Expert Advice: How to Ready a Room

Painting expert Brian Santos reveals simple ways to prepare your workspace. Read more in his new book, "Painting Secrets."
Author Brian Santos

Q. Can I just paint around switchplates and light fixtures instead of removing them?

Brian Santos: You've probably tried to paint around furniture and carpeting, but it always happens: You dribble or spill paint on something. That's why step one in prep work is to clear out the room. An empty room is an easy room to paint, so begin by removing everything that you can from the room. Gather anything that is left to one side of the room, away from your work area.

Next disassemble the room. First turn off the power to any outlets or fixtures on the surfaces you will be painting. Then remove all light fixtures, switch and outlet plates, heat registers, and towel rods -- anything you will have to paint around. This includes drapes (get them cleaned while they are down) and drapery hardware. Don't try to paint around the hardware; it is too frustrating and time-consuming. Just pay particular attention to how your window treatments are attached and make a diagram, if necessary, so you can reinstall them correctly and without guesswork.

Loosen the canopy or trim piece of a ceiling fixture or chandelier and slide it down the fixture away from the ceiling. Wrap it with plastic trash bags or plastic wrap. Never unscrew a fixture from the electrical box and allow it to hang by its wires. The wires aren't meant to hold a fixture's weight; there's the immediate danger of falling glass fixtures, as well as the risk that the wires could be damaged, creating an electrical short and a fire hazard later. A ceiling fan is impossible to paint around, so take it down.

Remove switchplates and outlet plates, and protect the switches and outlets themselves with blue masking tape to shield them from paint and moisture.

Place a work table in another room, or outside if you will be using solvents for oil-base paints. You can make a table by laying a piece of plywood or a flush wooden door over two sawhorses.

Starting thinking now: Cleanup is not what you do at the end of the job, it's what you do throughout your project. Place a large, lined trash can in the room to throw away debris as you work. A messy workplace is unsafe and can slow you down.

Quick Tips:

I used to have a bad habit of laying switch plates on the floor and losing them under the drop cloth, until I heard "crunch!" Then my wife came up with a brilliant use for resealable storage bags. As you disassemble the room, drop all the switch plates into one medium plastic bag. Remount screws back into their fixtures so they don't get lost or scratch the plastic plates. Separate the hardware for each window, door, and curtain into its own bag and mark its location in the room. Once all the hardware has been bagged and tagged, place the bags into one large bag with the room name on it. For safe keeping, stick the bag on the windowpane of the room with blue tape.


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