Niche Publications

Senior Editor for Niche Publications of the Billings Gazette

Interior painting is no Paint-by-Number.

While the 1950s art-kit suggests what colors to use and where, your home has unlimited ways the project could turn out well or wayward.

Matt Jansen, owner of Matt the Painter in Billings, grew up in the painting trade with a contractor dad. He’s had to fix homeowners’ mistakes, but that hasn’t deterred him from giving do-it-yourselfers advice on how to do it right.

“If you want somebody to come in there and you have the disposable income to hire someone to do it, in theory it gives you a better quality and takes (away) some of the risks of doing things wrong,” Jansen said.

But if stepping on ladders, a lack of perfectionism and a longer project timeline aren’t bothersome, painting can be a fun project to tackle while stuck inside during the winter.

Splatter matters

Recommended paint products vary by room.

In bathrooms, homeowners can already tell how their current coat is performing. Water spots and mildew growth are signs that the walls need a more durable, higher sheen paint.

The same goes for trim, which Jansen says because of frequent damage and dust, requires a higher-performing product. Doors, especially around handles, are no different. Jansen says sheen, satin and semi-gloss paint have the ability to be washed or scrubbed and are ideal for frequently cleaned rooms like bathrooms and kitchens.

Durability can be extended not just through product choice, but also with removing stains as quickly as they appear, using safe cleaning methods, and applying a primer and a second coat.

Jansen suggests starting with a damp rag on stains, then soap and water, but never ammonia because it will likely remove the paint.

“Depending on the sheen level as well, you’re going to increase the likelihood of that color coming off,” he said. “I would try to get after that stain as quickly as possible.”

Some stains can’t be seen as clearly, like hairspray in bathrooms. Painting over oil with latex paint causes the paint to fisheye, so not only is hairspray a problem, but older homes with oil-based paint are too.

Oil-based paint may need to be stripped from walls before applying a latex coating.

Solvent-based paints are being phased out and replaced by water-based paints. While there may still be some oily paint in the market, Jansen says they’re not user-friendly, take more time to dry, and release unwanted fumes.

The right environment

Billings’ dry climate can be a blessing or a curse depending on how quick a homeowner can work.

“Paints will dry faster, which is nice. You can get a fan in the room, put a coat of paint on that and come back as quick as an hour or two to start your second coat of paint,” said Jansen.

But because today’s paints dry quicker, there may not be enough time to even out the existing coat before it starts to dry.

Wall temperature is another factor to consider.

“Most people are keeping their homes anywhere from 60 degrees to the low 70s. And that’s fine,” Jansen said. “Sometimes on a project, you may want to turn the heat down a little bit if the paint is drying too quickly. Anywhere in that range you’re going to be OK.”

Jansen adds that exterior walls, especially plaster walls in older homes, may be too cold this time of year. He recommends testing the temperature's impact with a small paint spot in an inconspicuous area.

Overlapped coats of paint can texturize a wall over time, even if a nap roller was used for the smoothest application possible. Jansen suggests lightly sanding down a wall that has been thickened and texturized by paint over time.

“When (most paint failures) occur, it’s not really a product failure, but an application failure,” he said.

The most obvious mistakes relate to priming and using a second coat.

Ron Marsich, a Sherwin-Williams Paint Store salesman at the 929 Grand Ave. location, says the most common mistake homeowners make with painting projects is not using a primer and only applying finish over textured drywall. Without priming, the wall will appear blotchy, he said.

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Jansen adds that the paint atop sheetrock won’t adhere, and that homeowners should be skeptical of all-in-one paint and primers, whose only function is to hide pre-existing color.

“Primers also do other things—build up an area, hide, make more uniform and smooth,” he said.

Adding a second coat builds paint thickness, which increases durability and protection.

“Put that second coat of paint on there,” said Jansen. “’Cause you’re not adding it for hide as much as for the protection. Look down at how well that room is lit; see how that paint levels out, the consistency. It’s hard to be consistent; that second coat allows you to even things out.”

If the end result isn’t perfect when it comes time for a home sale, homeowners may be forced into having the paint job corrected.

“It’s a lot harder to go back and fix something once it’s failed,” Jansen said. “A lot of the newer homes, too, even the big McMansions, when they’re built brand-new sometimes the builders skimp on the primer and the quality of the paint.”

Made in the shade

Jansen says homeowners typically repaint every seven to 10 years; that frequency increases with the wear and tear children and pets bring to the home, or if homeowners update walls to match what’s trending.

“A lot of people will go in and do the earth tones and safe colors,” he said. “But, a little bit more exotic, trendy types, they may pass with the phase.”

Picking colors can be the hardest part of the job.

Jansen recommends homeowners buy sample paint and poster board and use painted board to give a better feel for what the room would look like compared to using a smaller swatch.

“Move that around the house and see how it looks in different lights and it’s going to completely change depending on the wall and how that light hits it,” he said. “Some paint stores will have an in-house designer that can come out there for a fee. That’s some of the best money you can spend.”

Grays are currently trending, but they can be difficult to pick out.

“You can see blues and greens and pinks in them. It can make it a little more challenging, but in the end, it’s just paint,” he said. “If you don’t like the color, you can always repaint it.”