expensive paint? Will the expensive paint hold the primer to the surface? For a while maybe, but the first good reason the cheap primer gets it will let go of the surface it was holding on to – like a short freeze/thaw cycle, or a little surface moisture.

3. Good Paint, and the Right Amount: paint manufacturers provide recommended spread rates for a gallon on paint, usually 400 sq. /ft. This is applying the paint at the minimal recommended mil-thickness, not optimal. Optimal is probably closer to 350. Your house has a specific amount of surface area to be painted, your contract should include that number, multiplied times 2 – if you’re buying 2 coats. If your contractor says he’s putting on 10 gallons with a brush so it’s thicker, he’s either a liar or a fool and you should find another contractor or buy him a calculator so he can show you how that math works.

4. Two Separate Coats: Spray then back roll is not 2 coats! – If I had a grain of sand for every time that lie has been sold, I’d be an island prince. Or this one: “one good coat with a brush is the same as 2 with a sprayer”, right. Try that next time you bake; one cup of flour from a glass measuring cup is worth 2 from a plastic one – that sounds silly to everybody, whether you’ve ever baked or not.

5. Method of application: sometimes a sprayer is best tool, sometimes rollers, sometimes brushes, sometimes pads, often times all are used – it all depends on what material is being applied to what surface, but always it should be specified. A sprayer has different tip sizes that allow either more, or less paint to be applied. Brushes and rollers can apply the same load (the amount of paint that can be held by the tool) to either a larger, or a smaller space – it is all about the spread rate in the case of any application tool.

In Summary Your Contract Needs to Specify Process, Prep Levels, Cleaning, Type and Number of Gallons of Paint, application method. Warranty coverage and period need to be specified, but can and often are covered by a different document.

Now, you know what to look for.

Next, when interviewing contractors to paint your house, ask questions about the 5 items listed above.
Make notes and compare them to the contract you’re offered, if specifics aren’t listed in the contract, they will not be done!
If you want something done and it’s not specifically listed, the only way to make sure that item gets done is to be there the whole time and watch it being done.

Just Because It’s on your Contract doesn’t mean it will be done.

Because of the nature of the painting trade, there are many players who are transient; either geographically, or vocationally. Asking an unprofessional tradesman whether he’s going to do X and then trusting him to do so is foolish, and is the reason your contract needs to be specific.

Transient actors aren’t thinking about the future, i.e.: the next time they’re going to be painting your house.
No, they have a different future in their cartoon bubble: “…finish this house today and we can start Mrs. Flotsam’s tomorrow and get paid for 2 jobs by Friday – That’s as long term as the strategic thinking goes in most cases.

Above and Beyond the Contract is Trust:

Simple trust: do I trust this person that what the items and actions they have listed on my contract will be adhered to? This is a really good question to ask yourself. This is a feeling question, so trust yourself here.

But Verify:

Check-in frequently as the project progresses. Don’t be passive about this, go outside and look, make notes and go over your questions with the contractor the following morning.

Don’t be afraid to shepherd your project a little. If, in doing so, you find some problem and begin to wonder if you’ve made the right choice, listen to that fear and bring it up, do what you must to get it straightened out, stopping the job if necessary.

That’s a wrap:

So Hire a good contractor to perform a specific contract and stay on top of the process and you will be happy with your purchase years from now. It really is simple, and remember that the pain of poor quality lasts longer than the joy of cheap price.

Exterior House Painting – How You Can Know What You’re Buying Beforehand