Ask companies to include all details in writing. Although that sounds simple enough, too many contractors submit offers such as "paint house for $5,000." A friendly contractor may offer a reassuring handshake and promise that the crew will take care of all the details — starting on time, working every day, cleaning up, etc. That's great, but why not include each point in the proposal? If it's a challenge to get a written description of labor, materials and other details, things will probably get worse when the work starts.
Once work begins, hold brief daily meetings to discuss the job and schedule and quash any misunderstandings. If there are surprises, seek middle ground. No contract can anticipate every possibility. Materials may be unavailable. Large chunks of rotten siding may crumble along with the old paint. Exterior jobs may be stopped cold by a week of steady rain. But know that you'll pay extra if you change your mind about a color after the trim is already painted or otherwise add tasks to the project.
Historically, the painter was responsible for the mixing of the paint; keeping a ready supply of pigments, oils, thinners and driers. The painter would use his experience to determine a suitable mixture depending on the nature of the job. In modern times, the painter is primarily responsible for preparation of the surface to be painted, such as patching holes in drywall, using masking tape and other protection on surfaces not to be painted, applying the paint and then cleaning up.
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Paint gets more expensive as you go from flat to gloss. The difference is usually around $1 per gallon per sheen upgrade. Flat is the cheapest, then matte flat or eggshell, satin, semigloss then gloss. Paint also gets much more expensive the darker it gets. A white or neutral paint color can be as much as $20 less expensive than a deep base red or blue.
Purchase surety bonds. Surety bonds essentially act as a kind of agreement between the contractor and the person hiring them that the job will be performed to standard. You can obtain these through your current insurer as a separate form of financial protection. As a contractor, many states require you to be bonded before you can begin working legally.
When hiring a contractor it is always best to hire one who is personally referred to you by someone you trust. Hiring through ads or phone book is hit and miss. Check with your local paints stores, they know the good guys from the bottom feeders. Go to the stores that sell the high quality paints like Benjamin Moore(nonpareil), Pittsburg, Sherwin Williams or Glidden. Don't go the the big box stores for referrals, the people there don't know squat!
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A thorough scrubbing is a must before painting any exterior surface. It removes the dirt and broken-down paint residues that keep fresh coats from adhering and gets rid of mildew that grows on paint in all but the most arid climates. Most contractors clean with pressure washers, but in the hands of someone unfamiliar with the equipment, these can gouge wood, shatter glass, and drive water behind siding and trim. Using a hose, a pump sprayer, and a scrub brush is slower but safer, and just as effective.