How to Choose a Good Painting Contractor

My mother often used a wonderful old adage about ‘the devil being in the details.’ She used this expression to convey the importance of getting those tiny little details right, knowing that overlooking the small things can lead to bigger problems on down the road. Painting a house is one of those projects in which the ‘devil’ is truly in the details.

Painting a home seems like it should be a easy project, but in reality, requires a great deal of skilled preparation work before the paint can actually be applied. In addition to properly masking off surfaces, there’s sanding and filling that need to happen, caulking, and other surface preparation. These steps are one of the most critical details of the painting process. Careless work and inattention to those tiny details result in a less than satisfactory paint job that can irreversibly damage your property, and cost more money in the end.

In our state, painting contractors are not licensed and it is the responsibility of the property owner to check references. It is not enough to go on the word of your building contractor or a friend; to be certain that you are hiring a painting contractor that will meet your level of expectations, take the time to physically inspect work he has performed elsewhere.

Characteristics of a sloppy painter

We discovered in this industry, there are sloppy painters and there are those who take pride in their work. Property owners who aren’t particularly fussy may be satisfied with a speed and low cost of a sloppy painter. Sloppy painters are inexpensive because they don’t take the time to properly clean or prep the surface, nor mask off adjacent architectural or structural details, or even mix the paint correctly.

With these guys, it’s all about speed. These may not seem like big issues, but can lead to disastrous results which are both time consuming and expensive to reverse.

With a low end paint job, you can expect these types of problems:
Uneven application of paint
Over spraying (damaging window liners, landscaping, fences, lighting fixtures, porous tile, brick, hardwood floors, concrete, hardware, and stained wood architectural details)
Paint drips and sags on the walls
Poor quality of paint
Paint that has been applied over dirty surfaces on shelves and in corners
Pebble texture on smooth wood molding and other trim
Improperly sanding and surface prep
Neglecting to counter sink nails or filling in holes with putty
Windows and doors that have been painted shut.

How to find a quality painting contractor

Legitimate and qualified painting contractors may be more expensive, but come with a long list of satisfied customers and excellent references. The very problems that characterize a sloppy painter are nonexistent with a quality paint job.

So how do you find a good painting contractor? Ask friends, coworkers and relatives who have recently had work done on their homes for the name of a quality painter they would personally recommend. In addition to the referral, ask if you can examine the quality of the paint job itself. Some people have a higher threshold of tolerance for careless work than others, and a detail that might not bother one person may be unacceptable to another.

We learned that critical things to look for should include:
The quality of the surface preparation. Nails should be counter sunk, old paint scraped and sanded smooth, holes filled and sanded, and surfaces and corners cleaned of dust, cobwebs, and dirt before painting,
Proper prime coat. Quality painters apply prime coats to unfinished surfaces before applying the finish coat. Knots holes are a good place to check for the quality of the prime coat since these areas are often the first to lose paint.

Quality and condition of paint used. A high quality paint can last up to 30 years. If the paint appears to be flecking off after just a couple of years, it was either applied incorrectly, cut too thin, or was an inferior product ~ all leading to corners that were cut.

Even application of paint. Paint should be applied evenly with consistent and complete coverage; sheet rock tape should not be visible. Walls, ceilings, trim, and other surfaces should not have sags or drips.
No evidence of over spraying. Many painting contractors use airless paint sprayers to apply paint in both inside and outside of the home. Homes that have been improperly masked or shielded will have spray droplets in areas that can be impossible or costly to remove. Look for signs of over spraying on all porous surfaces on both inside and outside of the house.

Surface texture. Some painters use texture to break up the expanse of walls, or to hide preexisting minor imperfections. While texture is a low cost and practical solution for walls that will not be wallpapered, you might not want to see texture on areas that are painted with a glossy finish. These areas would include wainscoting, wood molding, baseboards, staircases, and built-ins.

Properly functioning windows, doors, and cabinets. During construction, sloppy painters will paint everything in sight ~ including window jamb liners, drawer tracks, and door hinges. Take the time to open and close anything that moves to check that hardware hasn’t been damaged.

As a final measure of protection, call the Better Business Bureau to find out if any complaints have been filed against the painter. Also check with the County Courthouse for a list of all legal action connected to the contractor. While it’s hard to avoid an occasional lawsuit in the building industry, you do want to ascertain that this contractor does not have a long history of non performance or is in the middle of bankruptcy.

The bidding process

Once you have found a couple of painting contractors whose standard of craftsmanship meets with your expectations of a quality paint job, it’s time to get painting bids.

Bids can be all over the map with each painter including different things. Do tell each contractor what is expected of them including the quality of the paint, the degree of preparation, the different colors of paint desired, and the scope of the project itself. With this information, the painting contractors can prepare a complete bid package that can be easily compared with others. With the bids, ask the painting contractors to include verification of current insurance liability and workman’s compensation policies.

Shopping for a painting contractor can be time consuming, but absolutely necessary if your goal is to have a quality paint job on your home. In areas of the United States where painting contractors do not have to be licensed, homeowners are at risk for having property damaged with sloppy work. Asking for referrals, checking references, examining the quality of previous work, and preparing a contract that is fair to both parties involved, will ensure a quality project.

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