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How to estimate a paint job

How to estimate a paint job

Different contractors estimate paint jobs differently. Most contractors work with a base rate of $1.50 to $3.50 per sq. ft. Others charge four to five times the cost of paint used. In addition, some contractors calculate estimates based on the time and materials required to complete the job, while others place the lowest bid. 

An accurate paint job estimate is critical in building and sustaining a successful business. In addition, the success of your construction business hinges on your ability to provide a reliable and fairly-priced service to your clientele. 

Careful estimating is time-consuming but makes you appear more professional to your customers and, in turn, makes the business more profitable. But, on the other hand, you want to avoid winning a job by placing the lowest bid and making losses. 

So, how do you accurately estimate a paint job to ensure you get reasonable profits or at least break even?

Factors to consider when estimating a paint job

Many factors affect the final estimate for a paint job. Painting costs can vary significantly, even for buildings with duplicate square footage. Below are factors to consider when estimating a paint job.

The surface area of the walls and ceilings

The surface area of the walls and ceilings is the total space you will need to paint. Larger rooms will require more paint than smaller spaces. 

Type of paint being used

What type of paint will get the job done? Some paint is more luxurious than others and will cost more. 

Number of coats needed

Consider the number of coats needed to paint the area you are working on. The higher the number of coats, the higher the paint cost. You may need more coats for new construction than for a repaint. 

Condition of the surfaces being painted

For repainting jobs, the condition of painted surfaces is a significant factor. If the surface is in good condition, you may only need one or two coats of paint. However, more materials will be consumed if you first need to repair and prep the surface before painting. 

The time required for preparation and cleanup

Paint jobs cost more if much time is required for preparation and cleanup. You can determine the need for preparation and cleanup by conducting a site visit and assessing the condition of the surfaces to be painted. 

Calculating the cost of materials

Calculating the cost of materials

The first step in estimating a paint job is determining how much paint and other materials you need. Consider the space’s square footage, the area’s condition, and whether it’s an interior or exterior job. Interiors require more paint than exteriors. 

Conduct a site inspection with an experienced foreman or painter instead of relying on the client’s numbers. Their expertise will go a long way in spotting potential red flags, such as damaged trims and walls. 

You can use a paint job cost estimator to determine how much paint you need. Remember to add the cost of other essential painting supplies to your estimate. Other painting supplies include primer, brushes and rollers, gloves, masks, goggles, caulk and spackle, painter’s tape, coveralls, scrapers and sandpaper, paint trays, plastic, and drop cloths. 

Ultimately, your painting material costs will vary according to the size and complexity of the job. 

For your first painting job, you must buy materials such as brushes and rollers, gloves, masks, goggles, caulk and spackle, painter’s tape, coveralls, scrapers and sandpaper, paint trays, plastic, and drop cloths. However, you will only need new paint and primer for subsequent jobs. 

Basic painting materials, excluding paint, will set you back only $30 for a 400-square-foot interior. However, for an exterior job, you will spend at least $100 on basic painting materials for a 2000-square-foot house. 

Estimating labor costs 

The painters’ hourly rate accounts for most of the labor cost. Determine the rates for various crew members based on their experience and skills. For woodworking, you will pay more for it. Your labor checklist includes the hourly rate, taxes, preparation and cleanup time, insurance, and travel time. 

Include a 30% allowance for new constructions requiring caulking and priming. Consider that interior jobs take up thrice as many hours as exteriors. Factor in electrical or plumbing delays, which will trickle down to your paint job. Finally, include additional labor costs such as repairing walls or moving furniture. 

Additional considerations

Consider additional expenses like travel time and overhead costs. Another important consideration for business owners is paying themselves a fair salary. Pay yourself compensation to not dip into your company’s profits. 

Overhead costs are approximately 10% of construction costs. Overhead is the cost of doing business but is typically neglected by small business owners because it is complicated. 

Overhead costs are evenly distributed among all the jobs in a year to ensure profitability. Overhead costs include office rent, utilities, business equipment, marketing costs, back-office staff, tools and equipment, communication devices, and insurance. 

Overhead costs are typically monthly or annual and can be difficult to calculate for a specific job. To estimate your overhead for a particular job, first, determine your hourly overhead rate. 

Total monthly overhead ÷ # of billable hours per month

For example, if your monthly overhead cost is $10000 and your crew works 1000 billable hours monthly, your hourly overhead cost will be $10. 

Therefore, if you work on a 20-hour paint job, your overhead for the specific project will be $200. 

Estimating labor costs

Building your paint job estimate

Once you have figured out all the numbers, it is time to deliver a quote to the potential client. Deliver a professional presentation using a branded estimate form or letterhead. In the estimate, clearly outline the project scope and list all the jobs you will perform, from prep work to clean-up. Deliver the estimate promptly and offer to answer any questions from the client. 

Ensure that the client’s expectations are aligned with the contractor’s expectations. Confirm that the client’s needs match your price to minimize changes later. 


Estimating a paint job can be time-consuming but is critical to running a successful painting business. Accurate paint job estimates reduce losses, increase profits, and also help build client trust. Being able to accurately estimate the cost of a paint job will go a long way in making your business profitable. 

Always consider the various essential factors that affect the cost of a paint job when creating a paint job estimate, and avoid bidding poorly just to get the job. Use a realistic formula, and do not rely on guesswork.