Angie's List: Aesthetic improvements go a long way

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There are many things you can do to give your home a new look, including new lighting, updated plumbing fixtures and new or refurbished floor coverings, to name a few.

But if you're looking for a quick and relatively cheap way to spruce up your house, painting may be the way to go.

"Painting is a great way to freshen up your house. Your paint takes a beating through the years, whether it's outside in the elements, or inside, just with wear and tear from the pets and the kids and getting bumped into," said Angie Hicks, Angie's List founder.

Deciding to paint is the first step. After that, there are other things to consider like color and paint type.

Many people choose red, especially for inside walls. But experts say that is the color homeowners get tired of the most. They say you can rarely go wrong with earth tones.

Designers say dark colors make a room feel smaller. You're better off choosing a color that works with the accent colors in your furniture.

Also, stick with what you know. Generic paint brands may cost less than the name brands, but experts say you will get a more consistent product if you pay a little more for it.

If you pay more for the paint, there are ways to save a little on the painter.

"If people empty the room of furniture so I don't have to do it, they take down the pictures, and they move the tables with all the tchotchkes and stuff it can turn a $1,000 job into a $500 job because I'm not moving furniture. I'm painting," said Greg Mrakich, painter.

A new paint job can not only add to the re-sale value of your home, but it can also make you feel better about living there.

More from Angie's List

According to the Angie's List 2012 project poll, 57 percent of respondents are planning an aesthetic home improvement this year.

There are many ways to improve your home's aesthetics such as updating lighting and plumbing fixtures, installing new flooring – but according to highly rated real estate agents on Angie's List – the most popular project is painting. Choosing the right colors for your home can make a huge difference in the way it looks and feels.

Outside, the south and west sides of our homes are hit with sun, wind and rain. Inside, daily traffic, kids and pets can take a toll on our walls.

There are so many colors and substances to choose from, picking the right ones can be difficult. Angie's List asked highly rated painters to offer up their expertise on what is the most popular and why.

  • Popular colors: Earth tones tend to be popular choices for both interior and exterior of the home. However, the exterior tends to be the easiest part to choose a color for because there is less space to cover and fewer outside factors to consider. For the interior, shades of red tend to be the color that homeowners get tired of the most. If you're weary about red but really want to incorporate it into your home, try a smaller dose of it. Using red for an accent wall or trim instead of as a base color is a more subtle move.
  • Maximize your space: Darker colors can make a room feel smaller. If you want to incorporate a darker, bolder color into your home, use it on just one wall as an accent and choose a lighter color for the others. Professionals usually match the accent colors to the furniture you have in your home. Take note of color schemes that already exist and play them up with matching paint colors.
  • Stick with names you know: Brand-name paints have the durability to last a long time and they will be around should you need to buy more for touch-ups. Brand-name paints are often grouped in color families, and accent colors are suggested for use with main colors. This is helpful when painting trim and other smaller areas of the exterior.
  • Painting vinyl siding: It's vital to use the right type of paint to make your project a success. Several new types of paint have been developed for vinyl siding which consist of urethane and acrylic resins. A good rule of thumb is to choose a color lighter than your current vinyl siding. Painting with a darker color may cause the siding to absorb too much heat, which can cause it to warp if exposed to the hot sun. One downfall to painting vinyl siding is that some manufactures will void your warranty if the siding has been altered in any way. If you are worried about losing your warranty, you probably shouldn't paint your siding.

Paint consists of three different substances – solvents, pigments and binders.

  • Solvents: Liquids that make the paint gel together and flow. After paint is applied, the solvents dry away and leave a solid substance behind.
  • Pigments: Small molecules that add color to the paint. Pigments, or lack thereof, determine how opaque or translucent the paint is.
  • Binders: Chemicals that hold the pigment together and glue the pigment to the painted surface. Binders determine how durable and glossy the paint is.

There are two major classes of paint – oil-based and latex. Both types of paints use similar pigments to get their color. Oil-based paint can be applied over latex-based paint, but latex-based paint cannot be used on top of oil-based paint without priming the surface first.

  • Oil-based paints: Use a liquid-like alcohol or paint thinner as a solvent and a substance called alkyd as a binder. Compared to latex, it's harder to clean up and takes longer to dry, but it creates a durable, scuff-resistant surface.
  • Latex paints: Typically use water as their solvent and vinyl or acrylic as their binder. Both types of paints use similar pigments to get their color. Generally less durable than oil-based paint. However, latex tolerates more UV exposure.

Finish: Oil-based and latex paints both have a few possible levels of finish, ranging from flat to satin to semi-glossy to glossy. The level of finish in a paint is determined by the proportion of binders it has in it, as well as what other additives are in it.

  • Flat-finish: Good for covering up mistakes, and is therefore ideal for large areas like walls.
  • Satin finish: Has more luster and is more durable, so it is ideal for high-traffic areas like hallway walls.
  • Semi-gloss finish: More durable, shiny and water resistant, making it ideal for areas like bathrooms.
  • Gloss finish: The most durable and water resistant, but it also is the most likely to show brush strokes. Glossy finish is usually more appropriate for surfaces like trim and door frames that take a lot of abuse.

Many paint manufacturers now offer low VOC paints, which may be the way to go for those with chemical sensitivity or for households with small children or pets.

Angie's List Tips for hiring a Painting Contractor:

  • Lead paint removal: If your home was built before 1978, you need to hire someone who can prove he or she has current federal certification to deal safely with lead paint. Improperly removing this toxic paint, which was commonly used prior to being banned about 30 years ago, can produce lead dust, which is a serious danger, especially to young children.
  • Always do your homework: Get three estimates, thoroughly check out those credentials and explain your issue to your candidates.
  • Set up a meeting before hiring: Have the contractor explain to you what you want. A good contractor will advise you on the best types of paint to use for the surfaces of your home and the weather conditions in your area.
  • Understand the pricing process: Exterior paint costs $25 to $40 per gallon, so keep in mind how many square feet your project requires and how much primer will be used. Each project (interior and exterior) varies in cost depending on the size of the home and the amount of work to be done. If they have to move furniture or clean up areas, that could also add to the cost. Don't pay for anything up front. While it's normal to pay progress payments on large jobs, a price that sounds too good to be true probably is. Make sure the price includes all items involved.