Paint Your Way Out of the Winter Doldrums

By Julie Kerby

Trapped in the house by the bitter cold and snow, we all can develop a terrible case of cabin fever. We can’t wait for spring when we can fling open the doors and windows and jump on the litany of spring cleaning and projects to brighten our homes. But why wait? Many household projects can be accomplished during the dreary winter months, giving us more time outdoors when warmer weather arrives.

One such project, easily accomplished in a long weekend, is putting a fresh coat of paint on a room. Almost everyone thinks they can paint a room, but often I’ve cringed when friends proudly show off their recent (sloppy) paint job. It’s true, anyone CAN paint a room—poorly. But painting a room well is not that much more difficult, if you have a good plan, know a few tricks, and use quality materials and the correct tools for the job.

Getting Ready: Doing some research and legwork prior to painting day will make the project run more smoothly and less stressfully.

First, choose your paint. Don’t think you’re saving money by buying the cheapest, builder-quality paints. Cheap paint will likely take two coats when a better paint will cover in one, so figure on twice the paint and twice the time painting! And the finish and durability will be disappointing, so you’ll need to repaint sooner. But don’t assume that paint from a “paint store” will be better quality than paint from the big-box stores.

Consumer Reports rates paints annually on performance, value, scrub-ability, durability, etc., and the ultra-premium grades of big-box brands regularly rate higher than the paint store brands and are almost always still cheaper at around $30–35 per gallon. Most are now low- or zero-VOC, and include primer that helps them cover in a single coat or two. Check the ratings, and buy the best-rated paint you can afford, and you’ll reap the benefits in a better paint job that takes less time and lasts longer.

Next, choose the paint finish. From flat to high-gloss, finishes have different merits that make them more or less appropriate for different uses. In a nutshell, the glossier the paint the easier it will be to clean. However, the more it will shine and show imperfections in the wall surface.

Use eggshell or satin for the walls of damp or “dirty” rooms like bath, kitchen, laundry, and playrooms where you need scrub-ability. Use flat or matte for other living spaces. Ceiling paint is typically flat white; however, it also comes in “color-changing” types where it paints on purple but dries white to help you be sure you have not missed any spots while painting. I often use ceiling white for the interiors of closets as well because it gives a truer color to the light when choosing your outfits, and you won’t have to empty the closet if you repaint the rest of the room later.

I recommend semi-gloss white for trim. Using white for ceiling, closets, and trim is convenient because you’ll have one less color to choose, it matches everything, and you won’t have to repaint everything if you decide to change wall colors later.

Finally, you need to choose a wall color. Choosing colors can be challenging. Fortunately you don’t have to rely entirely on the old-school method of randomly pulling heaps of paint chips off the rack and taping them to your wall. Go 21st century and download one of any number of color-choosing apps for your smart phone or tablet.

The colors in an inspirational photo or the fabrics that you are using in the room can be a great starting point. Or, if you want professional help, there are now color “collections” available in the paint department for which a designer has done the difficult part by choosing colors that work well together.

Once you have narrowed your choices to a few, it’s time to test the colors in your space. Thank goodness the paint industry has gotten smart and decided we should be able to try out a color without committing to a whole gallon—or even a quart. Tint-able paints are now available in sample sizes for a few dollars each, so you can paint large swatches of each color on every wall of the room and observe the color in the space with the furnishings.

Keep in mind that if you are painting over another color, the contrast between the new and old colors can skew the appearance of the new color. A trick to reduce this is painting the space around the swatches white, or taping pieces of white paper around the borders of the swatches to isolate it from the old color visually. Remember colors dry darker than they appear when wet and can look very different in the different light throughout the day, so live with the color swatches for a few days before making your final decision.

While deciding, you can gather the other supplies and tools you’ll need. For the painting, you’ll need a roller frame (or handle), roller covers, and a tray for rolling out the bulk of the walls. You will want an extension pole for the roller if you intend to paint the ceiling or can’t reach the tops of your walls without a step ladder. You’ll also need a quality paint brush and a small bucket for “cutting in” (i.e., painting the margins of the room where the roller can’t reach or would be imprecise). Don’t get a cheap brush or one of those silly pads for cutting in, as they will only make it more difficult to achieve a clean, precise paint line.

While you don’t have to buy a separate bucket, you don’t want to paint directly from the can since it is heavy and awkward, gives you nowhere to rest the brush, can introduce contaminants, and dries out the paint in the can. Instead, pour paint into an easy-to-hold pail to the depth of 3/4 of the brush bristles. While I have used a quart food container (such as the one my hot and sour soup comes in) I prefer the HANDy-paint-pail because it has a comfortable and secure ergonomic side handle you slip your hand into as you grip the pail, has a dripless-edge to wipe the brush on, and has a magnet on the inner side of the pail to hold the brush rather than letting it flop around and get too much paint on it. Well worth the $10 price.

If you want to reduce clean up time and save water, both the pail and roller trays can be lined with an inexpensive disposable plastic liner. I typically do wash and reuse them more than once before tossing, but it still uses less water and effort than trying to thoroughly wash partly dry paint off the pail or tray.

One tool that is quite useful throughout the painting process is a painter’s multi-tool, so called because it is a single tool that performs multiple functions. The simplest version of this tool is a 5-in-1, but they range up to over-complicated 14-in-1 versions that have so many functions they try to do too much. As with most things, the middle range is best. Be sure it has a “hammer end” on the handle, but avoid ones with screw-driver bits that fit into a hole to drive screws as these loose bits get quickly lost and often make the handle less comfortable to hold anyway.

This inexpensive tool is in my back pocket on every job. I use the blade end to scrape loose paint and high spots, spread spackle into small holes, for prying trim from walls without damage, and as a straight edge for neatly tearing painter’s tape. The edge can be used as a screwdriver to remove flathead screws from outlet and switch covers. One side of the blade can cut through packaging while the other is used to pry open paint cans. The large curved area on the side of the blade is designed to scrape wet paint out of the roller cover before washing. Invert the tool and the metal “hammer end” of the handle can be used to secure the lid back onto a paint can or to hammer in “popping” drywall nails prior to spackling.

Some versions also have a small tear-drop hole in the middle of the blade used to pull nails and one or more hex holes for use on nuts and bolts, but these are not that useful. I do, however, find the bottle opener on the side of the blade of some handy for popping a cold beverage at the end of the day.

In addition, you will need the following tools and supplies:

A sturdy stepladder large enough to reach the ceiling easily, but not so large and clumsy that it cannot be moved easily with one hand.

Drop cloths, painters plastic and/or a roll of brown paper depending on the type of flooring you have and whether you will be leaving any furniture in the room.

Patching compound and possibly a 6” taping blade and a mud tray.

Paintable, white caulk, a dripless caulk gun, and an 18mm snap off utility knife.

1-1/2” or 2” Blue or Green painter’s tape

Now that you’ve chosen quality paint in a color that makes you happy and gathered your supplies, it’s time to prepare your space for painting. A good paint job is only as good as the prep work.

First, remove the furnishings. Start with breakable items and wall hangings. If you intend to rehang wall hangings in the same locations afterward, take a picture of the arrangement before dismantling. Remove the hangers, but place a bit of tape on holes that you will not need to fill. It is best if you can remove all the furniture from the room, but this can be challenging, especially if you have large items that it is difficult to find room for elsewhere in the house.

You can gather furnishings into the middle of the room and cover them with a large sheet of painter’s plastic. But be sure you can still reach all parts of the ceiling with the roller on a pole. Paint rollers tend to spatter a fine mist of paint droplets that will cover every upward facing surface, so cover all exposed floors. If you have carpets, use drop cloths. If you have a hard surface floor, drop cloths can present a slipping hazard, so consider covering the floor using a roll of brown paper, cut to fit and taped down to stay put.

Prep, prep, prep: remove stuff, clean, protect floors, knock down ceiling, patch, sand, vacuum, re-caulk

Painting plan: ceiling, trim, tape off trim, cut-in all but above trim, roll walls, avoid dripping, re-cut? Cut above trim then pull tape

Next month: Tips and Tricks!