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Painting and decorating tips from our Which? Trusted traders

Want to get the best out of your home-redecoration projects? We asked our Which? Trusted Traders-endorsed painters and decorators to share their tips.

In this article

Keeping your home in good decorative order usually means updating paintwork or wallpaper every 5-10 years, depending on how heavily a room is used. Regular improvements or updating your home can be cost effective, as well-maintained walls and ceilings are likely to require less preparation work before each update.

Choosing a neutral wall colour gives you plenty of options of how to decorate the rest of the room - greys, taupes and creams have been popular over the past few years. But some of our traders report that their customers are opting for bolder colours in their home, with people choosing dramatic blues and greens, for example.

Follow our tips on how to paint a ceiling and walls if you’re going to do your own decorating.

If you want a professional finish, then you can find Which? Trusted Traders-endorsed painters and decorators in your local area.

General decorating advice from Which? Trusted traders

Use the right materials for the job

If you’re going to paint or decorate your home yourself, ensure you’ve got the right tools. Read the manufacturer’s instructions about whether a particular product is suitable to use on walls, floors, doors and so on. See our guide to cleaning paint brushes and rollers and storing paint.

When you’re buying paint, our traders recommend using a good-quality trade brand, such as Dulux, Johnsons or Crown. Some DIY-store own brands might be cheaper per pot, but as Leon Shaw Painting & Decorating Ltd’s Leon Shaw told us: ‘You might need three to five coats with a cheaper paint – it’s not cost-effective, as you’re spending far more on labour.’

All our traders agreed that you get what you pay for. A good-quality paint is worth paying for, as you’ll only need two coats, so you actually use less.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions

It sounds obvious, but our traders told us that they often see the results of DIY jobs where people clearly haven’t followed the instructions on the paint tins. ‘You shouldn’t use paint straight from the tin,’ Which? Trusted trader Ian Birmingham advised. ‘Always decant the paint and thin it enough so that it flows evenly.’

Prepare walls properly

Well-maintained, regularly decorated walls will require less preparation than a room that hasn’t been touched for 20 years. ‘Walls that have been done a couple of years previously could take a day to prepare,’ Ian Birmingham said, ‘whereas some could involve weeks of work.’

Preparation is the key to a good finish. Adding another layer of wallpaper over the top of several years’ worth of previous paper isn’t going to give you the finish you want. Nor is simply painting on top of what’s already there.

After removing wallpaper, and before painting the walls, make sure you get rid of all residual wallpaper paste with clean water. This might take several washes, but it removes the possibility of leftover residue reacting with the paint and causing cracking or flaking.

If in doubt, get a professional in to do the job for you: Which? Trusted Traders has endorsed painters and decorators throughout the UK.

Add a size coat when hanging wallpaper

When you’re hanging wallpaper you need a size coat – a diluted paste mix – on the wall, as well as paste on the paper, to create ‘slip’. You need a bit of slip so you can make small adjustments to line up the paper correctly. It’s going to be much more difficult on bare plastered wall because the paste will dry out so quickly.

Your lifestyle choices can make decoration more complex

Stains on the walls from cigarettes will discolour paintwork. That often needs cleaning before the wall can be repainted, and you’ll need to add a stain block at the end of the job – all of which adds cost.

Don’t put emulsion paint straight on to plaster

If you’ve had the walls plastered, they will need a primer or mist coat before you start painting the emulsion. ‘You won’t get any flow of paint otherwise, particularly if you take it straight from the tin,’ Ian Birmingham explained. ‘It’ll just be like a heavy blob, like Artex when you roll it over.’

Check our guide to painting and decorating costs to find out typical prices for common jobs, or read on for cost-saving tips.

Cost-saving tips for common jobs

We asked our Which? Trusted traders about some common jobs and how you can make them cheaper.

Redecorating a living room, walls only, in a modern house

Many people want to have flat plaster (as opposed to Artex or other textured finishes) and emulsion paint. Depending on the underlying condition of your walls, you can still achieve this look after removing wallpaper without needing to hire a plasterer.

‘Decorators aren’t jacks of all trades,’ Ian Birmingham said, ‘but most decorators can remove a radiator, sand down a window area or plaster small areas. I’d take on anything up to about a metre square.’

If you have to paint new plaster, instead of buying a ‘new plaster sealer paint’, you can dilute contract emulsion with 50% water and then follow up with two coats of emulsion.

‘You often find cracks on the plasterboard joints in ceilings in modern buildings, and you can get mould in the corners if there are air-circulation issues,’ Which? Trusted trader Leon Shaw told us. ‘Treating the areas with a fungicidal wash and stain block can preserve the finish in the long term.’

Living room redecoration – walls and ceiling

It’s often more cost-effective to decorate the whole room rather than just refreshing the walls or the ceiling separately. ‘It’s easier to price for a full room,’ Ian told us. ‘Timing-wise, it’s awkward to do bits and pieces. If you’re only doing the walls, it would take you a morning to paint, then you’d have to leave and come back the following day. You’d also have to add in the cost of travel and the likelihood of finding another small job for the rest of the day.’

Lots of customers use a complete redecoration as an opportunity to be ruthless with their possessions. Decluttering can make a real difference to a newly decorated room.

In any event, try to move as much furniture as possible out of the area to be redecorated. If a decorator has to move the furniture every day, they will factor this into the cost of the job. Over the course of a week, it could amount to a few hours of labour.

‘It’s the same as if you were having a new carpet fitted,’ Ian advised. ‘Even if you can’t move heavy furniture yourself, you can still remove as many ornaments as possible, take clothes out of wardrobes to make them lighter and, if possible, move furniture into the middle of the room.’

General household redecoration (multiple rooms)

A decorator can work more efficiently if they can decorate two or more rooms simultaneously. It means they can work around drying times so, overall, the job will be shorter and cheaper.

‘Financially it makes sense for the customer to redecorate several rooms at once,’ Leon Shaw told us. ‘The decorators can swap around the rooms they’re working in, and move the furniture – it keeps the flow of the work going.’

External redecoration

If the outside of your home needs redecoration, it’s best to wait until summer. This allows the moisture taken in during winter and spring to dry out. ‘I wouldn’t do any outside decoration until May,’ Ian said. ‘You need the temperature to be high enough for the work to dry – as well as a break in the weather.’

Contracting lots of traders with different specialities to carry out minor repairs can be an expensive way to maintain your property. Try to find a decorator who can also carry out minor repairs, including to pipework and gutters.  

The size of the property and the materials will make a big difference to the price. ‘It’s much quicker to apply masonry paint to a flat-rendered building than a texture-rendered one,’ Leon Shaw told us.

Access is also a large part of the price. While some decorating work can be done using ladders, in many cases it will be necessary to use scaffolding to work at height, which significantly increases costs. Leon Shaw said: ‘We use cherry-pickers (elevated electric platforms) if there’s a flat area in front of the building – that creates a direct saving in the price of a job.’

If you need a painter and decorator for your home-improvement project, you can find one on the Which? Trusted Traders website. Which? Trusted Traders is an endorsement scheme set up by Which? to help consumers find reliable and trustworthy traders.

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