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Interior House Painting Tips

Aug 17, 2007
Painting is the last great do-it-yourself project. Our cars may have gotten so advanced that it takes a computer hacker to fix them, our computers have simply revolted and will be taking over any day now, and various home repair jobs grow ever more complex. We finish a carpentry job only to discover that our shelves fall down, our decks tilt, and doors never hang quite the way we intended them to.

But anybody can slap paint on a wall, right? We still have a safe perimeter of pioneering frontier staked out in the realm of painting. The rest of civilization can go on being digital, but painting will always remain a satisfyingly, soothingly analog pursuit.

Things you'll need:
Rollers, two sizes of brushes, a trim or cornering (sponge) brush. Paint pan. An unbelievable amount of rags for wiping up. Either or all of newspapers, drop clothes or plastic sheeting plus a few rolls of masking tape. Painter's coveralls, shoe slip-ons, and hairnets, maybe a few spare sets in case it's a mutli-day job. Perhaps a couple of screwdrivers for removing fixtures and such.

Not everybody, but some will also need: Wall scrapers, putty and putty knives, caulking and caulking guns, wire brushes, extra pail and roller grid, painter's specialty paint pads, ladders, scaffolds, sandpaper, and spackling compound. Oh yeah, and paint!

Preparation:
This is where ninety percent of the difference between the amateurs and the pros comes out. Think of the key to good painting as spending two days prepping a room that will take half a day to paint. Never, ever say to yourself, "I don't need to cover that. Paint would never get there!" Yes it will! Paint will go places you never thought possible, no matter how careful you are. At the very least, compare the two hours to cover something to not covering it and spending three days afterward with a razor scraper trying to get paint off of it. Cover it.

Everything that's in the room and isn't fastened to it must come out or at the very least be shoved together in the middle of the room and covered. Using either newspapers (less stable), dropcloths (more stable), or plastic sheeting (much stronger) and duct tape, cover every surface in the room which you don't want paint on. The floor should probably take plastic sheeting, especially if it's carpeted or you're going to be dragging a ladder around on it. Windows can be covered with newspapers. Everything gets secured with masking tape. By the way, this is where "masking tape" gets it's name: you're using it to apply a mask to the room before you swab paint on it, then removing the mask.

Consider removing metal and plastic fixtures from the room. Hanger hooks, doors, mirrors, light switch and plug socket faces (cut the power to the room first, even though you're just removing the plastic facing), shelf brackets, thermostat controls, and so on. It's easier to simply remove them than it is to try to keep paint off of them. If you're covering small items, you can get by with mummifying them in tape. Use the cloth, paper, or plastic for large area, and border it with the tape to stick it on. Never trust your covering to a single layer; overlap everything to make sure that if you rip a hole in something, that won't be the one place where paint leaks through. By the way, instead of agonizing over getting the tape border exactly straight, just put it on naturally and then trim the overlap by cutting it back with a razor.

An exception is the hanging lamps or chandeliers in the room. Ceiling lighting fixtures are both too difficult to remove and too labor intensive to wrap. Why not just cover it with a heavy-duty trash bag and duct-tape the opening around the neck? I knew you'd like that idea!

Next, you'll need to at least clean the surface you're going to paint, and possibly patch and prime it as well. Washing is a simple matter of soapy water and a sponge. Depending on what kind of walls you have, there may be some scraping of old paint and filling in of nail holes and cracks. Make sure, after whatever improvements you have decided to make at this point, that the surface you want to paint is clean and dry.

By the way, nothing is more irritating than finishing a new paint job only to have to pick hairs and dirt out of it. So not only should your walls be clean, but should stay clean while the paint is wet. That means putting up some kind of barrier to dust from outside the room, keeping pets out, keeping windows screened so insects and outside litter stays out, and not smoking in the room. For instance, if you're painting a bedroom while somebody else is drywalling the hallway (notice how home improvement projects tend to bunch up on you?) you can tape up a plastic sheet over the doorway to the bedroom to act as a dust curtain.

As for the kind of paint and quality of tools: A common maxim in the painting trade is that you can do it the cheap way and have it to do again next year, or you can do it the expensive way and not have to do it again for eight years. So, high quality paints and tools only cost a few dollars more than the bargain stuff, and will save you money and labor in the long run. Paint quality isn't so much a matter of brand as the different kinds of paint each brand offers.

Painting itself is somewhat monotonous work. It helps to have two people or if you're doing it solo, an iPod or radio going. Music tends to help keep you relaxed and focused. Get just enough paint on your roller or brush and apply evenly and generously. While today's paints aren't quite as stinky as those of ten years ago, they are still harmful if inhaled in concentrated quantities; always keep that window open or fan going and keep things ventilated, perhaps even ducking out of the painted area once an hour to get a clear breather.

Good luck and have fun!
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