HOW TO ESTIMATE A PAINT JOB
THE RIGHT WAY
It may seem like a lot of work before the work even gets started, but knowing how to estimate a paint job accurately to account for all costs can mean the difference between breaking even and making a healthy profit.
“I’ve seen guys just take the floor square footage, and say ‘That’s $500,’” explains Tony Severino, owner of Professional Painters in LaGrange, Illinois. “But I always measure all the walls and ceiling areas to be painted. The difference between an 8-foot-ceiling and a 10- or 12-foot ceiling will be hundreds of extra square feet of wall space to paint per room—times how many rooms you’ve made that mistake on. You can lose a lot of money bidding like that.”
It may take a bit longer, but careful estimating will help you be more profitable, look more professional to potential customers, and win the jobs that are best for your business. Because the only thing worse than getting outbid on a job is winning it by being the lowest bidder—who then loses money. Here’s how to estimate a paint job correctly.
Add Up the Cost of Painting Materials
The first variable anyone factors into what to charge for painting is how much paint they will need—but even that basic calculation requires some extra thought:
- Are you painting an interior or exterior? Interiors typically require more paint.
- Is it new construction or an existing repaint job? A new house will need more paint and caulk to cover unpainted drywall.
- Is your square footage an actual measurement of wall space to be painted or just the floor space of a room with four walls?
Be Thorough in Your Scope
Avoid relying on a potential customer’s estimated square footage of the job. Even if they’re giving you accurate numbers, this is a great opportunity to show off your careful professionalism and build invaluable trust by using your tape or laser measure and calculating it yourself. Bring your foreman or most experienced painter with you when you do your site inspection, as they will be able to help spot any potential red flags that may need extra attention or repairs, such as wall damage or trim that needs to be replaced.
Once you have measurements, you can enter them into a paint job cost estimator to determine how much paint you need to buy (our calculator assumes two coats of Benjamin Moore paint on walls, but no ceiling painting—that should be added if needed). In addition to paint, be sure to add other essential supplies to your estimate using our Materials Checklist in the blue box.
Paint and primer
Brushes and rollers
Caulk and spackle
Scrapers and sandpaper
Gloves, goggles and masks
Drop cloths and plastic
Account for Your Overhead Costs
Overhead is a smaller portion of your budget—about 10% on average for trades, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders, cited by BuildingAdvisor.com. As you can see from our Overhead Checklist, it includes many of your essential “costs of doing business.” Unfortunately, it’s a category that many small business owners neglect to fully account for in their job estimates.
This calculation is necessarily a bit more complicated, as you’re not paying for these expenses out of one job but instead, trying to evenly distribute them among all the jobs you expect to handle over the year, which need to be accounted for if you want to make a profit. If you’re just starting out or don’t yet have a good enough grasp on your company’s annual expenses to average it out over your jobs, a good starting point is the 10% average.
Be Sure to Include Your Salary in the Equation
You also need to account for your own salary here as business owner. A common mistake new small-business owners make is neglecting to pay themselves a fair salary, expecting to take a cut of the profits they anticipate once their business is running smoothly. Not only does this add financial strain on a new business owner, but it also creates unrealistic expectations that your business can avoid paying bills when times get tough. Profit, as you’ll see below, has its own business purpose.
Office rent and utilities
Business equipment (including computers and software)
Back-office staff (non-painters)
Communication devices (phones, tablets, etc.)
Marketing (website, pamphlets, signs, cards, etc.)
Vehicles and maintenance
Reusable tools and equipment
Your salary as owner