Q&A / 

How to Paint an Entrance Hall

DEAR TIM: We just moved and our new home has a two-story open entrance hall that needs to be repainted. I've never tackled a project like this and need all sorts of help. I'm wondering about the step-by-step process. The job is complex because the ceiling color and woodwork colors will remain the same. Both are white and in very good condition. Just the walls need to be repainted. How do I achieve the professional results that I can't afford to pay for at this time? Sylvia S., Erie, CO

DEAR SYLVIA: You must have been talking with my daughter. She mentioned to me several months ago that I should create a step-by-step video series on how to paint. My response was that it would be pretty involved. I'll try to do it with words for you.

What many people think is easy - you just grab a brush or paint roller and get to work - is, in reality, quite involved. I say that assuming you do want professional results. Believe me, I've seen my share of rookie paint jobs that include painted electrical switch and outlet cover plates!

This entrance hall was recently repainted. It was very complex because of the steep vaulted ceilings and two-tone paint job. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

This entrance hall was recently repainted. It was very complex because of the steep vaulted ceilings and two-tone paint job. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

A professional paint job almost always starts with great tools. This means you need to use high-quality brushes, rollers and drop cloths, but you need safe ladders and staging to reach comfortably all the high places you need to carefully cut in and roll. When I see poor-quality paint jobs and talk with the homeowners, they often show me cheap brushes and flimsy ladders and buckets that were used to do the work.

I always tell my friends to stop and read the label on the paint can. The first step rookies skip is the one about applying the paint to a "clean, dry surface". Clean means you need to wash the walls with mild soap and water. Don't forget to wipe off the top of all woodwork above doors and windows. Do the same where the walls meet the baseboard. You don't want the dust and dirt found in these areas fouling the wall paint as you brush near these objects.

Once the walls are clean, I then go around and patch any small holes or dings in the walls with quick-drying spackling compound. You can purchase some that is pink but turns white to tell you it's dry. This magical dry indicator will tell you when it's safe to lightly sand the compound.

As this compound dries, go around the room with white water-washable caulking and caulk all cracks between the woodwork and the walls. This is a step that ninety-nine percent of rookies and homeowners skip, but pros never do. Black cracks between walls and woodwork after a paint job is complete stand out like a giant blinking neon sign in the desert at night.

After all these steps you're getting close to the glory work. Sadly, most people want to paint first - and it's actually the last step in the process. You'll have to carefully apply the wall paint next to the woodwork and the ceiling since they're different colors. This process is called cutting in. I prefer to use a 2-inch tapered brush for this. The more expensive brushes give you enormous control so you don't get colored wall paint on the adjacent surfaces.

Before you dip the brush in the water-based paint can the first time, get the bristles slightly wet. Shake the brush to remove excess water. Wetting the brush helps make it easier to clean the outermost bristles.

Dip the brush in the paint and wipe off excess paint from both sides of the brush before you try to cut in. If you have excess paint on the side of the brush closest to the ceiling or woodwork, it will ooze out and create a horrible mess.

Some people prefer to spend the time and money to use masking tape and other gadgets to cut in. You can purchase tape that's made to block paint from seeping under it. I've tried all these methods and I can cut in with a brush faster than I can tape or use a gadget. The gadgets that cut in work great if you have perfectly straight woodwork and wall lines, but most houses don't have this.

If you have to use an extension ladder to reach a high area, be sure to place a triple-folded old towel over the top of the ladder where it touches the wall. Failure to do this will probably cause your ladder to leave depressions or marks on the wall. Use special A-frame ladders that have adjustable legs or sides to help you paint safely in stairwells.

Don't ever take chances trying to erect some crazy setup of boards and wobbly stepladders to create staging in stairwells. Many people have been seriously injured falling from unsafe staging while painting stairwells. Don't become a statistic.

Rolling paint on walls is the final step. Use a very high-quality roller to achieve professional results. Modern roller covers made from foam-like materials produce hardly any roller spray. Older roller covers created clouds of fine spray that coated your arms, face and anything unprotected where the floor meets the wall. Be sure to look for these sprayless roller covers.

If you have a septic system, remember that you should NEVER clean your tools up inside allowing the paint from the brushes and other tools to enter your septic tank. Paint of any type is very harmful to the septic system, especially the leach field.

Garver Brown in my September 10, 2013 AsktheBuilder Newsletter inquired about the same project. Cluck to read my response to him.

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