Questions to ask when Hiring a Painting Contractor

Are you in the process of getting painting estimates for a project at your home? Is this the first time hiring a professional painting service? Here are some important questions you should ask the estimator.

Is your company licensed and insured?

Some states require particular trades to be licensed. If a company is not trade licensed, the company may not be able to be insured. Building inspectors can also stop work if the contractor is not properly licensed.

It is very important that the contractor you hire is insured. There are two types of insurance, liability insurance and workers compensation.  A homeowner can be held responsible if an employee is injured on the job. Howeverapartment-architecture-blur-735319, if the contractor you hire is insured, their workers compensation insurance will pay for the workers injuries and their liability insurance covers any damage done to a home while completing the job.

Do you use sub-contractors?

Not knowing who is working on your home can lead to poor quality and even put homeowners in danger. If a company is using sub-contractors to complete work, you are rolling the dice on the quality of work. You might get lucky and a seasoned painter arrives to do the work or the company might send someone hired for the day that has never held a paint brush.

Often sub-contractors rush through the work because they were given a flat fee to complete the job. Speed is more important to them than the quality of work. Also, customer service dramatically drops off when you don’t know who to contact if a problem with the job arises. Using subcontractors can jeopardize homeowner safety as well. Are the sub-contracted workers background checked and drug tested? It’s something worth taking the time to ask.

What preparation will take place before applying paint?

This is huge! Preparation is a key element to a lasting paint job and proper preparation is the difference between success and failure. Preparation and product selection move the needle for a successful paint job lasting many years. Painting over peeling paint, dirt, or gloss finish without sanding or removing mildew is only a temporarily fix. Eventually the paint will fail sooner rather than later.

Another aspect of preparation is repairing minor wall imperfections. Will the preparation include repairing nail pops, dry wall lines, etc? It’s a good question to ask because not all companies will include it in their bid, or they will rush, spending little effort on this critical step.

Will I have a dedicated foreman on my paint project?

This can be tied into the second question about sub-contracting. It’s important to know who is in charge of the job. Most companies will have a field lead, or foreman to interact with the homeowner on site and walk them through the job, answering any questions they have. The foreman wears a lot of hats. He or she is responsible for quality control, safety of everyone on site including the customer, and customer service. If the customer has concerns, the foreman will most likely be the person that works with the homeowner to resolve the issues.

What type of paint are you planning to use?

Not all paints are the same. The estimator should always take into account surface material and its’ current condition to determine type of paint, primer, stain, etc. Paint often fails prematurely due to the wrong product type being used.

An estimator might plan to use low end commercial grade paint to save money. The low grade paint will reduce the quality of the job and increase the likelihood of the paint failing.

Higher end paints tend to cover better, are self priming and produce low volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). Better coverage can result in fewer coats needed (and less money you have to spend) with a superior finish. Low VOC paints are nice to use for interior painting, especially in the winter when there is less circulation of indoor air. These paints also have fewer odors and are environmentally friendly, which homeowners, as well as painters, prefer to use. (Trust us; we dislike the smell as much as you.)

Products are also constantly changing. Professional painters must stay in contact with paint technicians and sales representatives to ensure they are using the proper product and following the right course of action for a unique job. At O’Connor’s Painting Service, we constantly communicate with our representatives from all the major paint and stain manufacturers such as Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, and McCormick Paints. The representatives are well informed of new products, conditions required to apply a product, and the proper steps needed to apply a product properly.


Old paint cans hanging about that you want to get rid of in a responsible manner?

Whenever O’Connor’s Painting Service completes a job, any unused paint we leave with the customer with a description of where the paint was used in the house written on the can. These paints come in handy if there is ever a need for the homeowner to touch up a spot here or there years later. A quick tip, be sure to store your paint in a warm area like your basement or laundry room to make sure the paint remains stable.

After awhile, you might want to eventually dispose of old cans of paint you no longer need. You just can’t throw them in your garbage “as is”. To dispose of paint in a environmentally responsible manner. There are a few steps you should follow.

First, I recommend keeping a log of the paint brand (Sherwin Williams/Behr), type (interior/exterior), sheen (flat/satin), color name, color number and the formula if a custom blend.  You never know when you might need to reference this information later.

Second, check with our local county waste authority for there rules on disposing of paint waste. For example in Montgomery County, Maryland if you are a resident, you can go to the dump and they have a special area set up to accept your old paint along with other household hazardous waste.

Finally, dry your waste paint with a product such as Krud Kutter Waste Paint/Colorant Hardener. It’s great for latex and oil-based paints.  You can find the product at most home improvement stores. Add the crystals to the paint can. Stir paint til it thickens, then let dry hard. You can now dispose of your old paint. Some municipalities will let you dispose of this hardened paint right in you garbage can but call first to make sure.

Painting Cabinets

Often a stain on older cabinets can start to look dirty and grungy. In an attempt to freshen older cabinetry, customers often ask me what it would take to paint over the existing surface. Here is a step by step explanation of the process O’Connor’s Painting Service uses to paint cabinetry.

  1. Remove old hardware. Note: if customer wants to replace the old hardware with new, be sure to choose hardware that matches the existing screw holes to avoid a lot of putty work to fill existing holes.

    Painting Cabinets for a Fresh Look
  2. Sand cabinets well with very sandpaper to remove old varnish or polyurethane.
  3. Wipe the surface with mineral spirits then follow by also wiping the cabinets down with a cleaning solution such as 50% water and 50% ammonia.
  4. Apply one coat primer of Zinsser Cover Stain Oil. We normally paint the exterior of the cabinetry then both sides any doors.
  5. Apply two top coats of latex or oil semi-gloss paint, whichever color a homeowner picks. We suggest picking a Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore product that has a oil base finish for a harder surface.

The real key to success in painting cabinets is in the preparation. Sand extremely well with sandpaper and clean all surfaces using a clean cloth saturated with mineral spirits in order to remove all surface dirt, greasy spots and contamination. If the surface is excessively dirty, you may have to go over the areas multiple times with the mineral spirits and the 50/50 ammonia water mixture.

Deck Finish – Clear, Solid or Semi-Transparent Stain?

When I get a call to bid a deck staining job, often the homeowner asks me my expert opinion on whether to use a clear, solid or a clear semi-transparent stain. It all depends on the level of maintenance and investment you are prepared to commit to over the years.

Clear finish deck stains only last up to two years. In most cases your deck will look the same after power washing when you apply a clear finish. Some clear sealers may have a hint of color. The advantage of a clear stain is that after several years the sealer will be gone so prep and re-application is simple. Just power wash and apply clear again.

Semi-transparent deck stain can last about three years. When the semi-transparent stain wears off you must apply a stripper, then a cleaner before power washing the deck clean to prepare the surface. In most cases, a semi-transparent stain will give the wood deck color. This option is more costly to keep up due to the extra prep work needed.

Solid stain deck finishes will give you a solid color just like paint but with much less sheen. Solid stains last around five years. To re-do a deck with solid stain, manufacturers always recommend you completely remove or strip all stain first. If the solid is peeling, you will need a professional painter to determine the correct application process. Some times you may be able to avoid stripping the deck by power washing and re-coating with the solid stain. But in some cases for example, the deck floor may be peeling profusely so you will need to strip and apply penetrating oil, then re-coat with the solid stain. Decks stained with a solid experience more peeling than semi-transparent or clear stained decks thus requiring additional maintenance.

At O’Connor’s Painting Service we recommend products such as Cabots, Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore, Behr or McCormick stains. Your deck stain will last longer with a professional application with a top rated product.

Waterbased Alkyd Paints Replace Oil

In the good old days, people used oil or alkyds paint because they liked the smooth finish on wood trim inside their home. But over time, paint companies have fazed out oil paint to help protect the environment. Fortunately a few

Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd Semi-Gloss
Sherwin Williams ProClassic

paint companies are now carrying a waterborne alkyd enamel product. Here at O’Connor’s Painting Service, we have used this waterborne alkyd product on several jobs and can report back to our readers that we like the smooth finish and low odor these products provides.

One of those products is Sherwin Williams ProClassic Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd Semi-Gloss. It can be applied by brush, roller or sprayer on a clean, dry surface that has either been primed or dulled if previously painted with a gloss product. Drying time on the first coat takes 20-40 minutes and a second re-coat will take 3-4 hours to dry. This Sherwin Williams aklyd product can be used on block, drywall, masonry and plaster.

Benjamin Moore also has an alkyd product on the market called Advance Waterborne Interior Alkyd Satin or High Gloss.

Advance Waterborne Interior Alkyd Satin
Benjanin Moore Advance Satin

The biggest difference between the Benjamin Moore product and the Sherwin Williams product discussed above is the drying time. First coat will take 4-6 hours to dry with the second re-coat 16 hours to dry and be sure to wait the entire 16 hours drying time, this Benjamin Moore product can not be rushed.

O’Connor’s Painting Service can recommend both of these products for their excellent durability, leveling properties, ease of application and clean up.

Switching from an Oil-Based Interior House Paint System to a Latex System

Over the past several years due to government regulation in the Mid-Atlantic region, paint manufacturing companies have slowly phased out oil-based paints. Back in 2005 when the new regulations were starting to be phased in, you could even find painters and homeowner trying to stockpile oil-based products. Today when you go to any paint store and ask for oil-based paint they will only sell you quart sized cans. The only oil-based paint available in gallon sized cans is formulated for use on metal surfaces, not wood. The main problem with oil-based paint products is that they emit volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)  which have a strong odor and  when dry interact with sun and heat to create ozone pollution.

When I talk to people who have an old oil-based interior system, I get a lot of questions from concerned homeowners who are wary of switching to a latex system but know that it must be done. Below are some tips O’Connor’s Painting Service uses when working with oil to latex on wood trim such as crown moulding, doors, baseboard, chair rails, interior windows, etc.

Preparation Tips

  • Lightly sand trim with 100 grit sand paper.
  • Clean trim with vacuum or dust with old paint brush.

Painting Using Oil Primer and Latex Top Coat

  • Apply one coat of oil primer like Zinsser cover stain which is a quick drying primer. If you are looking for a low odor oil primer, Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore carry low odor products that also dry quickly.
  • Apply two top coats of acrylic latex paint like Sherwin Williams, Duron, Benjamin Moore or McCormick.

Painting Using Latex Primer and Latex Top Coat

  • Apply one coat Zinsser 1-2-3 Primer Sealer. This product will bond to slick surfaces like oil.
  • Apply two top coats of acrylic latex paint.

Painting Aluminum Siding

I’m often asked by customers who have very old aluminum siding if it’s a good idea to paint their siding. I was at a paint trade show recently where I met a large company that manufacturers raw materials for paint. They informed me that paint will hold up on aluminum siding for a good 15 years. I find, unlike wood, where wood can go rotten, siding will hold up very well after painting. It can loose its finish after so many years and start to chalk but in general it holds up very well.  The key to choosing paint is to make sure you use a latex product because of its flexibility because aluminum siding moves.

 When working with aluminum siding we prepare the surface with a cleaner like TSP by brushing it in by hand then power washing the cleaner off.  As the surface is now ready to paint, its time to choose a method.

  • Method 1 is to use a direct to metal primer finish latex product. We apply 2 coats of this for a good cover.
  • Method 2 is to apply one coat of a bonding primer and one top coat of something like a Sherwin Williams Duration product.
  • Method 3 is to apply two top coats of Sherwin Williams Duration without the bonding primer.

 Your next question would be which option is best for my house?

 Choose Method 2:
If after power washing you see any metal showing through or if the siding is really slick to the touch use method 2 with the bonding primer.  Or if you don’t want a flat finish and more of a satin sheen, use Method 2. O’Connor’s Painting usually recommends this satin sheen finish because it more closely matches the original look of the siding.

 Choose Method 1 or Method 3:
If after power washing the siding is just dull and no metal is showing, method 3 is acceptable per manufacturer’s instructions but at O’Connor’s Painting, we like to use Method 1 where we apply direct to metal primer finish.

 At O’Connor’s Painting Service we have much experience painting aluminum siding and which method is best for each individual home. Depending on what color you select for your siding, you might need 3 coats of paint so be sure to alert the contractor to give you a 2 coat price and a three coat price.

 Don’t be scared of hiring a painting contractor  to paint your aluminum siding. It’s a good option to help save homeowners the cost of replacing their whole house siding. Call us to schedule an estimate and we would be happy to give you a quote.