Estimating for Interior Painting and Decorating

It must be pointed out that to give actual prices may well be misleading, since it is necessary to take into consideration such variable factors as the nature and condition of the surface, the kind and amount of preparation required, the accessibility of the work, the speed and skill of individual operatives, and the standard of workmanship expected. These are only some of the things which are bound to differ substantially from job to job.

In view of the above facts, the writer considers it impracticable to quote actual prices per square yard, particularly in view of the fact that wages and the cost of materials are subject to fairly frequent variations. Instead, examples of the average man-hours expended in various operations are given together with the amount of materials used on given areas. This will allow the prime cost of any job to be calculated at any time, once the measurements are known.

Interior painting and decorating probably constitute the greater proportion of the work done by the majority of firms. So far as the estimator is concerned, this work resolves itself into the treatment of various types of surface in various ways, so it will be best to approach the subject from this angle.

Preparing Plasterwork

The preparation of plasterwork commonly takes the form of washing off old distemper from walls, ceilings, cornices, and friezes, stripping old wallpaper and making good damaged places.

The time taken for such work must depend largely on the condition of the surface and the nature of the existing coating as well as on other equally variable factors. It is consequently very difficult to give any figures but a fair average for washing off old size-and-whiting distemper, cutting out and making-good would be six square yards per man per hour.

Washable distemper or water paint is even harder to estimate, for while at times it may come away from the surface fairly easily, at others it is extremely difficult to dislodge. Four square yards per man per hour probably represents the average.

Stripping wallpaper is a fairly straightforward job, though here again much will depend on local conditions. For removing one thickness of paper, sponging down and making-good (including clearing up and disposing of rubbish) the area dealt with should average about eight square yards per man per hour. This does not, of course, apply to varnished paper which is a very different proposition and takes at least twice as long.


One coat of size-bound distemper is often sufficient for ceilings and on a prepared surface the work can be done rapidly by a skilled man. Oil-bound distempers vary considerably in covering power and do not possess so much opacity, so that two coats are often required.

One hundredweight of oil-bound distemper covers an area of from 300 to 400 square yards for one coat, according to the condition of the surface, a rough surface requiring more material than a smooth one. Size-bound distemper may be taken as costing about one-third the price of oil-bound distemper.

Painting: Preparation

Given average conditions, the man-hours expended on preparatory work should be approximately as follows :

Washing down ……. 5

Rubbing down ……. 3

Painting: Application

Priming (including knotting) …. 3

First coat …….. 2

Second coat (including rubbing down and stopping) . 2 Third coat (hard gloss or enamel) …. 2

The above data have been arrived at from taking an average of a number of jobs of different kinds. If the amount of cutting-in involved is rather greater than the average, the area covered per man-hour will be less.

White-lead paint, properly brushed out, should cover from ninety to one hundred and twenty square yards per gallon. Leadless undercoatings will not cover so large an area – say, from seventy to eighty-five square yards per gallon. A gallon of hard-gloss paint should cover from seventy to eighty square yards while a gallon of flat enamel or wall paint, used as delivered, should cover about eighty square yards.

First coat …….. 4

Second coat ……. 4

Third coat (flat) 4

Third coat (gloss) …… 3


Brush graining ……. 2 figure graining ……. 1

Note: It is, of course, not possible to give reliable figures for graining or marbling work, the standards of which vary enormously, but the figures quoted above should provide some kind of a basis for work of average quality.

Scumbling and Colour Glazing

In this class of work clouded effects are the quickest to produce and con-sequently the cheapest, while graduated shading, requiring a good deal of stippling, takes longer and is more expensive. As in graining, the cost of materials is relatively small. Man-hours may be put down as from one to three square yards per hour.

Seven pounds of burnt Turkey umber, ground in oil, will make over a gallon of graining colour and up to three gallons of glazing colour of good strength.


The prime cost will depend to some extent on the quality of the varnish, but since this material goes a long way, it is wise to buy the best.

Gloss varnish . . . . . . 5 to 8

Flat varnish . . . . . . . 7 to 10

One gallon of gloss varnish will cover an area of one hundred and ten to one hundred and forty square yards. Flat varnish may go further, covering up to one hundred and sixty square yards; some heavy flat varnishes, however, will cover only half this area.


It is possible to give only a very approximate idea of the amount of wallpaper the average man will hang in one hour, but, for what it is worth, it is suggested that the figure may be from one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half pieces of lining paper and from one-and-a-quarter to two pieces of wallpaper.

Plastic Paint

The times taken for plastic paint work vary to a great extent according to the design or pattern required, but the following figures may give some indication of the average for this class of work:

Plain stipple (fine) …… 4 „ „ (medium) ….. 4

Plain stipple (coarse) …… 3

Pattern (rubber combs, etc.) . . . . 2 Other more or less intricate patterns . . . 1 or less Interior Ironwork

This will generally take the form of wrought ironwork. Only a rough idea of the time taken for average work can be given but by taking from one and a half to three times the superficial measurements, according to the amount of ornament, the time may be judged by using the figures given for painting woodwork. The second coat will be slightly quicker than the corresponding coat for woodwork, since no stopping will be called for.

Interior Work – General Remarks

When measuring up the interior of a house for the purpose of estimating, it is best either to have a plan of each floor or a list of rooms on each, and to mark off each room as it is dealt with. If, however, the estimate is being taken from a specification, this will be unnecessary, since only what is set down on the specification will be priced.

There are various ways in favour for going round a job, but the writer has always found the following very convenient:

Basement, staircase, top floor, third floor, second floor, first floor, and ground floor last. The size and design of the house will naturally decide the order of inspection, but the procedure referred to above does away with the necessity of covering one’s tracks to any great extent, allows measurements to be checked without climbing stairs too often, and has the advantage of finishing on the ground floor. As the work proceeds, the estimator should take a separate note of the heights of each room; this will be a considerable help if the exterior height of the building has to be guessed.

The condition of existing polished work (hand-rails, etc.) should be observed and the manner in which they are to be protected should be considered. This applies also to oak floors, linoleum, electric fittings, and other fitments. Steps should be taken to find out whether electric light, water, and facilities for heating water will be available during the time the work is to be done and, if the tenants are to remain in residence during this period, it is important to ascertain how many rooms may be decorated together. Working in one room at a time takes longer. Enquiries should be made as to whether a well-lit place will be available as a paint shop and, if the latter has to be in an outhouse, it should be borne in mind that this will entail considerable walking backwards and forwards on the part of the workmen. The accessibility of walls and ceilings, especially on staircases, should have due attention, and small items, as, for instance, the removal and replacement of door and window furniture, should not be dismissed as negligible matters. Time, too, must be allowed for washing floors, for it is often necessary to do this more than once in order to keep the job clean. The lifting and replacement of carpets is another job frequently left to the painter and a generous allowance of time should be made for it. ‘Tea Up’

It is now a fairly well-established practice to allow breaks in both the morning and afternoon for tea. It is not unreasonable to allow the men this privilege, but some check should be made on the time permitted. If the master painter is not careful, more and more time is spent in this way, and if there happens to be a particularly talkative man on the job, he may delay the resumption of work by the whole staff. It is superfluous to stress the importance of punctuality by everyone concerned; if the employer himself makes a habit of keeping the men waiting about, or if the foreman has several men hanging about outside a building unable to start work because he has the keys, it will be only natural if general slackness in timekeeping creeps in.

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