DIY or Paint Contractor? Use Estimates to Decide.

Although it’s time consuming to collect them, quotes from painting professionals provide valuable clues about the time and materials needed for a project, and can help you decide if it’s best to tackle a project yourself or hire a professional.

Home Painting Guide

Debating between tackling your next paint project or hiring a professional? There are online calculators and a wide range of pricing information that you can find through research, but the best way to determine if you should do-it-yourself or hire a contractor is to gather estimates from painters in your area.  

It does seem a bit self-serving for a paint company to say “you need an estimate” to understand which path is best, but the details a thorough estimate provides will arm you with information only a trained-eye can ascertain. 

In this post you’ll learn five tips to assess a contractor's estimate. Using these tools, homeowners can judge if they’re being fairly charged, see if their next paint project fits their budget, and prepare for conversations with professional painters about their quotes. 

1. Understand the Steps to Achieve the Best Painting Results

It’s exciting to imagine a room in your home painted in a new color. But as you stare at the walls and imagine different shades, you may begin to notice the flaws that somehow have gone unnoticed. Cracks, holes, and nail pops start to stand out like a sore thumb. 

If you’re thinking about taking on this project yourself, you’ll soon realize that updating your space will take much more than a new coat of paint. Learning how to sand, caulk, and spackle to fix these blemishes is certainly possible, but the cost of supplies and time it will take to complete will start to add up.

Contractor cataloguing room measurements | Image captured by Karolina Grabowska

A professional painter will not only outline the cost for you, but they’ll also explain what needs to be done to achieve the best results. This usually includes:

  • Taking an inventory of the room for features like trim, baseboards, wainscoting and windows, and identifying issues like paint that’s peeling or chipped. 

  • Suggestions for the best type of paint to use for each room you’re painting. 

  • An explanation of the preparation work and materials needed before painting can begin.

  • An exact number of coats to ensure lasting quality. 

2. Calculating the amount of work

We’ve all heard the expression that “time is money,” but it can be challenging to know how much of your time will be spent on a paint project. Paint contractors often bring years of experience and can create an estimate quickly based on the paint, repairs, and size of the space. 

Calculating the amount of paint used on a job can help you understand how long it’ll take to complete a project. To understand the amount of paint you’ll need:

  • Calculate the total length of the walls to be painted.

  • Calculate the total height of the walls to be painted, measuring from the floor or the top of the trim up to the ceiling.

  • Multiple the total length by the total height to determine the total square footage of the space.

  • Divide the total square footage by 400, which is the approximate area that one gallon of paint will cover. 

  • For example, if you have a project with a total square footage of 1,200, you’ll divide that by 400 to determine that you’ll need 3 gallons of paint to apply one coat of paint, and 6 gallons to complete the project with the recommended two coats. 

Understanding how long each task will take requires dozens of data points that experienced painters have often collected over time. So, if you’re debating whether to DIY or outsource your painting project, getting an estimate will give you an expert's opinion on the time and cost commitment up front. 

It’s also important to remember – your painting speed compared to a crew of experienced painters will vary! 

Experienced painters understand how to fix peeling paint

3. Identifying the materials you need

Contractors often detail the elements of the room to be painted or repaired, as well as the exact materials needed to accomplish the job. 

If it’s not clear in the estimate, know there are tools called soft supplies you will need to purchase if you choose to complete the project on your own. Soft supplies include items such as brushes, rollers, sanders, caulk, and spackle. If you don’t see yourself needing a putty knife for future projects, you may not want to spend money on items that will sit in a drawer for years. 

Securing an estimate can save you money, ensuring you don’t over-purchase paint you don’t need and can’t return. After examining the measurements of your space, contractors can calculate the spread rate; the near-exact amount of paint needed to complete the job. 

You can use the formulas provided above or check out free resources like this calculator from Sherwin-Williams to avoid wasting money or unused paint. Keep in mind that complex, multi-room, multi-surface projects can be challenging to predict.

4. Consider the contractor’s business margins

Businesses can only survive if they make more money than they spend. Paint contractors not only need to account for the expenses we’ve already mentioned, materials and time, but they also need to pay the crew, provide transportation, and cover administrative costs. 

Estimates might show how much each of these services cost per hour, but how much a laborer actually makes per hour can depend on the location, availability of talent, and the contractor’s ethics. If you’re considering hiring a contractor and their labor rates are unclear, ask how much each painter will be paid per hour. 

Go over estimates with paint contractors to understand time and materials needed to complete a job | Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Lastly, paint contractors charge a markup to cover unlisted expenses and ensure their company is profitable. New businesses typically charge a 30% markup, according to Painting Business Pro. Larger companies can charge anywhere from 50% to 100% of the project price, because they have more work experience and often need to cover additional costs, like paying for warehouse space and managing subcontractors.

We do things a bit differently at Craftwork and we’re very transparent in everything that we do, from pricing to the prioritization of our crews wellbeing. All Craftwork team members are full-time and W-2 employees, which means that our painters are paid every week, whether they worked on a project or not. We invest in our team by providing fair wages, medical benefits, and clear paths for promotion. If you know someone in Charlotte, NC who may be interested, email our team at

5. How much you can afford shouldn’t matter

Have you ever felt contractors make assumptions about how much money they believe you have, and provide quotes based on those assumptions? Unfortunately, there are plenty of contractors who will look at your address and allow the perception of wealth to play a role in their estimates.

The only reason a contractor should take note of where a client lives is to account for gas, travel time, and to put the address into their GPS. 

At Craftwork, our estimates do not take into consideration what we think you can afford.It’s an unfortunate practice that many business owners use to make extra cash, and we will never do that to our customers. 

If you’re in the Charlotte area, reach out for a quote today at

This article includes photos by Ono Kosuki, Karolina Grabowska, Sameera Ganegoda, Mikhail Nilov.

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