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How to Estimate Painting Jobs

Whether you’re bidding on a paint job or shopping around for someone to paint your home or business, it’s important to understand what goes into estimating the price. A quote is generally based on the cost of materials plus time billed at various wage scales, but there are a host of other factors that affect both. Here are things to take into consideration when estimating a painting job.


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    Assess the job. Look at the job site and make note of the basic job and the factors that determine whether it will be a quick job or a long, painstaking project.
    • For a house painting job, working around outdoor obstructions such as bushes, hose mounts, and water meters complicates a painting job considerably.
    • Indoors, built-in fixtures like counters and cupboards need to be factored into your time estimates.
    • You also need to specify in advance whether the painting crew or the client will be moving the furniture and wall hangings.
    • How high are the walls? Are there vaulted ceilings? Working on a ladder slows a paint job down considerably, as painters have to climb up with your tools, paint that area, climb down with their tools, move the ladder, and start the process all over again. There are also added dangers with working on a ladder.
    • What is the surface texture of the walls? Rough-textured walls can soak up to 10% more paint than smooth-textured walls.
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    Calculate the square footage. To get the most accurate assessment of the amount of paint needed, you need to get the total square footage you will be painting. Use this basic formula:
    • Add the length of all walls together: [wall 1L] + [wall 2L]...+ [wall nL] = [total length];
    • Find the area by multiplying the height by the total length: [total length x height]
    • For a rough estimate, subtract 20 square feet per door and 15 square feet per window. For more accurate numbers, measure the square footage of each door and each window, and subtract the total square footage from the total. [total sq. footage - (total door + window square footage).
    • Example: one rectangular room, 12 feet (3.7 m) by 14 feet (4.3 m), with 10 foot (3.0 m) ceilings, one door, two windows:
      • Walls = (12 + 12 + 14 + 14) x 10 = 520 square feet;
      • Door and 2 windows = (20 + 15 + 15) = 50 square feet.
      • Total square footage = 520 - 50 = 470 square feet.
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    Calculate your paint needs. Calculate this using the given square footage, and plan on using 2 coats of paint. One gallon of paint will cover approximately 350 to 400 square feet on smooth walls, 300 to 350 square feet for textured walls. Add 10% for waste and underestimates, and round up to the nearest gallon. Using the above example:
    • 470 x 2 = 940 square feet
    • smooth walls: 940 ÷ 350 = 2.6; add 10% (.26 gallons) = 3 gallons (11.4 L)
    • textured walls: 940 ÷ 300 = 3.1; add 10% (.31 gallons) = 3.41 or 4 gallons (12.9 or 15.1 L)
    • If you are painting board-and-batten siding, multiply the final number by 1.5 as you are adding a significant amount of surface area for each board.
    • Don't forget to add a coat of primer, if needed. This will be a factor for both materials and time.
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    Factor in the cost of consumables. Estimate the total cost of items such as masks, booties, paper, painter's tape, cleaning supplies, and any other "disposable" items that you may use for your job.
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    Add in your labor. This will vary both with how easy the job is, and how experienced you are.
    • If you are a very experienced painter and the walls are smooth and clean with no obstructions, the job will go very quickly, so place a premium on your time.
    • If you are new, it may take longer than you expect. Make sure you're working for a profit, but be aware that if it takes you 10 hours for the same job that an experienced painter can do in 2, you would do well not to charge more than the experienced painter.
    • Practice timing yourself at first, so you know how long it takes you to paint a blank wall. For example, if it takes you 10 seconds per square foot to paint a bare wall, a wall 12 foot (3.7 m) long by 10 foot (3.0 m) high, plus the time it might take to mask the wall and reload your brush or roller, and you can estimate 40 minutes for that wall.
    • With experience you'll come to know how much longer a textured wall will take.
    • Every obstruction adds to the time spent on a wall, including windows, frames, molding, and more.
    • Add all the various time factors up to determine approximately how long the job will take you, and multiply that times your hourly rate. This is your base price for labor.
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    Factor in the cost of your overhead. If you are in business full time, you have a certain amount of overhead you need to account for. Add this into your labor estimate.
    • For example, if running your office and paying your operating expenses costs $5,000 per year, and you expect to do 100 jobs in the year, to pass all the burden of expenses to your customers you would have to add $50 to every job. Think of it as "shipping and handling."
    • Add in transportation and any other daily fees. Once you have a complete time estimate, split it up into project days. Each day will include its own charges for commuting, gasoline, and all else involved in the cost of getting the day’s work done. Without factoring in these charges, a contractor could end up without enough to cover costs and labor.
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    Figure out market rates for the area and client base. This is one of the most basic factors in trying to estimate painting jobs, but it takes time for a professional to figure out what rates are applicable.
    • One good way to build rates you can be confident in is to use a “cost of living” analysis. That is, start by assessing how much your time is worth as a professional. Build that into a bid. Then find out what other painters in the area charge. You can do this by placing phone calls to other painting businesses and requesting a ballpark quote.
    • Contractors will want to bid competitively: not higher than the competition unless the quality is markedly superior, but not significantly lower, either.
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    Remember that experience counts. New painters shouldn’t expect to get the same rates as people who have been in the business for twenty years. However, they shouldn’t offer their work at cost, either, especially if they want to do quality work.


  • Learn about your clients. When it comes to getting good prices for a job, a little talk can go a long way. Ask your clients to identify points about the job that will clarify how much work it will take and what it will be worth. Hasty estimates, on the other hand, can lead to bidding errors.


  • When it comes to project estimating tools, you don’t need costly software – especially because it can’t factor in most of the considerations mentioned above. Be your own expert by building all of the above factors and more into a handy Excel spreadsheet (see Benjamin Moore for a free Excel estimate spreadsheet. A good worksheet can easily post all of your costs by line item. These detailed estimates will impress clients and lead to more clarity in bidding.

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Categories: Painting and Other Finishes