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Importance of Paint Surface Preparation (Young Couple’s Paint Job Story)

Often, during my estimate appointment visits, homeowners ask me job related questions. I think they ask them to get some confidence that their potential painter will do a good job on their project. Homeowners should ask questions, and this is definitely a good time to ask them, but the curious thing is that the most often ask question is about paint quality and material manufacturer.

Well, using good quality paint is important, but the fact of the matter is that cost of paint material constitutes less than 10% of the total job cost. Most of the job is labor. That is, over 90%, of what they will be paying for, will go to paying for painters time doing actual work. And a very big chunk of that time, and what is going to largely determine how well this paint will look over time (no matter the paint manufacturer), will be spent (at least on my jobs) doing service preparation. And yet not so many questions about that.

But you may one of those people who knows about importance the of good surface preparation. That is good, but good preparation can mean different things to different people. Also, what can be considered good preparation for one type of surface may not be so good for another surface type.

Different surfaces (wood, plaster, metal, etc.) can require a different paint preparation procedure. Furthermore, the preparation procedure for a given surface type on interior of a home may be completely inappropriate, for the same type of surface, at the home’s exterior. Use a wrong procedure or product and you can wind up with a real mess on your hands.

This brings to mind a time, about three years ago, when this young couple bought a house just down the block from my own home. The woman noticed my truck sign and approached me for an estimate.

The place hadn’t been painted in years and needed a lot of work. During our estimate walk-through, the new owners pointed out various surface irregularities and wanted them addressed. I bid the job accordingly – lots of scraping, sanding, partial stripping, etc.

I was not too surprised when I saw another painting company’s sign on the front of that house – a bit disappointed but not surprised. But imagine my surprise when, just a few days later while on my way out to lunch, I casually looked up the scaffold to discover painters skimming out the entity of the front of my new neighbor’s place. I mean literally, with large cans of spackle paste and wide drywall skimming knives in their hands, those guys were laying down thin coats of spackle on wood siding and trim like they were doing level five finish on a new sheet-rock wall.

One should never use spackle in shallow depressions of any exterior surface. Spackle dries hard and, as the surface expands and contracts with temperature fluctuations, it will crack allowing water in. Once the moisture is in the substrate, its will not be long before you have a whole bunch if pealing paint.

I never allow exterior spackle on any of our exterior jobs, but I understand a ton of it is being sold by paint stores every day, And there were those guys, going hard at it! I just stood there dumbfounded looking at them, not knowing what to do. Should I try to locate the homeowners? (The young couple haven’t moved in yet.) Do I climb up the scaffold and slap the spackling experts alongside of their heads? I just kept walking.

Every time I go by that house (which is about every other day) I regret not climbing up the scaffold that day. Sure enough, just a few months after the scaffold came down, I could see some hairline cracking. By spring, minor peeling developed and today some parts of that place look like a shag rug bristling with bits of loose paint and spackle.

My guess is that I lost that job because the couple wanted to save some money. Well, wanting to save money is totally understandable, but the irony of it is that, from cost savings view point, it would have been much better if those other painters didn’t do any work at all. Because, if I was to bid on this project today, I would have to more than double my original bid to correct the results of their “cost saving technique”, and to get rid of all that loose spackleing and paint.

Yes, you can cut a lot of corners and quickly make any surface presentable. But, if you wish for your paint job to stay good looking for a long time, proper surface preparation is the key. For this, you will need the right expertise and willingness to take time to do it right.

(Read also Steps for Paint Surface Preparation and How to Select Best Painting Contractor)

Yefim Skomorovsky
Painting Contractor in San Francisco Bay Area

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