Every room is unique, and every home is unique. And in the Pacific Northwest, houses are made in a particular way, partly because of regional taste, but mostly because of history. Puget Sound has gone through several great historical inflection points in its relative brief history (brief, at least, compared to many other cities around the world), but through them all, there was one material always in great supply: lumber. And so, rather than make houses primarily out of stone, brick and concrete, homes here are what is called “wood frame” built. That is, the infrastructure is all made of wood, harvested locally in most cases, and just a few parts of the house are made of other materials. A chimney, for example, is often made of brick, and in the event of a total burnout in a house fire, you might have noticed that the chimney is the only thing left.
Because homes are made of wood, most wall and ceiling surfaces are made of sheet rock. That’s a type of manufactured material that is easy to cut and economical too. It’s relatively soft to touch and work with, which means it’s not entirely suitable for supporting, for example, heavy framed pictures. For that, you need to find the stud behind it, a supporting piece of lumber onto which the sheet rack is nailed.
That brings me to the point of most house painting. You are applying paint mostly to sheet rock. If it is the first time it is being painted, it is obvious, and if you are doing the paint work yourself, you need to talk to your paint supplier as to the best primer paint to use on it. If the walls (and ceilings) have been painted before, you need to know what kind of paint you are painting over. And finally, it’s worth noting that the cleaner the surface is before your first new coat goes on, the better it will ‘take’ to the wall, cure, and the longer it will last before the room needs to be painted again.
The one thing all these room types – bathroom, kitchen and laundry room – have in common is, they are subject to more moisture that other rooms in the house are usually. In the kitchen, if a lot of cooking goes on, steam is often condensing on the walls, then drying out. Food splashes and spills often have a chance to do their work on any surface they come in contact with.
Bathrooms, too, are subjected to a disproportionate amount of water, steam and other less innocuous liquids. All of this puts pressure on even the toughest paint, and brings me to the two most important factors in doing an excellent job of the painting project:
1. Getting the painting surfaces clean and bone dry before the project begins.
It is unlikely that your bathroom just has to be dried out before the painting begins. More likely, you will have to clean all wall and ceiling surfaces, then give the room a chance to dry out completely. This might mean not using the room for a day or two while it dries completely – perhaps with the windows open and the extractor fan on – in order to give your new paint a chance to adhere well to the surface.
2. Choosing the ideal paint for a room that will get lots of moisture.
There are more paint types and manufacturers today than I could reasonably list, but there are a couple of good brands that are often recommended for homes, and for a number of reasons. I won’t try to favor one paint manufacturer over another, but if you go to buy the required paint in your local home supplies store, they will know which is best. Explain your circumstances exactly, and the right paint can be selected. If you are working with a painting contractor, they will have an interest in helping you use the right paint. They will want to do an excellent job, and the right paint is critical to that success.
From having painted uncounted rooms over the years, I know that every extra minute spent on getting the room prepared before a can of paint is opened will pay back several fold later on. That means getting all those surfaces clean and dry and ready for the new paint. It also means protecting all those things that you do not want to come in contact with the paint. As well as removing everything you can from the room, you must cover with masking tape everything that you want to protect. If that job is done perfectly, you won’t get distracted later when you’re focused on getting the painting done properly. What’s more, the work will proceed faster, produce a better result, and the cleanup will be easier.
If you contract out the painting project to an external company, you will find that the paint and materials account for about twenty percent of the cost and labor about eighty percent. That means that a ten percent increase in paint costs means only a two percent increase in overall cost of the project. You can see, therefore, it’s a foolish step to try to save money on the paint. Opt for a brand with a great reputation, and talk directly with your painting contractor about what those brands are.
Paints are definitely safer today that they were a few decades ago, when lead was a common additive. Paints for the consumer market are now protected by federal laws prohibiting the addition of such lead. Still, I never assume anything, and while the paint is drying on the walls of room in your house, I highly recommend you do not use that room for several days after the paint is dry to the touch. Even though paint dries quickly, as long as there is that “new paint smell” in the room, you know that it is still emitting vapors of one kind or another. Safe as they may be, why put your lungs an your breathing to the test. Leave that room closed, with its windows open and any available extractor fan on for a few days.
More next week!