Lessons Learned While Painting an Entire House

How to prep any wall for paintingHey, folks. It's Josh. I've been super busy these past couple of months working on our HFHS project house. As we mentioned in our last update, the house is coming along, and we can't wait to share more with you soon. We've learned a LOT while working on this project! One task we recently completed was painting all of the interior. A lot more goes into painting than you might guess, so I thought it would be fun to share a thorough breakdown of everything we encountered and learned as we painted this house. If you have any big painting projects in your future, I highly recommend you check out some of these tips and lessons we learned so hopefully your project goes smoothly. 

Please note: there are tons of references online on the subject of painting (from pros who have been doing it for years). This post is going to be an overview of the steps, mistakes, and successes we used/had.

The house we're working on is about 900 square feet. All in all it cost about $1300 to paint the entire place. The quote from our contractor was $2500 and that number didn't include skim coating the dining room, which we ran into unexpectedly. So we saved over $1000 doing it ourselves, and our cost included a paint sprayer we purchased!  Actually, let me break down all of the costs for you. (This is a rough breakdown, all numbers are rounded.)

Supplies & Tools
(3) 5 gallon buckets of KILZ primer – $225 
chalkboard paint (custom color) -$25
lead tester $10
wallpaper stripper – $5
dust masks and respirator – $50
drop cloths – $55
painter (we got this one) – $240
drywall/tape/mud- $35
elastopatch – $10
masking tape -$35
grinder/cutter wheel – $60
wall patches $10
caulk gun $2
spray sock $2
coveralls $15
paint/brushes/rollers $350
pizza (it just makes painting better, although optional) $60

We are pretty much set up to run a small painting company now. Keep a lookout for ABM Paint Co™. Not really. But when you work on an old house, projects just keep stacking up, which means more tools and supplies. But even after buying all the tools, supplies, and paint, it still cost less than hiring a pro! One thing that isn't on the list, and to most people is the most expensive thing, is time. A lot of time is needed for prepping, painting, and cleanup. You don't want to be in a rush when you're painting. Precision is key to a job well done, and you can't be both precise and in a hurry. It just doesn't work! So keep that in mind when you're planning a paint project. Try not to rush through it. Take your time prepping and painting, and when you're done and see how good of a job you've done, you'll see that it was worth it!

Prepping

There were a couple things that needed to be done before I even started thinking about painting. Since the house was built in 1921, I wanted to check for lead. You can find lead testers in any home improvement store. I followed the directions on the label, did some tests, and found that the house was lead free! That was a relief because removing lead is a huge hassle, requiring professionals, special suits, and more tests. No thank you. If you do happen to test for lead and it shows positive, you can contact the national lead hotline, which should get you on the right track for proper removal. Fortunately we were able to bypass that entire process.

Filling lots and lots of holesThe second thing that we needed to do was prep the walls for paint. That required several things:

Wallpaper

First, we worked to remove all wallpaper throughout the house. There was a wallpaper border in a couple rooms, so it wasn't too big of a deal taking it off. I basically scored the paper, wet it, then scraped it off. We did a more in-depth post last year. The main thing to keep in mind when removing wallpaper is to score well, then soak soak soak. The longer you let the paper soak up the removal spray or water, the easier it will peel off! Don't paint over the wallpaper. Like most short cuts in home repair, it will lead to more problems down the road. Which I ran into in this house. In the dining room, I was removing the wallpaper when I realized somebody had previously painted over wallpaper. In the entire room! Which leads me to the second thing we did.

Tips for removing wall paperI ended up scraping off paint and wallpaper down to the plaster. It took a couple days to finish. I'm so glad they only did that in the one room! Again, moisture really helped in the process. The more I soaked the walls, the easier it was to scrape and remove the wallpaper and paint. After I had the entire room scraped down to the bare plaster walls, I realized I would have to repair some cracks and skim coat the entire room if there were going to be halfway decent looking walls.

Skim coating the dinning roomSkim Coating Plaster

We used a product called Elastoplastic to fill in the cracks, so that it would expand and contract with the walls. That was no problem. Skim coating was a whole other story. It was something I'd never done before, so it took a bit of experimentation to get it looking somewhat good. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos to get an idea of how it was done. Of course every person had different methods, tips and advice. Eventually I just had to go for it. I used a premixed all-purpose sheet rock joint compound. Describing how I did it won't be very helpful. It takes doing it to even understand how to start. I would do what I did, which was watch a bunch of videos and get a big picture on how it's done. Then buy the mud, the mudding knives, the mudding hawk and go for it. What you're basically trying to do is create either a good flat or textured surface to paint over. I tried to get the surface as flat as possible. It took several coats, retouching, wet sanding (using sanding sponges) and patience to get the walls looking halfway decent. I was happy with the results, thankfully. Especially compared to what it looked like before!

Stains

The ceilings are all covered in popcorn finish. We really didn't want to keep the texture at all, but decided to forgo removing it to save money since it's mainly an aesthetic preference anyway. But we wanted to at least get the ceiling back to looking white. Previous residents must have been smokers, as the ceiling in the living and dining room had taken on a gross yellow patina. Although popcorn with butter is delicious, you don't want your ceiling to look like buttered popcorn. There were some unsightly water stains as well. We initially just tried painting over the stains with KILZ primer (we actually just tested one spot to experiment.) The water based primer didn't have a chance against the stain, and within minutes it was seeping through the (several) coats of primer.

Emma bleaches the ceilingThe next option was using oil based primer. That stuff is not fun to work with. The fumes are not fun to work around (be sure to open windows!), and you can't wash it off without using more chemicals. Fortunately somebody suggested we try bleaching the stains, which sounded a bit more feasible and manageable. So we tried it. Dawning coveralls and face masks, and armed with a pump garden sprayer filled with diluted bleach (mostly water with a couple capfuls of bleach), we attacked the stains. After a couple spray downs, the yellow started to disappear! For a couple of days, we misted the ceiling, waited a couple hours and repeated. Most stains were taken care of, the rest were dissolved enough to prime over.

Adding dry wall to the kitchenAfter we had the dining room ready for paint, there was a kitchen wall that needed some help. There were cracks, and a big ol' bulge from where a chimney had been plastered over. It was also covered with greasy old wallpaper. We decided to grind out the crack and drywall over the entire wall. I would suggest hiring somebody to do this for you. It would take a pro about an hour to take care of it for a reasonably small price. I know just enough about drywall that I was able to do it myself. First, I used a grinder with a cutter wheel to cut out the plaster and lathe that was bulging out. I'm pretty sure the majority of people don't have to deal with plaster walls and lathe. It's mostly found in older homes.  So the chances of you running into this problem are slim. Fingers crossed, knock on wood (pun!).

Repairing Minor Holes      

In both bedrooms there were holes knocked in the walls by the door handles (easily avoided with a $1 doorstop.) The holes were too big to patch with just spackle, so I got a couple of hole patches. They are sold near the spackles in your home improvement store. The directions are easy to follow, and they work! After paint, you wouldn't know there once were big ol' ugly holes. We used spackle to cover nail holes, minor cracks, and imperfections throughout the house. I tried a lot of different spackles in this house. My favorite one for minor repairs is Fast N Final.  It applies easily, dries in a few minutes, and doesn't require a whole lot of sanding.

Fill holes with putting before paintingOnce all the walls were patched, repaired, dry, and sanded it was time to spray on the primer. Using the sprayer took some getting used to. If you do have a big project ahead of you and decide to buy or rent a sprayer, here are a few tips I (as an amateur) would pass on to you when it comes to using a sprayer:

Using Paint Sprayer

1. Read the directions! When I use a new machine or tool, I usually just go for it and learn along the way. For a sprayer, there are so many variables that can make or break the outcome: clogging, pressure, priming, cleaning, etc. all play a role. Read the directions and you'll know how to deal with all of those issues as they come along.

Tips for using a paint sprayer2. I'll probably say this a lot in my posts, and it really is a no brainer, but I think it's easy to forget that there are tons of resources available not only online, but in things called books, and from real people! Watch videos, use Google, go to your library, or ask people questions. There are people that are old pros out there that have great info. They know hints and tips and methods that can only be picked up by doing something full time, for years. Maybe you have an uncle or neighbor that paints. Ask them to give you advice they wished they had when first starting out. Even the people at the paint department in the home improvement store can give some good advice. Why I like to get my resources from different places, is that some people like to pretend to know what they are talking about. By cross-referencing resources and digging a bit deeper, solid advice can be found.

3. Have a plan. How are you going to clean the machine? Do you have a mental route of the space mapped out that takes into account the hose, machine placement, the paint bucket, etc? Do you need to protect the floor or windows from overspray? Having an idea of all the steps you need to take to get things done will save time.

As for actually using the sprayer, the main thing to remember is to not overcoat with paint. Two or three quick passes will minimize drippage as opposed to trying to get a full coat on all at once. (Which I learned the hard way. The first room I painted was so drippy droppy, we had to do some extra sanding once it dried. I felt so bad!) Only by actually using the sprayer will you get a method down. By the time I was done with the sprayer, I felt like a pro and actually had fun painting!

4. Wear coveralls! Wear shoe protectors. Wear a head sock! Wear goggles! Especially when first starting out, and/or are spraying a ceiling, you will get paint everywhere. My glasses will never be the same.

Tape everythingIt took a couple days to get the house primed. When that was done, it was time for our paint party! We had some people over and painted colors, whites, trims, and doors. You can see the color choices here. The walls were painted a semi-gloss paramount white and the trim was gloss ultra white. Choosing two different sheens gives contrast and a bit more depth. The semi-gloss and gloss painted walls are also easier to clean compared to flat paint.

Tips

I'm going to leave you with a few hints and tips that I've picked up in this project and will use on all the next paint projects I tackle:

  • Spend the extra money getting better tools. Buy the $6 dollar bendy handle trim brush ( I won't do trim without it) as compared to the $2 chip brush. Get the more expensive paint tape with edge lock tech. You'll get crisper lines, less paint seeps. Cheap brushes and tape don't help and usually cause double work. You'll still save money by doing the painting yourself.
  • Take the extra time and tape off your windows, sills, countertops, floors—basically anything not getting painted. The same thing with door hardware, take off the knobs, tape hinges. It takes a lot of time to do. It's a hassle. But after you're done painting, and you're peeling off the paint and plastic and putting back on the knobs, it'll look so good! You'll feel so good!
  • Clean your brushes thoroughly right after use. Especially if you're buying the more expensive ones! That extra care will go a long way. You can reuse the brushes for future projects.
  • Paint trim first, then walls. 
  • After painting, if need be, install door stoppers right away. Save the walls from abuse!

So there you go. An amateur's guide to painting a house. Really the best way to learn how to do something is by doing it. Don't be afraid to tackle that big paint project. If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section. -Josh

Credits // Author: Josh Rhodes, Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

  • wow – I’ve never done any sort of intense painting like that before (as a renter) but it just goes to show that there is so much to consider that I wouldn’t have thought of. Thank you for laying out these steps like this!

    Painting can really add up so fast and be really expensive – but it’s interesting just how much money you were able to save. Plus, you learned so much and got a lot of experience that it’s probably worth it in the end.

    x Kathryn
    http://www.throughthethicket.ca

  • Oh wow, this looks like SO much work! I guess I have been renting in big cities for so long and not painting myself. However, any time my family does they DIY – and it’s always a much better, more creative job than when they pay someone!! The whole house is your canvas =)

    Jill
    Latest Post: Does Non-toxic Nailpolish Actually Last? I Tested 3 Brands!

  • Awesome post! I just wanted to add a couple tips about cleaning brushes that might be helpful. If you’re painting and are coming back for second coats later the same day, you can put your brush in a ziplock bag to keep it from drying out while you’re taking a break. When cleaning your brushes, use Murphy Oil Soap, it really helps to get the paint off and is eco friendly. You can even soak brushes in it and clean them later on if you’re a giant procrastinator like I am 🙂 I love following your progress with this house and am so stoked to see the finished product! Cheers and have a great day!

  • We are in the process of painting our entire house. It’s not huge by any means but we do have very high ceilings in our living room/kitchen which has created an extra issue.
    YES TO SPENDING PLENTY OF TIME DOING PREP WORK. It’s amazing long it takes to get everything ready to even crack open a paint can. It does make a world of difference though.

  • This was so great! Thank you for all the tips. I’d like to buy a house and fix it up one day and I know these tips will come in handy!

  • Detailed and fabulous post Josh! Thank you, and what a fab job you are doing with that house…erm, can we hire you to fly down and paint our beach house in Jamaica? 🙂

    Thanks for the tips, excellent.

  • My partner and I are skim coating the texture out of our 2100 sqft home. We probably watched the same videos! and as intimidated as I was to star t, even after finishing just the first room, we have a pretty good handle on how to make it work. Unless you can easily afford to have someone else do it, I think it’s a forgiving enough project for even the most novice homeowner.

    So far our best purchase has been the shop vac sanding attachment (around $35 from amazon); with a HEPA filter in the vac, we’re getting no sanding dust in the house.

    Looking forward to trying out some of your painting tips soon! Thanks for the post.

  • This was a really thorough and great post! Thanks for taking the time to share with us. Now I want to get to painting…

  • Wow! I had no idea painting was so expensive! I guess I just haven’t painted since I was young, and of course I was unaware of cost at 12, ha!

    I think this is a great post because it is so practical and something that everyone can benefit from.

    Thanks, guys!

    Kristin // The Peculiar Treasure
    athisfeetdaily.blogspot.com

  • Wow, you all are hard at work! Major take home- don’t skip the foundation, which is thorough preparation and cleanup. It definitely makes the end result a satisfying one. Thanks for the tips & Happy Wednesday 🙂

  • We definitely took some short cuts when we first painted our house. Some rooms need to be redone now. It was like mess up a few rooms before we found out what really worked for us.

  • We’re currently flipping a house from the late 60s. We stripped popcorn ceilings ourselves in the entire house, re-textured every ceiling and wall, replaced all of the trim, and repainted every surface. We painted the ceilings with a roller extension- it was by far my least favorite part of renovations so far- so much easier if you do it before flooring is in though! I can’t wait to see more posts on the house! Such a neat project!

  • I just bought an older house and I’m starting to get overwhelmed with big projects such as painting! Thanks for all the helpful advice

  • My husband and I want to buy an old house when we stop renting, so these tips will definitely be coming in handy!

  • Wow, this sounds like a really extensive project that you went through! I had no idea that so much effort could go into painting a home. I have been meaning to paint my own home very soon, but I am not sure whether I have the time or the skill to be able to do all of this. I might just try one room to see how I do, and then see if I will be brave enough to attempt the rest. However, it might be a good idea for me to get help with this, otherwise it definitely won’t end up looking as great as yours! http://www.jpspainting.org/About-Us.html

  • Thank you for sharing these tips, Josh! My boyfriend and I are about to embark on a major re-design of our condo and I am not looking forward to all the painting prep work. It does make a huge difference if you do it right though!

  • Thank you for sharing these tips, Josh! My boyfriend and I are about to embark on a major re-design of our condo and I am not looking forward to all the painting prep work. It does make a huge difference if you do it right though!

  • Yes! Good point Jenn, wrapping the brushed does help so much. Do you watch shark tank? Those guys made the paint brush saver containers, that was such a good idea.
    -Josh

  • I agree completely — never paint over wallpaper! My house is very old and the original owners had wallpaper (layer upon layer) in every room in the house — even the bathrooms. Then the last owner painted over the wallpaper. Yikes! What a mess. So glad most of it is gone but it was a chore. Thanks for the great tips to painting the house. Quality tools are key (and patience).

  • This post couldn’t come at a better time! We are about to reprint our lounge after our toddler decided to do little Picasso crayon drawings on the walls, and discovering that the painter and decorator used the cheapest paint, it comes off with even a baby wipe! My top tip would be to use the most expensive paint you can afford, the cheap stuff just doesn’t hold up to day to day life with mucky little toddlers, this time I’m getting the Scrub proof paint!

  • Another tip! If you’re painting textured walls, even edge lock tape won’t always do the trick!
    You can put the tape on the wall and then go over the edges with a thin stripe or PAINTABLE clear caulking! One part will come up with the tape, the other stays on the wall under the paint, and keeps the paint from seeping under the edge of the tape. Just remember to keep it thin so you don’t see it on the wall!
    (I work in paint ;))

  • It looks nice but I am so sad you all covered all the original trim when it looked like all it needed was a sanding and restain 🙁

  • Thank you ! I loved this kind of post, soooo interesting and helpful
    We want some more

  • Thanks for sharing. We are working on my mother in laws house this summer and will have lots of painting. Good key pointers.

  • Hey Amanda, trust me, the trim wasn’t really all that nice. It looked as though about 20 different curtain hardwares had been either nailed or screwed into each on. After we filled all the holes, paint was really the only option :/ I’m with you on keeping original wood intact!

  • I use brushes when I paint. I find the sprayer is time consuming to clean and pushing the lever stressed my hand. I did paint the rooms in my house different colors and found it a lot easier to change rollers. Painting is the cheapest and quickest way to change the way a room looks. And if you end up hating the color, just buy another bucket of paint. It doesn’t take long to change the color.

  • amazingly thorough and well written post! I’ll definitely bookmark this for the next time I’m doing a major painting project. thanks Josh!

  • Another great tutorial. You guys really put out some great and helpful posts. I was especially happy to see that you kept the popcorn ceiling! I feel like there is so much pressure to get rid of your popcorn ceiling if you have it, but it is so expensive especially if you have asbestos. It is really such a minor thing I don’t think it should get as much flak as it does. Besides, I am convinced if I wait long enough, the popcorn ceilings will make a comeback;)

    Also, love the pop of color on your doors, I am thinking that is going to be my next project!

  • I’ll be remembering the bleach trick for stained ceilings – the previous owner of my house was also a smoker, and I’m hoping the staining wasn’t so bad that it will seep through as we just painted straight over.

    My house was a 70s build, and almost completely wallpapered with a lot of the wallpaper painted over, which definitely didn’t help in removing it all! I also had a slightly different problem with removing wallpaper – the previous owners had used vinyl wallpaper, which when steamed stretched a lot rather than scraping off easily. It was easier to just score and scrape or peel off the paper dry, and later steam off any papery bits that were left on the wall.

    Another potential issue with older textured ceilings is asbestos – in the UK at least, asbestos was sometimes used in whatever it is they put up there. Fortunately it wasn’t present in my house, but if it is it obviously makes it more difficult to safely remove and replaster.

  • This is so helpful! I’m getting ready to paint our upstairs apartment so our new renter can move in and it’s a daunting task. Do you have a recommendation for you favorite painter’s tape? I’ve never found one that seemed to actually do anything.

  • I live next door to this house and I just wanted to say a big “Thank you!” The pictures do not do justice to how terrible the house looked before ABM purchased it. You all have done so much to add value to the house and also our neighborhood. Thank you so much! I can’t wait to meet the family that eventually moves in!

  • Thanks again. These painting lessons demonstrate how to paint using several different techniques to create art in many different styles, from photorealism to abstraction.