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Planning Retirement Online

50plus handyman     January 2006

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The handyman column 
By Roger Runswick

Decorating – are you getting your money’s worth?


50plus Handyman director Roger Runswick discusses the hidden costs


Many people telephone 50plus Handyman to ask about decorating costs. A typical remark is ‘we just need it painting’. Whilst determining the cost of painting or papering a room of known size is fairly simple, what really counts is the existing condition of the room. The preparation can take at least an equal amount and possibly more time than putting on the final paint or paper. When getting estimates, this must be taken into account.

Preparation is the key to a good decorating finish

Neglect at the preparation stage can not only ruin the final appearance, but can also result in the new d?or being short-lived, perhaps through paint flaking or paper peeling.

Sadly, a number of ‘fast turn-around’ home improvement television programmes have encouraged the neglect of decorating preparation. On the screen, you just don’t see the detail in the finished result. Preparation is a somewhat tedious task and, to the untutored eye, delivers little in the way of progress. Indeed, the preparation stage often results in the room looking worse than it did before decorating commenced!

Firstly, there is the dirt, grease and loose material from surfaces to be cleaned off; then cracks in the plaster and other defects need to be made good. Even new surfaces require a certain amount of preparation before work starts.

Some key points about preparation:

  • If at all possible remove radiators, it’s faster and you get a more satisfactory result than trying to decorate around them.

  • Light switches, door handles, power sockets can be lifted and then screwed down again. This stops paint getting on them and provides a much neater finish.

  • You will need to make good any defects in walls. If re-plastering is needed, remember this should always be allowed to dry thoroughly before the new decoration is applied. Alternatively, there are emulsion paints designed especially for new plaster, which will allow the moisture to continue to evaporate. Remember that new plaster has to be primed.

  • Any powdery surface should be dusted off and sealed with stabilising solution.

  • Existing paint needs to be washed down with sugar soap. This cleans away grease and dirt and etches the paint surface to provide a mechanical key for the new paint.

  • Where required, sand down woodwork to provide a smooth surface and a good key for the new paint.

  • In the case of wood, apply primer before the final coat unless you have an excellent surface to work on. It produces a longer-lasting finish. Some newer paints don’t need primer, but tend to produce a good result only where there is an existing good finish.

  • If the paper is coming away from the wall, painting over it will only make matters worse. And if one part needs to be stripped, then it should all be removed to provide a consistency of finish.

How to calculate the time the job will take

There are few rules of thumb to enable preparation time to be calculated.

  • Cast a critical eye on the condition of the room and check with the above pointers.

  • Removing wallpaper takes about the same time as putting new on, but if the wall beneath the paper is in poor condition, then that could take twice as long.

  • Before getting estimates or quotes for decorating, think about what you wish to achieve. If it is just a ‘freshen up’, make that clear to the decorators and don’t expect too much of the finished result.

  • If on the other hand you wish the d?or to last, take into account what needs to be done before the ‘cosmetic’ finish and be prepared to invest either the time or money. It will be well spent in the long run.

Roger Runswick is a director of 50plus Handyman and a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. He can be contacted at .


Previous articles in this series:


Fixing drips and changing your taps

Can I still change my light switch?

Fitting an outside light

Pre-winter maintenance

Thinking of installing a shower?

Decorating – are you getting your money’s worth?



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