Estimating for Exterior Paint Work

The data quoted for painting and decorating interior surfaces may be taken as approximate for similar work outside. A definite sum of money should be allocated for climbing. The writer has found that about twenty per cent, added to the actual cost of painting is about a reasonable average.

Care should be taken, wherever practicable, to measure the work, especially where such surfaces as stucco or brickwork are to be painted. Guessing heights is apt to be a risky business from the estimator’s point of view. If it is impossible to take accurate measurements, the number of floors in the building will give a rough idea of its height, and that of a man is another useful standard to work to, if the structure is not too lofty. In point of fact, it seldom happens that the job cannot be measured. If it does occur, a man with a good eye can get a pretty good idea by comparing the height with the known dimension of the length. If scaffolding in the form of travelling cradles is required, it is important to make certain that they will be available at the time they are needed, and that the cost is known before the decorator’s estimate for the job has been submitted.

Preparatory Work

Compared with what is necessary on interior surfaces, the amount of preparatory work is greater in exterior painting. Burning off paintwork may prove an extremely slow process, especially if it has to be carried out at a height. When the specification reads: ‘ burn off where necessary’ it is hardly worth while measuring up, and it is probably better to work on the basis of the amount of time which will be needed to complete the preliminary preparation. We may, therefore, give another example to illustrate the time occupied in burning off by a competent painter.

The man in question burnt off a pair of garage doors, each measuring 7 by 5 ft., rubbed them down, knotted, and primed them. The time recorded was exactly four hours and a half, but there was a break of ten minutes for a cup of tea, and lunch time also intervened.

A Typical Specification

Let us consider an everyday specification for an outside job, as follows: Clean out and paint two coats of white-lead paint, all gutters. Scrape off rust, rub down and paint all ironwork, one coat lead colour and one coat hard- gloss paint, to desired colour. Paint soil pipes one coat bituminous black.

Burn off woodwork, where necessary, rub down, knot, and prime with pink priming, consisting of white lead and red lead. Rub down remainder of the woodwork with pumice stone and water. Paint all woodwork one coat white- lead paint to desired colour and one coat ‘ ‘ hard-gloss paint to desired colour.

Here is an example of the application of the above specification to a small house.

It had three large windows measuring 8 ft. by 6 ft., ten small windows about half that size, five door sides and frames, double garage doors, and two front gates, together with a proportionate amount of ironwork.

The existing paintwork was in fairly good condition, allowing the pre-paration, such as burning off, rubbing down, and priming to occupy both men fourteen hours each.

The work was completed by the two men in six days, making a total of ninety-six hours. Although one rainy day occurred, the work was not held up.

The materials used were as follows: 1 gal. ready-mixed white-lead paint. 1 gal. hard-gloss paint. gal. turpentine. 1 pint linseed oil. 2 lb. stainers in oil. lb. putty. sheets glasspaper. 1 pint bituminous paint. 1 qt. paraffin.

Small quantities of patent knotting and red lead.

This is a good example of normal work finished in a satisfactory manner, so if the current wages and material costs are added together the prime cost can be found.

Weather Risks

All exterior work is at the mercy of the elements. Rainy spells do not upset a good foreman painter, for he always keeps a certain amount of covered work in hand for such emergencies, but whole days of rain which occur half-way through a job may cause a lot of wasted time. Exterior painting cannot be carried out in the rain and it is not always possible to transfer more than a few men to inside work at short notice. It is advisable, therefore, to make some allowance for the possibility of bad weather in March, April, and possibly August, and an even bigger allowance if exterior work is attempted from the beginning of October to the middle of March.

A few further points worth bearing in mind is that the disposition of ivy, shrubs, climbing roses, and similar growths should be noted and that, if there is more than a negligible amount of roof work to be estimated, it should not be too much trouble to get upon the roof to measure up properly and to examine the condition of the existing work. It is extremely annoying, to say the least of it, to find, when a job has been in progress for some time, that a carpenter is needed to ease sashes and doors, or, perhaps, to renew rotten woodwork, the state of which has been overlooked.


The prices given in this post, unless otherwise stated, are prime costs only. It may be asked what profit should be charged on this. Twenty-five per cent, may be regarded as reasonable, with thirty-three and one-third per cent, as the profit ‘ ceiling.’

Overhead Charges

Under the heading of overheads are included all such items as National Health and Unemployment Insurances, Workmen’s Compensation, all other forms of insurance and contributions made under the Holidays with Pay Scheme. About ten per cent, on the prime cost may be regarded as the average amount.

Establishment Charges

Under establishment charges are grouped all costs of office work, including the salaries of estimator and supervisor, rents, rates, cartage costs, wear and tear of brushes, replacement of plant, telephone charges, printing, stationery, postage, advertising and all such matters. The amount of establishment charges depends upon the efficiency of the administration and the relationship of these charges to the volume of orders dealt with. Twelve and one-half per cent, may be held to be a reasonable figure.

Establishment charges are controlled by the individual in charge of the business, and if estimates are to be competitive and profits are to be satisfactory, it is in the interest of that individual to ensure that a proper balance is maintained, and that the various percentages on prime costs are as accurate as it is possible to make them.

General Notes on the Complete Estimate

From the foregoing it will be seen that prime costs are arrived at first, and that profit, overheads, and establishment charges are added to complete the total figure for estimate.

It may be desirable to draw sums of money from a job as it proceeds and, in this event, the amounts suggested and the dates of payment should be clearly stated. An agreement to the same effect should appear on the form of acceptance which is submitted to the customer for his signature.

The estimate should state clearly and concisely exactly what is going to be done for the money. It should be easy to follow and should be worded in such a way as to preclude the possibility of any misunderstanding. It should deal with the job room by room and proceed in an orderly way; alterations should be avoided and the whole of the estimate should be set out as neatly and attractively as possible.

If a detailed estimate is requested and the cost of each item is to be given, keep them well separated so that there will be no confusion as to which item the various figures relate. Compare each with others similar in character to it, to ensure that there is a correct relationship in the amounts quoted. At the end of the estimate, give the total prime cost, profits, etc., and state clearly the total amount.

If the estimate is intended for a householder, avoid, so far as it is possible to do so, the use of technical terms which are unlikely to be understood; if any must be included, a brief explanation will certainly be appreciated by the client, but the aim should be to make the whole document as simple and straightforward, and its meaning as easy to grasp, as possible.

General Economy

It should be remembered that while the lowest estimate is not always the one which is accepted, the highest is usually looked upon with suspicion. To keep estimates at a reasonable level, it is in the interest of the master painter to effect true economy in every part of his business. By this it is not meant to imply that he should be niggardly – far from it. True economy results from good organisation and wise administration. Wasteful methods are the antithesis of good management. Thus, the master decorator should examine his business with a critical eye and should not hesitate to alter anything which has outgrown its usefulness or is in the slightest degree inefficient. Business methods have, to a great extent, become standardised, and it is unlikely that a man of average intelligence will go far wrong in broad principles, but smaller matters, which may not at first sight seem very important, may yet make quite a substantial difference to establishment or prime costs in the long run. When estimates are higher than they should be because of wasteful methods being countenanced, nobody gains by the extra money which is spent.

The following are a few practical hints on points sometimes overlooked: Sufficient plant should always be sent to the job; almost every firm allows time to be wasted, now and again, by failure to observe this rule. It is only lack of thought and foresight, for when men are seen walking about in what looks like an aimless manner, and the explanation is that they are looking for one or other item of equipment, the matter can be righted without much difficulty, but not before time, which has not been allowed for on the estimate, has been spent. Plenty of pairs of steps should be allotted to each job, and effectively distributed. No man should ever have to go very far to find the plant he needs. Scaffold boards sent out should be of suitable length. The writer has more than once seen long boards sawn up because short ones were not available, and later found the men grumbling because the long ones were missing.

See that all material is delivered on the site well in advance; painters should not be allowed to make a practice of walking backwards and forwards from job to shop and shop to job for small quantities.

Care should be taken to ensure that cartage is well organised, and decorators should examine their methods periodically, to ensure that time and petrol are not being wasted in this way.

Whenever possible, it is best to avoid buying materials in small quantities. A great deal of time, which could be put to far better use, is spent on the premises of builders’ and decorators’ merchants. Quite apart from this last consideration, it is far more expensive to purchase in small amounts.

For the greater convenience of the men and to make certain that the job is really done, have wallpapers shaded before they are sent on the job. In the case of most wallpapers, it is often better to trim them also in advance. Naturally, papers which require knife-trimming should only be shaded beforehand.

Colour mixing and matching is a source of much wasted time and material when it is undertaken by incompetent men. If a decorator has a man who is really skilled at this kind of work, it is worth while sending him to the various jobs for the special purpose of getting the colours out.

No difficult or unusual work should be recommended unless the decorator is perfectly well satisfied that he has the men capable of doing exactly what is wanted. He will probably be quite able to do the job himself, but if he spends too much time on any one piece of work, he may find that it is at the expense of other matters which need his urgent attention.

Wages and time sheets should always be sent to the job. Only in exceptional circumstances should men bring in their sheets personally.

The master painter should keep abreast of the times and be really self-critical about his enthusiasm or reluctance to adopt new ideas. This applies with equal force to new materials, new appliances, and new methods or decorative schemes. He should be well informed and, to be sure of keeping up to date, take in at least one of the periodicals concerned with his trade. (10) Many advertised brands are excellent, others are not so satis factory. The master decorator should keep an open mind on the subject and be prepared to try them, but also to discard them should they not prove successful. He should not be unduly prejudiced about any one particular brand of material; another may be even better for his purpose.

He should always use the highest quality materials; it is perfectly true to state that they are cheaper in the end. But he should, at the same time, learn to distinguish between high-quality and high-priced material.


Estimates will not go out unless enquiries come in and, apart from old clients and recommendations which may possibly emanate from them, judicious advertising may bring in a gratifying amount of business. Much will depend upon the methods adopted. Lantern slides at the local cinema – particularly if they are in colour – are often effective, and advertisements in the local paper generally prove to be well worth the outlay, if persisted in for a sufficiently long time.

A decorator’s advertising should be governed by the standing of his business. A postcard in the advertisement frame at the local newsagent’s may suit one case; an illustrated announcement in a widely circulated magazine may be appropriate in another. But this is merely a matter of volume, and what is really important is the quality of the advertisement. The greatest stress should be placed on the exact type of work which it is desired to attract, and for which the firm is best fitted. It is less expensive to carry out work of a type with which a man’s employees are familiar; his standard of profit is more likely to be maintained and, in any event, the figures of his estimates are likely to be competitive.

If he has a shop window, it should be a source of enquiries as well as of light. It is often remarked, and not without reason, that the average decorator’s shop-window is far too dull; a few panels of wallpaper, a tin or so of paint, possibly a sample of graining or lettering, represent a typical display. Yet he has an opportunity to bring to the notice of the public some at least of the results of his experience and the expression of his good taste. Far too many decorators think in terms of paint alone, forgetting that the decorative treatment of most rooms is simply a setting for the furniture; how seldom are items of furniture exhibited in a decorator’s window!

His office, too, should be attractive to customers. It should present a decorative scheme in itself rather than the resting place of dusty files and obsolete pattern-books which it so often becomes. The display of pattern boards should also be given careful attention. Most decorators are apt to consider them more nuisance than they are worth, but they are, in fact, very necessary. They should be as large as circumstances permit, and they should always be kept in first-class condition. The best way to store them is by erecting a rack for the purpose. If they are left lying about they are bound to get dirty and damaged, and to exhibit them in this state to a prospective customer can hardly be looked upon as good advertising.

The sole purpose of mentioning advertising in this post is in its relation to estimating, and enough has been said to indicate its importance in this respect. It need only be added that the master painter should consider the whole question of publicity carefully and expend money only on what brings in orders regularly. The expense must be added to establishment charges, a proportion of which must go into every estimate; thus, if a man’s advertising is wasteful, the estimates will be slightly higher but the increase will serve no good purpose.

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