Painting a Room or House: How Long Does It Take?

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When you buy a home, you accept the maintenance and upkeep costs that come with it. When those costs start mounting, you’re bound to look for fixes you can do yourself. One of the first DIY projects that may come to mind is painting the interior or exterior of your house.

As a former house painter myself, let me be the first to tell you: You can do it yourself. I painted for three summers during college and while I became much more patient and careful with a brush, there’s no reason for me to believe that I’m a better house painter than you.

That said, professional painters exist for a good reason. They’ll do immaculate work. You or me? We’ll just do okay. But we can also do the job for a lot less money. 

Home painters cost a fair amount because a quality paint job protects your home and may even increase property value. If you want to do it yourself, however, more power to you. In that case, you may be wondering how long does it take to paint a room? How long does it take to paint a house? How long does paint last? In this piece, we’ll answer all of those questions and more to help you breeze through your painting project with minimal catastrophe. (Just kidding — no catastrophe.)

What does painting a house do for home value?

If you’ve ever made a bad first impression, you understand that people really do form opinions about things very fast. The same holds true for homes. A beautiful home with a good structure just doesn’t look right with chipping and peeling paint.

Most prospective home buyers don’t know how to analyze a home’s structural soundness and quality from the outside. Instead, they’ll take stock of things like the window placement, shutter condition and, of course, paint condition. Damaged, peeling paint makes a bad impression. If you’re looking to sell your home, a new coat of paint gives the house a nice refresh and can increase your property value almost overnight.

Painting the whole exterior makes the most immediate impact on home value but even small changes make a big difference. Just painting the front door can increase a home's value by as much as $6,000.

If you’re looking to sell a home quickly or live in a buyer’s market, painting the house is one of the best ways to help sell faster. Considering the average home paint job costs about $2,500, it’s well worth the investment. A new exterior paint job, done correctly, should last five to seven years depending on the climate, which will save a potential buyer money and make them more inclined to buy now. (An interior job should last up to 10 years.)

How long does it take to paint a room?

One benefit of professional painters is that they tend to work faster than you will. They have a team, while you may have only a partner or a can-do attitude for help. Still, a professional paint team spends two to four days (about 8-16 hours) on a 10’ x 10’ room because prepping, priming, and painting is a time-consuming process.

If you’re painting a room by yourself or with a helper, it could take even longer. Here’s how the time should break down:

How to paint a room

1. Prep work: 1-2 hours

Move everything out of the room before you start working. I’m going to say this again and italicize it to make sure it sticks. Move everything out of the room before you start working. Not just to the center of the room; out of the room.

It’s a pain, but paint has a way of defying the laws of physics and an evil, anthropomorphic knack for ruining sentimental things. Remove all of the furniture and everything on it into a room that won’t have paint anywhere near it. If you can’t move a large piece of furniture, invest in canvas drop cloths to cover it and tape the edges down so they won’t slip off during painting. (Paint soaks through lightweight fabrics and bedsheets, so invest in the pro stuff.)

Once all the furniture is out, start in on this checklist:

  • Cover the floor with a drop cloth, making sure it’s curled up at the edges to steer paint onto the cloth and not the wall.
  • Remove light-switch covers, picture frames, and any other decor from the walls.
  • Fill any holes, dings, or dents in the walls with spackle or caulk.
  • Cover the baseboards, window frames, and the sport where the ceiling meets the wall with painter’s tape. It’ll make cutting easier, especially if you’re using multiple colors of paint.
  • Scrape away any peeling paint and sand down any exposed wood.

2. Cutting in: 2-3 hours

Once the prep work is done, you have a beautiful new canvas to work with. But before you start slapping at the walls with a roller, you should do the complicated bits first. “Cutting in” is when you outline the walls, windows, door frame — anywhere there’s an uneven surface — with paint. You can’t roll paint up to a window’s edge and expect the roller to just stop painting. Cutting in gives you a clear boundary of where to stop so you don’t accidentally paint parts of the room you don’t want painted or that you’re painting a different color.

Cutting is fun and makes you feel like a Dutch master. It’s the most artistic part of the process because it requires actual technique: You’ll know very soon how good (or bad) you are at it based on the stray bits of color on the room’s white trim.

A few tips to make cutting in a bit easier:

  • Invest in both a medium-sized and a small brush with angled bristles. Use the medium brush to cut where the wall meets the ceiling and around windows. Use the small brush to work around corners and the door.
  • Use a lightweight paint cup with a handle so you can wipe excess paint off the brush and minimize drips.
  • Use a platform bench rather than a ladder. Most rooms aren’t tall enough to need a ladder, a bench is longer so you can cover more ground.

3. Priming and painting: 2-3 hours

Now is the point where home insurance commercials start. It’s the easiest part of the job but also the most time-consuming, since there’s  a lot of surface to cover. But after you’ve cut in, all you have to do is roll paint onto the walls and make sure you’ve covered everything.

If you’re working alone, a 14-18 inch roller is better than a standard 9-inch one. It’ll cover more surface area with each stroke and save you time. Also, make sure to get a roller with an extension rod; you don’t want to have to keep climbing a ladder or waltz along a bench to paint the ceiling.

Prime any exposed spots first, then paint. Yes, you can cut a corner by not priming areas that are already painted, but it will shorten the paint job’s lifespan.

4. Cleaning up: Up to 1 hour

Once you’ve rolled the paint on, it’s time to wait for it to dry. After a couple of hours, then it’s time to put the room back together. Remove painter’s tape, put switch plates and pictures back, and move the furniture back in. 

All told, a 10” x 10” room should take you anywhere from 6-10 hours.

How long does it take to paint a house?

The time it takes painting an entire house varies from house to house, of course, but it will take a lot longer than painting a single room. Once upon a time, professionals estimated the time it would take to paint a house using a system called “piecework” that divided each section of a house into pieces, with the required painting time allocated by a foreperson. A painter earned their salary based on how many pieces they finished each day.

You are not painting for your livelihood, so you can take as much time as you want! That said, piecework makes sense for individual, non-professional painters because it allows you to get that feeling of accomplishment with each part of the house completed. 

While I’d recommend going through the following steps for one piece of the home and repeating on each piece, you may prefer to complete each step around the whole house. It’s up to you.

How to paint a house

1. Prep work

The reason I’d recommend going piece by piece is because you have to move a lot to paint a house. That will become clear when you start to prep.

Chances are, your house is not on a flat bed of sand that will absorb any chipped paint, so to prep, you should put down a large canvas on the area that you will begin scraping. Scrape any chipped or peeling paint above the canvas, and move the canvas as you move your ladder to reach high points of the house. If you have bushes, make sure to put the canvas over the bushes.

As you scrape, use a bit of sandpaper to smooth out any exposed wood — the primer will stick better.

Also, since this will be a multi-day project, pick out a pair of clothes you don’t mind destroying. Painting is messy and you will destroy your clothes beyond saving. 

2. Priming

When you prime (and when you paint), start with the trim. Use a broad brush to put primer on any exposed wood or siding. You don’t have to prime paint that’s still there, it will work as its own primer. For any damaged trim you come across that you can’t sand down — for instance, a divot or hole made by an animal or insect — use painter’s putty or wood filler. If you find gaps between corners of the trim or fascia, use a paintable acrylic-latex caulk to fill the gaps before priming over them.

Assuming you’re using a ladder, get an S-hook and pour your primer into a lightweight bucket before ascending. That way, you can hook the bucket to a rung on the ladder and have an extra bit of space below you to catch any drips. Why a bucket? Because cans are heavy and they hurt.

Once you’ve done the trim, prime the rest of the piece you’re working on, taking special care to paint down or across. Painting up may result in build ups on your brush, causing paint to drip off the siding.

Tip: Always take the bucket down with you off the ladder. Do not try to move the ladder with the bucket still swinging up there. 

3. Painting

Painting is just like priming, except you’re covering everything, not just the exposed bits. If you’d like to be particular, you can cut in along the edge of the trim like you would in a room to show you where to stop slapping paint and start being more careful. It’s very easy to paint a bit of white trim another color if you aren’t careful.

How long does it take to paint a house? It depends on the house, the help you have, and how much of it you’re painting. In most cases, you can prep, prime, and paint a 500 square foot side in two to three hours. A two to three person professional painting team can paint a 2,500 square foot house in one or two days and costs an average of $4,000. You can, without a doubt, do it yourself for much less. You might not be able to do it yourself in a weekend, but with help it’s attainable. It’s just a matter of how you feel about sweat, paint-covered clothes, and perhaps the occasional run-in withbees.

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