Painting project: The longer it takes, the higher the cost

When it comes to how much painters charge, as with so much else in life, time is money.

A bedroom with newer drywall in good condition and little architectural trim work will take less time and cost less money to have professionally painted than one with aged plaster walls and yards of ornamental molding. "Older plaster walls where we spend time stripping wallpaper, repairing cracks, filling and sanding rough surfaces can take twice as long as a newer house with 10-year-old drywall," says Richard Winkler, owner of Richard T. Winkler Painting and Decorating in Alexandria, Va.

There are two basic approaches to arriving at the bottom line, says Winkler: a "contract bid," which stipulates a set fee for a job from start to finish; and a "time and materials bid," which allows for unforeseen problems requiring additional work. The first approach gives clients the comfort of a firm dollar amount, while the second builds in flexibility to take whatever time is needed to do the job well.

Experience determines how much workers are paid. Winkler estimates that in the Washington area, painters new to the trade may earn $9 to $10 an hour. More highly skilled painters may get $12 to $16, while those with years of experience repairing surfaces, removing layers of paint and producing a flawless finish can command $20 to $23 or more. The rates are typically the same for interior and exterior work. The cost of paint and other materials is extra, but contractors can buy supplies at a discount.

Here are the chief factors that determine the cost of a professional paint job:

  • Size of the room.
  • Amount of decorative crown molding, baseboards and built-ins that require a different, typically semigloss, paint finish.
  • Condition of the walls.
  • Paint color and finish: The simpler the color scheme, the easier the job, says Dave Arnold, a remodeling consultant with Bethesda, Md.-based Case Design. More colors using different paint finishes (flat, satin, semigloss, etc.) require more preparation, precision and time. Coloring a dark wall with much lighter paint also adds time. Never anticipate needing just one coat, Winkler says.
  • Difficult access: Stairways and elements such as soaring cathedral ceilings often require extension ladders or other equipment, which adds to the time and the bottom line.
  • Moving furniture out and protecting what remains. You can cut the time the painters will need by doing the heavy lifting yourself.

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