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13 Steps to Painting a Room Like a Pro

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The easiest and cheapest way to renovate a room is to paint it, but hiring a professional can still cost $300 to $400. Homeowners can do the same job themselves for about $150. Sure, there's more to painting than just picking a color and slapping it on the wall. It's best to take a day to prep before you start to paint, for example; you want walls to be in the best possible shape before they see a new color. But with the proper prep work and a few tips, a DIY job can look perfect and last for years.

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Deciding on a paint color can seem daunting when looking at a chip array in a store. Select a few and get some sample cans to bring home, where you can paint pieces of poster board and move them around the room, looking at them in different lights at different times of day. Once you've selected your color, pick a finish: Paints run from flat matte (usually used on ceilings) to high gloss. Eggshell and satin finishes, which have a slight luster and are washable (although not scrubbable), are used for most walls.

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A gallon of paint covers about 400 square feet. Keep in mind the area of the ceiling and the linear feet for molding and trim, as well. Walls almost always need two coats, but one is generally fine for ceilings and trim that are staying roughly the same color. If the math is a bit much, use a paint calculator.

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Scrape off loose or peeling paint with a sharp putty knife or paint scraper, just to the point where it becomes difficult to remove. It's inevitable for walls to sustain some pock marks and dings, particularly if there are kids around. To fix these up before you paint, and fill nail holes, use a putty knife to apply a bit of spackle diagonally across the hole or ding. Wait for it to dry, and sand using 120- or 180-grit paper or a sanding block until it's flush with the wall. Cover larger holes, or drywall that is opening along a seam, with a self-adhesive mesh patch and joint compound or spackle applied in a crisscross pattern. Feather it out along the edges to blend with the wall and sand it down when dry.

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All that sanding leaves dust on the walls that will keep paint from having a smooth finish. Wash them down with a dampened tile sponge or rag. If the walls are greasy (say, in a kitchen), wash them with a heavy-duty trisodium phosphate solution before painting. Walls where latex paint is going over oil-based paint should also be washed with this TSP solution.

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If there are spaces between the molding and wall, caulk them before painting. Make sure you use paintable acrylic caulk; silicone caulk repels paint. Walls and moldings should be cleaned first, with water and a bit of dish detergent. After caulking, smooth the seam with a wet finger. Let it set for 24 hours.

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Move all furniture to the middle of the room and cover it with a plastic tarp. Cover the rest of the floor with a canvas or paper drop cloth (flattened cardboard boxes are perfect for this). Using painter's tape to fasten a cloth to the baseboards will keep it from shifting. Remove all switch plates and outlet covers, taping the screws to the plates so they don't get lost.

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You need to prime when painting over spackle or joint compound, going from a dark color to a light color, or vice versa. Primer that's tinted to the paint color you're using makes everything easier, and there are paint-and-primer-in-one products, although some experts question their efficacy.

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A ladder is essential. An extension pole helps reach ceilings and high walls. Brushes with angled tips navigate edges. A 2-inch flat brush is ideal for trim and for doing corners. Rollers with a 3/8-inch or half-inch "nap" (the thickness of the roller) generally work fine for flat, non-textured walls. (And when you buy roller brushes, be sure that they match the size of the roller frame.) Roller-pan and brush-bucket liners help greatly with cleanup. Blue or green painter's tape -- the wider the better -- ensures that you color in the lines. Wet rags or paper towel should be handy at all times to clean up spills and drips immediately.

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Make sure paint is well-mixed. If you're using more than one gallon, guarantee color consistency by mixing them together in a 5-gallon bucket and pouring some as needed into a roller pan or brush bucket. When filling a brush or roller with paint, use very little. Tap brushes against the side of the container to remove excess -- don't wipe them. Fill the roller pan only in the basin, and roll the roller against the textured side of the pan to even out the paint.

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Tape the edges, smoothing down tape with a putty knife. Tape over light fixtures, and remove ceiling fan blades. Paint along the edges with a 2-inch brush. Make sure there are no drips or globs of paint, and feather over strokes if you need to. Fill in the middle with a roller attached to an extension pole, rolling in parallel lines. If the ceiling needs a second coat, paint in straight lines perpendicular to the first coat. Remove tape before the ceiling is completely dry to avoid taking paint off. Also: Don't work directly over your head, if you can avoid it.

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If you need to, tape against the baseboards, moldings, and window and door trim, although if you have a steady hand, you can skip it. Start by running an angled tip brush along the trim; again, use a light touch and bush over any drips or places where the paint is heavy. Paint in straight lines with a single stroke, pulling the brush toward you, refilling when necessary. Cut in corners with the same brush, or use a flat brush. You should have a 2- or 3-inch border. When you start using a roller, dampen it and dip it into the roller pan. Starting at the top of the wall, paint a large "W" about 4 feet square, then roll in overlapping vertical lines to fill in. (When the roller starts making a smacking sound, it's time to refill.) When you get near the parts you painted with a brush, use the roller horizontally to overlap the brushwork. Continue this way around the room. Wait for paint to dry, and put on a second coat, paying special attention to spots you may have missed. If you used tape, again, remove it before the paint is completely dry.

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Once the second coat is dry, you are ready to paint the trim. For this, a 2-inch flat brush is usually fine. You may want to use a smaller brush (a 1-inch angled sash brush is perfect) to cover the sides of the trim and moldings, where the woodwork is narrow. Tape will help you avoid getting paint on the walls you just finished. Press it down with a putty knife, if necessary, and remove it immediately.

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Clean bushes and rollers with soap and water, making sure to remove excess paint first. Then step back and admire your handiwork. Wait till the next day to put the furniture back.