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Interior Painting: The Planning Phase

Plan your paint project in advance. Image © visivasnc /

When it’s time for your next home painting project, consider this advice before you ever pick up a paint brush.

Prime Time For unpainted surfaces, plan on using a good Sealing Primer before painting. A Sealing Primer achieves the truest color for your paint and also offers stain- and odor-blocking properties.

For unpainted drywall, use a PVA primer. This Polyvinyl Acetate primer helps to equalize the paper face and joint compound, so dissimilarities don’t show up as much in the paint coat. To seal wood knots, use a shellac-based primer to lock in tannin bleed.

Priming may not be necessary when re-coating a previously painted surface, but it will never hurt. If you’re going to paint a darker color over a lighter one, use a tinted primer to reduce the number of paint coats required to achieve the desired color. If you’re dealing with water stains, apply a water-based, stain-blocking primer before painting (allow it to dry completely before painting).

Should you pay for “Primer and Paint” in one can? Paints that “include primer” indicates the paint can be used as primer, but if you read the fine print, you might find some surfaces still require a separate primer. In fact, these “all-in-one” products make most sense when a primer isn’t really necessary, as when painting over similar type (latex to latex) finishes that are clean, dry, dull and in sound shape. These products typically have more resin in the formula than standard paint, so they stick better but cost more. Although they may prime the surface using the same product you’ll be using for a top coat, do  you really want to use your paint–which costs 3 times as much as a primer–as your primer?

The Best Brush When painting with water-based or latex paints, always use a synthetic filament paint brush. China bristle paint brushes made from animal hair have traditionally been used for oil paints, but for interior house painting, oil paint is rarely used anymore, and China bristles don’t leave a good edge in latex.

Latex- or Oil-based?

For interiors, you should stick with a latex-based paint. In fact, the EPA is trying to steer the industry away from interior oil-based or “alkyd” paints due to health concerns. Water-based paints will emit fewer chemicals and lower levels of chemical vapors than oil-based.

If your project requires a hard, furniture-quality finish, consider one of the new hybrid paints on the market, such as Benjamin Moore Advance, which is a waterborne alkyd paint with low-VOC even after tinting.

One of the most recent developments is ceramic paint, which is latex paint that contains ceramic microspheres–tiny, round particles distributed throughout the dried paint film. The result is a smoother, more continuous paint film that resists cracking and does not absorb stains.

The Right Roller Rollers are categorized by the height of the pile (aka thickness of the nap). Use a short-nap cover such as 3/8-in. for a smooth finish on interior walls. A 1/2-in. plus pile height is ideal for a stippled effect common to most home interiors. To coat rough surfaces like brick or cinder-block, use a larger nap for more efficient paint pickup and release.

Sheen Makes a Difference Choosing paint sheen should be a careful decision. Flat paints conceal imperfections in walls and other surfaces, making them a good choice for ceilings and rooms that aren’t exposed to moisture (bedrooms, living rooms). However, flat paint is more porous and prone to water spots and mildew, making it a bad choice for a bathroom or other moisture-prone areas. Each step up in sheen makes imperfections in walls and woodwork more visible. High-gloss paints highlight imperfections but they are durable and stain-resistant—and much easier to clean than paints with less gloss. High-gloss sheen is an ideal trim paint for windows, baseboards and moldings.

Color Makes an Impact Lightly colored ceilings and walls will make rooms look larger and more open. Want a room to look bigger? Go for cool paint colors like greens, blues and violets. If you’re going to use multiple colors in a room, use the darker color lower and the lighter color higher. With high ceilings, however, you can use bolder paint colors without feeling closed in.

When making your color selection, view the options firsthand at the paint store rather than rely on a computer screen. Your best bet is to narrow down to a few selections, then apply a sample to your walls in 2- or 3-ft. testing swatches so you can make final selection in your own lighting conditions. Varying light conditions can make a dramatic difference in the way a human eye perceives a certain color.

Quantity and Quality Equal Coverage Calculate how much paint you’ll require based on the area of the room(s) and the manufacturer’s coverage recommendations. A can of paint should be expected to cover no more than 400 square feet, and if it does, then you’re applying it too thin. And keep in mind that two coats perform better than one.

You also get what you pay for… According to HIR‘s go-to painting expert, Ritchie Hamilton of Home Fix-Up, “If you’re paying any less than $20 a gallon, then you’re probably buying paint intended for rental units to maintain the same color. With all the extra coats the paint will require, you’ll spend more money trying to save money.”

Plan for Tomorrow For future touch-ups and repairs, use the same batch of paint and method of application that was originally used, if possible. But a can of paint won’t last forever, so keep a list of paint used for each project, including the manufacturer, color and number.

Pro Tip: If the day arrives when you need a new batch of matching paint, purchase it from the same supplier of the original batch. Different paint suppliers may have their mixing equipment calibrated differently, so to achieve the closest color match, return to the original supplier.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Be sure to check out the other two articles in our painting series:

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