Advice from Contractors:
How to Get the Painting Job
You Want from Your Contractor
By Michael Leydon
Since neither you nor your contractor can read each other's minds, it is essential that
you maintain the lines of clear communication that caused you to select this contractor
in the first place. Let's explore some of the potential problems that await you as the
painting is about to begin and look at how you can avoid unpleasant outcomes.
To start, let's look at color selection. If you tell your contractor you want the walls
to be painted "peach," are you going to get a nice ripe-orange color or warm, picked-too-soon
yellow? Don't know? That's because, as you remember, your contractor can't read your mind.
In selecting color, always use color chips to start the selection process. But never
let a chip be the end of your color selection process. Once you have narrowed the color field to
several possible choices, ask the contractor to paint large (at least 4 feet by 4 feet) samples directly onto the surface to be painted. (Of course, when you interviewed the contractor for the job, you stated that you would expect these samples as part of the contracted
service.) Look at these samples in all kinds of lightnatural, sunny, cloudy, day, night, and
artificial. The color will look different under different conditions, and only you can select the color most suitable to you.
Are you planning to use a color scheme of two or three colors? Remember
that each color will appear to change in contrast with the other colors. The contractor should
show you samples of each scheme, employing all possible color combinations you're considering. The
less you know your own mind and the more color schemes you need to see, the more expensive your
choice-making will become. But remember to always pay the price to get the right color scheme
because if you settle for colors that are "pretty close," you will be disappointed on a daily
basis that you did not get what you really wanted.
So now you've picked the contractor and the colors, but don't plan the celebratory dinner party just yet. If you are undertaking a project as part of planning for an important event (such as a wedding or family reunion), be sure to let your contractor know the date by which you must have the work completed. Allow yourself at least one week of reorganization time in addition to event preparation time between the project completion date and the event date. Ask your contractor how much time in days (not man-hours) your project will require. Drying times may mean that three hours of labor must be followed by 16 hours of drying before work can proceed. Consequently, your project may require more days to complete than is apparent from the number of hours of labor needed on the project.
If your project is more complex, coordination between different trades may result in lost time and
extend the target completion date. Also remember that weather conditions can cause delays. Even
projects to be completed entirely indoors may experience lengthier drying times due to very cold
temperatures or very high humidity. Plan well in advance if the timing of the completed project is
crucial. And remember, if for any reason the work cannot commence in time to allow for everything,
cut back the scope of the job or defer it until after the special event.
Here are some additional details that are important to consider so you will
be satisfied with the work you've contracted. When you are picking color, remember to also select
the sheen you want. Sheen is by no means as important as color, but it will be a bummer if you want
your flat walls to be glossy. Do you want your contractor to remove the hardware on your doors and
windows, or will you permit him or her to paint around or mask it? No matter how careful your contractor is, there will always be a small amount of paint applied to hardware that is not removed. If paint is already on the hardware or window glass, do you expect your contractor to remove it? This is often possible, but only at additional cost. Do you need finishes that you can touch up? If so, any spray work must be followed by a brush or roller, and flatter sheen is better. Do you have serious allergies or are you sensitive to the ingredients in paint? If so, plan to be absent during interior painting work, if possible, or, if not, ask your contractor to use products low in or free of organic solvents.
And, finally, is there anything about your project I haven't mentioned that's
important to you? Mention it to your contractor to make sure you get the job you want.
With proper contractor selection and ongoing clear communication, you will get the job you want,
pay a fair price for it, and be satisfied with both the process and outcome of the entire project.
Michael Leydon * has been painting residential structures in Northern California since 1972. He is thoroughly familiar with all aspects of architectural finishes, including application techniques, product advantages and limitations, substrate evaluation, and film failure diagnosis. Currently working as an independent contractor, he specializes in paying careful attention to product changes affecting the painting industry as well as new technologies being developed.
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