Variables in Estimating Paint Jobs

I frequently receive phone calls and e-mails from someone wanting a “ballpark” price for their painting project. They usually give me the size of their house and think that this will be sufficient for me to provide a price. However, there are dozens of variables that must be identified and considered, and the size of the house is not one of them.
I can understand why a home owner might think that pricing is based on square footage. Many painting contractors actually price their work that way. However, unless we are painting the floor, the square footage tells me nothing about the work that needs to be performed.
As a simple example, consider a room measuring 20 feet by 20 feet, or 400 square feet of floor space. Assuming 8 foot ceilings, the walls have 640 square feet of surface area. Four rooms measuring 10 feet by 10 feet would have the same floor area. However, the wall area would be 1,280 square feet. Despite an identical floor area, the smaller rooms would require twice the labor and materials. And if the ceilings in the smaller rooms are 10 feet high, there would be another 320 square of walls to paint. In short, the area of the floor doesn’t provide an accurate measure of the area that will be painted.
Similarly, the floor area provides no information about other surfaces or their condition-the type and quantity of doors, windows, moldings, etc. It doesn’t indicate the height of the ceilings or the type of texture. It doesn’t tell me what repairs or prep will be required. All of these variables, as well as others, must be considered when pricing a painting job.
All things being equal, a painter should be able to perform the same task in approximately the same amount of time on every job. If it takes him 30 minutes to paint a particular type of door at Mr. Green’s, it should take him 30 minutes to paint the same type of door at Mrs. Brown’s. If the estimator knows how long it takes to perform a task, he can generate an accurate estimate by identifying the tasks required and the quantity of each task.
Of course, all things are seldom equal. The door at Mr. Green’s may have more peeling paint than the door at Mrs. Brown’s. Her entry may be two stories high, while his is only one story. Mr. Green may want his walls and ceilings to be the same color, while Mrs. Brown wants white ceilings and forest green walls. These variables will impact the labor required, and thus have an impact on the price.
Because of the variables involved, equally sized homes may require a vastly different amount of labor and materials. And this should be reflected in the price.
When I have explained this to a caller or e-mailer, I am often told that no prep is required, that the doors, windows, and texture are “standard.” However, in this context there is no such thing as standard. A typical house usually has different kinds of doors. And there are nearly a dozen different types of texture common in the Houston area.
It would certainly be easier to give estimates without looking at the job site. But that would be a disservice to everyone involved.

Contractor Selection Tips

Price: In choosing the best price, make sure that you compare apples-to-apples. Compare written estimates (not verbal promises) regarding the amount of preparation, quality of materials, number of coats, etc. The lowest price is seldom the best price.

Promptness: A contractor who keeps the appointment for an estimate is more likely to arrive promptly for the job and complete the project on time.

Communications: How a contractor responds to phone calls can be an indication of your ability to contact him after the work begins. If you must wait days for a return phone call, will the same occur after the job starts?

Insurance: Adequate insurance is important for your protection. Ask to see a Certificate of Insurance.

Warranty: A professional contractor will stand behind his work and will offer a written warranty. However, if the company goes out of business (or can’t be located), your warranty is useless. The stability of the company is as important as the warranty.

Written Proposal: A well written proposal will carefully describe what is included in the job. This allows both parties to clarify any omissions or misunderstandings. The proposal speaks volumes about the professionalism of the contractor.

References: Any contractor should be able to produce a list of good references. If possible, drive by a recently completed job and look for at the quality of their work.

Consumer awareness: No two jobs are exactly alike. A professional contractor will seek to learn what you need and/ or desire. He will listen to your comments and questions, and make recommendations suited to your purposes.

Trust: A contractor may be at or in your home for a week or longer. Be certain that you feel comfortable with him.

Contractor Selection Articles

About.com’s Bob Formisano, writes the Home Repair Column: “The easiest, and one of the best ways to select a possible contractor, is to get references from friends, family or a Realtor you trust.”

Painting and Decorating Contractors of America produced this article on hiring a professional.

The Certified Contractors NetWork produced this brochure on contractor selection.

Tim Carter, who writes the Ask the Builder syndicated column, writes: Contractors need to go through a job interview with you in order for you to know what type of abilities they have. Ask about professional designations, association memberships and the types of trade journals he reads. Verify the memberships by making a few calls. Learn all you can about what your contractor knows.”