Work Smart: Interior Painting

Two people paint a home.

April officially kicks off Spring and, for many homeowners, it signals the start of home improvement month. With that in mind, here are some tips, tricks, and insider techniques to save you time, effort, and money when painting.

How Much Paint Do I Need?

For rooms, multiply the total width of all walls (room perimeter) by ceiling height to find square footage to be covered. On average, 1 gallon of paint covers 350 square feet. Divide the total square feet by 350 to determine the number of gallons needed.

For a more accurate total and to avoid buying too much for big multi-room projects, deduct 20 square feet for each door and 14 for windows. Add an extra 10% to the total for repairs and touch-ups. Plan 1 quart of trim paint for each gallon of wall paint.

Calculation Helper

While estimating seems complex, it's worth the effort - as buying too little or too much of anything wastes time, effort, and money. A handy little tool called ProjectCalc makes it easy.

Programmed with formulas for hundreds of home decorating and repair projects, a few keystrokes determine materials needed with pin-point accuracy. To estimate paint, enter room dimensions for square footage, hit convert and paint buttons to learn gallons needed - add price per galoon and total project cost is displayed. Easy as 1-2-3. (MSRP $24.95 at hardware stores and home centers. Calculated Industries 1-775-885-4900 or

What Kind of Paint?

Water-based latex is the most common and easiest to use paint type. Oil-based paints require a solvent to clean and thin, but provides a far more durable surface.

For most rooms, use flat latex on ceilings and walls. For trim and doors, use semi-gloss latex (or oil-based for more durability). For high-moisture areas, like kitchens and baths or where frequent cleaning is required, use only oil-based paints. All oil-based paint is either semi-gloss or high-gloss.

If re-painting, latex over oil-based will not hold unless you lightly sand and use a latex primer first.

If you are unsure which type paint you have, wash the wall, let it dry and wipe with rubbing alcohol on a paper towel. If the paint comes off, it's latex.

Quality or Price?

Premium paint goes on faster, easier, covers better, and lasts longer. Higher priced paint usually indicates better ingredients that increases durability and extend life span. Cheap paints use clay and fillers that result in poor coverage and less durability.

Cost-wise, a gallon of flat latex ranges from $12 to $15 for a decent medium grade to $25 for premium paint. Semi-gloss adds a few more dollars per gallon as does oil-based.

To test, rub some paint between your fingertips. If it feels gritty, it's poor quality. Premium feels smooth and silky.

Selecting and Matching Colors

Pure white paint reflects 82% of the light it receives. This decreases as colors darken. Ivory reflects 78%, Yellow 75%, peach or pink 70% and so on - down to charcoal at 5%, and black near 0%.

Test colors on-site before you buy. Tape sample swatches together (to make large samples) and leave on the wall. Buy test quarts of ones you like and paint bigger squares at eye level. View often day and night with different lighting.

If matching an existing color, remove something (like a vent cover) rather than taking in a can of leftover paint. Colors change when paints dry and darken on walls over time - due to pollutants in the air.

Preparation (of All Kinds)

First, do the basics. Remove everything you can, patch holes, and make sure walls are super-clean. Then think about life while painting.

The phone will ring. So cover the handset with plastic wrap. Put your cell phone in a zip lock plastic bag. You'll be able to hear and be heard fine - and it'll stay clean. You'll get thirsty. Protect the refrigerator door handle. Same goes for drawers, doorknobs, toilet handles, and anything else you think you'll use or touch while painting.

Pre-thinking, protective wrap, and drop cloths beat hours of messy clean-ups every time. Rub petroleum jelly or mineral oil on your skin before you start and smudges and splatters will wash right off.

Time to Paint

Allow 60-minutes work time per gallon of paint - plus one hour to get underway and clean-up. Painting burns about 360 calories an hour.

Plastic grocery and trash bags are a boon to painting. Have plenty on hand. Put one over the paint roller tray before you start. When done, turn inside out and throw away. Your tray will stay just like new.

Working with custom mixed paint? "Average" to avoid possible variation from can-to-can. When one is half empty, refill from the next for consistent color and hue.

After "cutting in" corners and edges with a brush, the trick is rolling close to hide the brush marks.

With a plastic grocery bag over your hand, slide the roller cover off the wire roller cage about 1 inch. You'll roll close without scraping. If you hate the smell of paint you can add a spoon or two of vanilla extract.

If you can't finish in one day, put brushes and rollers in a plastic bag - with paint and all - in the refrigerator overnight.

Clean-ups Made Easy

Clean spills and drips as you go. Dried paint (even latex) is a cleaning challenge. A perpetual residual reminder you bought paint with long-lasting durability in mind.

Once you finish, put a plastic bag over your hand before removing the roller cover. Put another plastic bag over the paint can before hammering the lid back on to prevent splattering.

Wash latex paint tools with cold water. Warm or hot makes latex gummy and hard to remove.

If you store leftover paint in the original can, mark the label to show how much is left inside. Place the can upside down to keep a "skin" from forming on top - or add plastic zip-lock bags filled with water until the paint level reaches the top, then seal the lid.

Transferring leftovers into smaller clear containers is better. By doing so you can see what's inside - color and quantity - and it uses less storage space. Put plastic wrap over container top and cap or lid won't get stuck over time.

Most important: make a record. On paint cans, write the date and where it was used on the lid with a permanent marking pen. Same goes for smaller clear containers. Still better, take the label off the can and trim to show brand, type, and color. Then date and note where you bought it on the back, fold into a small square, and tape on the back of a switch plate in the room where it was used. The next time you paint, it'll be there.