Painting FAQs

Q. How do I figure how much paint I'll need for my project? It seems that every time I paint, I either have leftover paint or not quite enough and have to go back to the store for more!

Good question. There are lots of factors involved, but for most interior and exterior projects the following will usually give you an accurate estimate of your needs. Simply calculate the square footage of the surfaces to be painted and divide by the number of square feet that the manufacturer indicates can be covered by a gallon of your selected paint.

Estimating Example
For example, if a room is 10 feet by 20 feet with 8-foot ceilings, your square footage is 480 (the circumference times the ceiling height). If you have a number of windows and doors, subtract the square footage of those openings (standard doors are about 21 square feet, standard windows about 15 square feet). For many paints, including primers and stains, a gallon will cover about 400 square feet (the product label will show the coverage). Since two coats are normally recommended for most projects, two gallons would be needed for the 10-by-20-foot room example. (This assumes there are one or two windows.) Remember, it's always a good idea to have a little leftover paint for future touchups.

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of factors that affect how much paint you'll need. These include the type of surface being covered and the color currently on the surface as well as the one being applied. The best way to ensure that you have the proper amount of paint for your project is to take your measurements and other information (surface being covered, its condition and color) to your local independent paint retailer.

Q. When purchasing paint, I've been asked if I want flat, high gloss, satin and even an eggshell finish. What do these terms mean, and does it really make any difference what kind of finish I have?

Those terms refer to the sheen or gloss level of the paint, and, yes, it does make a difference which one you use. The sheen or gloss level simply means the degree of light reflectance of the paint. The terms you mention are ones that various manufacturers use to describe the shininess of their products. The following chart explains what each term means, and where paint with that type of gloss should be used. Your local independent paint retailer also can recommend the type of gloss you need for your particular paint project.

High Gloss (70+ on a 60-degree gloss meter)

Where to Use:

For kitchen and bathroom walls, kitchen cabinets, banisters and railings, trim, furniture, door jambs and window sills.


More durable, stain-resistant and easier to wash. However, the higher the gloss, the more likely surface imperfections will be noticed.

Semi-gloss (35 to 70 on a 60-degree gloss meter)

Where to Use:

For kitchen and bathroom walls, hallways, children's rooms, playrooms, doors, woodwork and trim.


More stain-resistant and easier to clean than flat paints. Better than flat for high-traffic areas. Satin or Silk (Range overlapping eggshell and semi-gloss) Similar characteristics to semi-gloss and eggshell. Eggshell (20 to 30 on a 60-degree gloss meter)

Where to Use:

Can be used in place of flat paints on wall surfaces especially in halls, bathrooms and playrooms. Can be used in place of semi-gloss paints on trim for a less shiny appearance.


It resists stains better than flat paint and gives a more lustrous appearance.

Flat (less than 15 on a 60-degree gloss meter)

Where to Use:

For general use on walls and ceilings.


Hides surface imperfections. Stain removal can be difficult. Use for uniform, non-reflecting appearance. Best suited for low-traffic areas.


Same characteristics as flat.

Q. I have vinyl siding that I thought was going to look like new forever. Now it has started to fade and has weather-damaged areas. Must I replace it or can I paint it and save some money?

Painting your old vinyl siding makes good sense both economically and aesthetically. Not only can you make it look like new again, you can, if you wish, change the color and give it a whole new look. Note that you can do the same thing with aluminum siding. Surface preparation and the use of a quality paint are the keys to painting both vinyl and aluminum siding. (However, check with the siding manufacturer to make sure that painting does not void the warranty.)

For vinyl, the first step is to remove any chalking and stains as well as any dirt by cleaning with a power washer or by hand-scrubbing with warm, soapy water and thoroughly rinsing. one caution: Never try to remove stubborn stains on vinyl siding with a wirebrush, sandpaper or a power sander. These can permanently damage your siding. After the surface is dry, paint using a quality paint. Note that you should not paint with a color darker than the original color of the vinyl siding. Why? Because dark colors can absorb the sun's heat, causing the siding panels to warp.
For aluminum siding, any surface oxidation must be completely removed by careful, light rubbing with steel wool. If mildew is present, remove it by scrubbing with a bleach solution (one part bleach to three parts water). Power-wash or hand-scrub with warm, soapy water and rinse. Be sure to remove all chalking, loose paint, dust, dirt, and bleach solution. Spot-prime areas where bare aluminum may be exposed. After the surface is dry, paint as you would any siding using a good quality paint. For authoritative advice on repainting your vinyl or aluminum siding along with the proper type and quality paint to do the job, check with your local independent paint retailer.

Q. I see prices ranging from less than $10 to $25 or more for a gallon of paint. Is there really any difference between one paint and another, or should I try to save some money?

As with almost any product, when you purchase paint you usually get what you pay for. Purchasing paint strictly on the basis of price will end up costing you more in the long run. Here's why. As long as you're comparing two similar types of paint (i.e. interior wall paint, exterior trim paint), price differences usually reflect a difference in the quality and/or the amount of the key ingredients. Since it's the ingredients that affect such important qualities as durability, flow, hide and leveling, the better the quality of the paint the easier it will be to apply and the longer it will normally last. In fact, a top-quality paint can last as much as twice as long as a low-end paint. This lowers the cost per year of service which saves you not only money, but also sweat if you do your own painting. If you use a professional painter, you save even more by insisting on a top-quality paint. That's because the paint represents only a fraction of the cost of repainting; most of the expense is for the contractor's labor.
By spending a little more upfront on your paint, you avoid frequent repainting. Naturally, if your budget is tight, watch for a sale on a top quality paint. However, remember to purchase the best paint you can afford. It will always be your best value in the long run. Consult your local independent paint retailer for the proper paint for your project.

Q. My know-it-all neighbor tells me weather conditions need to be considered when I paint the outside of my house. Obviously, I shouldn't paint in the rain or the mid-day sun, but otherwise does the weather make any difference? Or, is my neighbor all wet?

Your know-it-all neighbor does, at least, know something about exterior painting. Paint when the temperature is above 60 and below 90 degrees F. Otherwise the drying time will be adversely affected. Avoid not only rain but also wind. High winds not only can cause your paint to dry too quickly, they can also blow dirt and other debris onto the wet surface. You should also try to paint with the shade. In other words, if you can avoid painting indirect sunlight, do so. Always check the manufacturer's instructions on the paint can label and get advice from your local independent paint retailer.

Q. I want to have a professional paint my house. How do I find a good house painter and what information should I require in the quote?

Those are both good questions. To find a good painting contractor, ask friends and neighbors for recommendations or see if your local independent paint retailer has a list. once you're ready to talk to them, ask for and check references. When they give you a quote, get a firm price and both a start and finish date, find out who will actually do the work, check to see if the contractor has liability insurance (and bonding if necessary), and never pay in advance. A bid or contract also should include a list of the work that is to be done, how many coats for each surface, the type of paint to be used for each part of the job, the preparation work that will be done, and who furnishes the paint and other materials.

Q. The paint is coming off the exterior of my house even though I used an expensive paint and applied two coats. Why is this happening, how can I correct it, and what will it take to prevent it in the future?

Without taking a look at your specific situation, it's very difficult to give a specific answer. There are simply too many different types of problems that involve paint not adhering to exterior surfaces. For example, there are terms such as alligatoring, blistering, checking and cracking to describe different problems that can occur. However, almost all paint failures are due to poor or improper surface preparation. Another cause is improper application. The use of quality paint also is important, but, as in your case, will not ensure against adhesion problems if the surface is not properly prepared and the paint is not applied correctly.

To briefly answer both your second and third questions, yes, you can correct your problem and by properly doing so avoid the same problem in the future. Remove all loose, flaking or peeling paint, clean, spot prime where necessary, solve any moisture problems you may have and repaint with a quality paint using correct application procedures. That's the brief answer. For a complete and authoritative answer to your specific paint problem, see your local independent paint retailer. In many cases they have a publication and/or CD-ROM disk entitled Paint Problem Solver which illustrates many common exterior and interior problems and explains the cause and solution.

Q. Should I use a water-based latex paint or an oil-based paint?

That depends. Both will do an excellent job under most circumstances. Water-based paints have a number of advantages especially for of do-it-yourselfers including ease-of-clean-up and general ease-of-use. In addition, top-quality latex paints generally have excellent adhesion to most surfaces and generally exhibit superior resistance to bleaching and fading when compared to oil-based paints. However, to determine which type of paint you should use for your specific project, consult your local independent paint retailer.

Q. Is it always necessary to apply two coats of an exterior paint?

Actually, if you are painting new siding or where all of the previous coating has been removed, you should first apply a coat of primer followed by two coats of paint. However, if the surface was previously painted and that old paint is still sound, a single coat ofa quality paint will probably suffice. Your local independent paint retailer can advise you as to whether two coats will be necessary for your particular situation.

How do I select a good color for the exterior of my house? I want something to set my house off yet that is in good taste.

Your home's exterior is the first impression visitors have of you. You should want it to look good. First, be sure to take into account the fixed colors of your home -brick, stone work and the roof color. You may want to consider choosing a paint color that will pick up the color from one of these non-painted areas such as, for example, a brown that appears in your brick. In addition, the style of your home may play a role in the colors you select. If, for example, you have an architecturally accurate reproduction of a colonial-style home, you may want to use authentic exterior colors from that period. Or, if you have a Victorian-era home you may want to use a number of colors to accentuate the architectural details (gingerbread) on your home. Generally, you can't go wrong selecting a light color for the body of the house and a darker, complementary color for the trim. Another way to set your home off is to create an interesting welcoming entrance by painting your front door in a bold color scheme. Your local independent paint retailer can help you select just the right color scheme for your exterior project.