Between the costs of paint, materials, tools, accessories, labor, gas, taxes, insurance, and more, learning how to bid a painting project accurately is no simple task and takes some serious strategizing!
As a professional painter, job costing is generally one of the more difficult skills to master. After all, biding a new project accurately can make or break your margins.
In this article, we will review in detail the steps required to accurately bid your next interior and exterior house painting project. Even experienced estimators can walk away with some valuable tips from this post!
Why Is Estimating a Paint Project So Difficult?
Before you started painting, you probably thought it would be simple to bid on a job and figure out the cost to paint. Just do a few quick measurements, get the square footage, calculate the labor cost, and add a little extra on the top as your markup. Right?
Well, not so fast. Estimating costs for a painting project takes intelligence, precision, knowledge, and a fair bit of know-how, which oftentimes is easier said than done.
In reality, every painting project you bid will have a unique set of challenges. No two projects are alike because you complete the work onsite. Plus, your cost to paint interior or exterior surfaces is always going to vary based on labor, which is dependent on the overall simplicity or complexity of a job.
While there’s no “one size fits all” approach to estimating your cost to paint, being as accurate as possible is always in your best interest. It makes you look professional, increases your chances of getting the job, and lowers your risk of losing money on the job.
What Is the Average Cost to Paint in the U.S.?
Depending on where you are in the U.S., the average cost to paint varies. Let’s take a look at the national averages for painting costs according to HomeAdvisor. This popular home improvement website uses data pulled from painting professionals all over the U.S. to calculate these averages.
Interior Painting Cost
The average cost to paint interior walls ranges from around $1,000 to $3,000. Here are the national interior averages from HomeAdvisor:
- Average range: $950 to $2,910
- US average cost: $1,914
- Low to high: $350 to $5,000
- Single room: $200 to $1,000
- Entire house (2,500 square feet): $2,000 to $9,000
- Cost per square foot: $2 to $6
Next, we’ll give you a rundown of average interior painting costs according to HomeGuide, broken down by room. Of course, these prices will vary by size:
Average Cost to Paint By Room
- Master bedroom: $650 to $1,400
- Regular bedroom: $350 to $850
- Master bathroom: $250 to $650
- Regular bathroom: $150 to $400
- Kitchen: $150 to $250
- Finished basement: $800 to $2,500
- Dining room: $300 to $1,000
- Hallway: $300 to $1,000
- Accent wall: $80 to $200
- Ceilings (12 ft x 12 ft): $150 to $300
Pro Tip: If you’re painting ceilings we recommend adding an extra $1 to $2 extra per square foot to your painting estimate to account for the extra labor.
The average cost to paint a house exterior differs slightly from painting walls and other interior projects. Check out HomeAdvisor’s national averages for exterior house painting:
- Price range: $1,770 to $4,344
- US average cost: $3,054
- Low to high: $600 to $7,000
- Range per square foot: $.50 to $3.50
- Average per square foot: $.75 to $2
- Entire house (2,500 square feet): $1,250 to $8,750
- Two story home (1,500 to 2,500 sq. ft): $3,000 to $6,200
- Crown moldings and trim average: $.65 to $4 per linear foot
Remember, these prices are only general estimates. Expect the average painting cost to depend on additional factors, like region, complexity, size of the job, etc. We’ll go into these factors and how they will affect the price of a professional painting proje later in this article.
How to Estimate and Bid on a Paint Job: Step-By-Step Guide
1) Visit the Job Location
When estimating a painting project your first step should always be to visit the job site and take measurements. Yes, it might cost you some extra gas money. However, the knowledge you’ll gain will be invaluable and help you make the most accurate estimate possible. Plus, visiting the job site means you’ll be able to see any factors that will make your job harder and increase the overall cost of paint you’ll have to cover.
For Example: A home with intricate crown molding or cathedral ceilings will take longer than a simple ranch. Dark walls may take two coats, another factor that will up your bid. Homes with exteriors that are brick or stucco are generally harder to paint than wood or vinyl.
Carefully check the condition of the surfaces you’ll be painting to determine if it will affect the amount of work, such as moderate damage, wallpaper removal, or mold issues.
Ask for Pictures or Video If You Can’t Visit In-Person
Granted, it’s not always possible to do an in-person visit ahead of time. In that case, ask for detailed pictures from the homeowner. You can also use Zillow as a resource, however, remember that photos don’t always tell the full story. When offering virtual/phone estimates you may want to give your estimate a bit more padding to account for any last-minute “surprises.”
Pro Tip: If the house you’re going to paint is on the market, you can check out professional photos online on the realtor’s website or even take a video tour.
2) Measure Twice
Measuring the surface area you’ll be painting is critical when calculating your final estimate. Most painting companies measure the height and width of every wall, then multiply the two to find the overall square footage.
However, there’s one crucial step you shouldn’t forget when measuring for a painting estimate: subtracting the square footage of any doors and windows that you won’t be painting, which applies to your exterior and interior painting cost.
Some professional painters use averages and estimates to calculate unpaintable space:
Average window: 12 to 15 square feet
Average door: 21 square feet
However, we recommend individually measuring each window and door to prevent any inaccuracies. Also, if you’re painting ceilings, don’t forget to include them in your measurements.
Pro Tip: When measuring for interior painting, include the baseboards in your measurements. That way, you’ll have some extra paint to use on touch-ups.
3) Estimate Paint Costs: How Much Paint & The Cost
Estimating how much paint you’ll need for a job and how much it will cost you is tricky. To calculate how much paint you’ll need, you can use this general formula from Bob Vila:
Paint Coverage Estimates
One gallon: Covers 250 to 400 square feet
Average coverage: 325 sq ft.
Interior/Exterior Paint Calculation
Square footage of surface area / square footage of paint coverage = total gallons of paint needed
For Example: 2,500 sq. ft / 325 sq. ft. = 7.69 gallons (round up to be safe)
Be sure to account for multiple coats. Depending on the surface, location, and color you’re covering you will want to plan for at least 2-3 coats.
Cost of Paint
The price of paint ranges depending on a several factors:
- Type of Paint (Interior/Exterior)
- Amount of Paint (Bulk purchases typically cost less)
- Quality of Paint
Finish (Eggshell, Satin, Flat, etc)
Pro Tip: You may feel tempted to save money by purchasing cheap paint. However, we recommend against this course of action. Buying low-end paint will inevitably affect the overall quality of the job, making it look poor. So if you want your work to stand out, purchasing high-quality materials is your best bet.
The two most common types are latex paint and oil paint:
- Latex paint: $20 to $65 per gallon
- Oil paint: $20 to $75 per gallon
Here are the general averages according to Remodeling Calculator and HomeAdvisor:
- Average per gallon: $30 to $55
- Low to high: $20 to $100
- Pint: $5 to 50
- Quart: $10 to $80
- Half-Gallon: $10 to $25
Average Cost of Paint per Gallon by Finish
- Primer: $10 to $30
- Flat paint: $27 to $40
- Matte: $25 to $50
- Eggshell: $24 to $40
- Satin: $29 to $42
- Semi-Gloss: $33 to $56
- High-Gloss: $30 to $120
Interior vs. Exterior
- Interior average per gallon: $15 to $50
- Exterior average per gallon: $20 to $80
Pro Tip: As a professional painter, you may be able to get a contractor’s discount on paint from your supplier, particularly if you’re buying a lot each month. However, it may take time to get this discount, so new painters should always use the full price when calculating their cost to paint.
4) Estimate Material Costs
A huge factor when estimating material costs is how much prep work, setup, and cleaning the job will take. Calculating these numbers with accuracy is critical because the cost of supplies adds up quickly.
Here are some of the most common materials that interior painters will need for their next painting project:
- Paint brushes: $2 to $30
- Paint roller kit: $10 to $30
- Drop cloths: $5 to $30
- Masking paper: $5 to $30
- Painter’s tape: $3 to $10 per roll
- Interior primer: $10 to $30 per gallon
- Interior caulking: $5 to $10
- Wall filler: $10 to $20
- Putty knife: $2 to $8
- Multi-tool (nail puller, chisel, flat screw bit, paint can opener, etc.): $5 to $10
- Mixing sticks: $1 or free with paint purchase
- Paint tray: $2 to $5
The materials you’ll need to paint a house exterior are slightly different. In addition to what we listed above, include these supplies:
- Wire brushes or paint scrapers
- Exterior silicone caulk
- Plastic sheeting
- Exterior primer and paint
Paint sprayer (if applicable)
- Extension poles
Pressure washer (if applicable)
How to Increase Painting Costs to Include Materials
When it comes to estimating costs for paint supplies, you can take one of two routes:
- Add up the average cost of each item of material.
- Add a percentage increase to the total cost of paint.
Here are some general rules of thumb you can follow when estimating your materials for your next painting job:
- If you need to buy supplies like rollers, brushes, buckets, tape, or masking paper, add about 20% to the total cost of your paint.
- If you need to buy prep work materials, like scrapers, wall filler, sanding pads, and so on, add about 10% extra to your total paint cost, including the materials listed above.
- For painters missing major equipment or tools like roller extension poles, ladders, or scaffolding, add an extra $100 to $500 to your materials cost.
5) Calculate Labor Costs
Depending on the overall size and complexity of the job, the labor cost of a professional painter will vary greatly, especially if you have a large number of variable costs. However, it’s important to calculate labor correctly, as it can account for 75% to 85% of the entire job, which is a sizeable chunk. Understanding how to charge for labor will help you prepare a more accurate painting estimate.
Most experts recommend charging at least $20 to $50 an hour for professional painting labor, but it can range as high as $100 an hour for complex or specialty jobs.
Take into consideration the overall timeframe of the job and how long it will take to complete, the type of area you’re painting, and whether you will need the help of additional painters.
A painting company might also calculate labor costs based on square footage. Here’s a quick rundown of labor costs based on square footage:
- 1,500 square feet: $800, approx. one day
2,500 square feet: $1,600, approx. 1 to 2 days
4,000 square feet: $2,400, approx 3 days
Ultimately, labor costs are up to you. The best way to calculate your rate is to take a close look at the job and determine any cost factors that could potentially make your job harder, including:
- Time-consuming prep work (such as scraping old paint, fixing damage, redoing caulking)
- Hard-to-paint surfaces, like embedded windows
- Excessive height (such as cathedral ceilings, tall houses)
- Exterior obstructions (such as ivy, tree branches, vegetation)
- Complex areas, like steep roofs or interior designs
6) Additional Cost Factors
Remember, your paint estimate includes more than just slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Every professional contractor needs to consider additional work and materials that will affect the overall job.
Most jobs include extra prep work to ensure that the finished product is high-quality. Here are some additional factors that both exterior and interior painters need to consider when calculating the total cost to paint:
Painting interior doors: $75 to $150 per door
Install trim or baseboards: $4 to $8 per linear foot
Sanding and filling: $1 to $3 per square foot
Install sheetrock: $1.60 to $2.35 per square foot
Moving furniture or objects: $35 to $60 per hour
Wallpaper removal: $1 to $3 per square foot
Popcorn ceiling removal: $1 to $2 per square foot
Here is the average cost to paint siding material per square foot:
In addition to how much you charge for painting trim, walls, ceilings, and so on, you also need to consider your overhead costs, also known as fixed expenses. Overhead costs can vary greatly but generally include:
Marketing costs and advertising (know your cost per painting lead!)
- Income tax
- Sales tax
- Insurance costs
- Gas and vehicle expenses
- Clothing or paint suits
- Time to set up, prep, and cleanup
- Travel time
- Business equipment (computers, tablets, cell phones)
- Office rent and utilities (if applicable)
7) Final Calculations and Estimate
Your final cost to paint should include all of the factors we listed above, plus your markup. For a new painting contractor, a 30% markup is acceptable. For larger painting businesses, you may want to increase the profit markup to 40% or 50%.
Here’s the final formula you can use:
Paint Cost + Labor + Materials + Overhead + Markup = Final Project Cost
Don’t forget to visit the job site ahead of time and look for factors that would make your job harder, like damaged walls, intricate trim or molding, poor access, tall ceilings, etc.
Ready to take on more estimates?
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