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How to Estimate a Painting Job (and Calculate Markup)

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Profit, repeat business, and customer satisfaction all stand or fall on your ability to calculate accurate painting quotes.

So, you’ve started a painting business and need to send your first estimate. Knowing how to charge for a paint job could be the difference between success and failure. Margins are tight, and competition is fierce.

We show you how much to charge for painting and offer tips to help you write a winning quote.

How to Calculate a Painting Job

Most painters charge between $1.50 and $3.50 per square foot for interior spaces. Once you include ceilings and window and door frames, that figure rises to $3 to $4 per square foot.


How Much to Charge for a Paint Job

The phone rings, and your first potential customer asks for an estimate. You start to sweat, and your throat goes dry. You’re a novice, but the customer thinks you’re a professional estimator!

How can you possibly pull this off? Luckily, we’re here to help.

You can bid for the work in three ways: per job, per hour, or square footage. Which you choose is down to preference, although, if you are painting a house exterior, you might be better quoting in square feet or per job.

Likewise, you probably won’t charge an hourly rate or per square foot for smaller tasks. You must also include travel time, fuel, supplies, tools, paint, and a minimum charge. Painters typically charge a minimum rate for smaller jobs to avoid running at a loss.

Take Note

When starting out, you may need to be more competitive than other painters to gain clients fast. Once you establish the business and have examples of your work, you can up your labor charges.

How Much to Charge for Painting Per Square Foot

Painter man at work with roller bucket and scale

The average rates per square foot are $1.50 to $3.50 for interiors and $2 to $4.50 for house exteriors. These figures are subject to change based on the complexity of the job and additional client requests that increase your workload.

The formula for pricing per square footage is easy: divide the total estimate by the property’s square footage. Don’t forget to include overheads like labor, materials, and how many people to carry out the work.

The average can of interior paint costs between $30 and $50 per gallon, giving 300 to 400 square feet of coverage. Some premium paints will cost $60 to $70, but you would only choose them if the client requests them.

Primer costs $30 to $70 per gallon, and one gallon covers 200 to 300 square feet. Here’s a handy chart based on $30 primer-free paint to make things simpler:

Square Footage Amount of Paint (Gallons) Total Paint Cost
500 2 (rounded up) $60
1,000 4 (rounded up) $120
1,500 5 $150
2,000 7 $210
2,500 9 $270
4,000 14 $420

To calculate the square footage of a room, measure the room’s perimeter and height, and multiply the two numbers. Next, measure the area of the windows, doors, and fitted cabinets and subtract that from the total.

The average cost of exterior paint is $25 to $80 per gallon. Quality paints cover better and give more extensive coverage. One gallon of exterior paint typically covers 250 to 400 square feet, depending on the surface quality.

Textured surfaces take twice as much paint as smoothly plastered walls. Porous surfaces also require more paint, so factor that into your quote.

Here’s a handy exterior painting cost guide based on paint costing $55 per gallon.

Square Footage Amount of Paint (Gallons) Total paint Cost
1,500 5 $275
2,500 8 $440
4,000 12 $660

The paint job calculator is the same for interior and exterior surfaces. Find the perimeter measurement and the height of the house and subtract the windows and door square footage.

Take Note

Don’t forget to quote for garages, trim, soffits, and eaves.

How to Estimate a Paint Job

Professional painter holding paint roller and device

We’ve covered square footage, but what about quoting for the entire job? Here’s what you’ll need to include when drawing up your final estimate:

Cost of Paint

As we’ve said, the average interior paint cost is $30 to $50 per gallon. Higher-quality paints can stretch to $60 and $70, but you get better coverage because they contain more pigments and resins. Expect 300 to 400 square feet of coverage.

Exterior paint ranges from $25 to $80 per gallon, but you get lower coverage depending on the quality of the surface. Expect 200 to 300 square feet of coverage.

You may need to factor in extra paint for touching up areas, and as a safety net in case you need to apply additional coats.

You will likely have an account with a professional paint supplier, so the good news is you can get your paint at a discount. Homeowners might pay $20 to $80 per gallon, while you will only pay $15 to $45 for the same quality paint.

Cost of Materials

Your costs also include additional materials needed to complete the job. Once you calculate these extra costs, you can quickly see why pro painters charge what they do.

The figures below are based on a 2,500-square-foot exterior project requiring minimal prep work:

  • Primer (two gallons): $100.
  • Caulk (six tubes): $20.
  • Tape (10 rolls): $40.
  • Plastic sheets (two sheets): $30.
  • Masking paper (three rolls): $20.

The total cost of these sundries comes to $210. However, these numbers can change rapidly depending on the nature of the job. You may need double the caulking tubes or three times the primer.

Top Tip

Add extras to the quote to cater for emergencies and all eventualities.

Cost of Labor

Estimating labor costs is far easier for solo painters: multiply your hourly rate by the number of hours needed to complete the job. When you have a team of people, you will need to factor in the extra wage costs into the final quote. Second, you may want to incentivize your team to complete the tasks faster to reduce labor costs.

Most painters charge $30 to $50 per hour, depending on reputation and experience. If the job takes two days, that’s 16 hours multiplied by $40 (we’ve gone with the mid-price), so the total is $640 for labor alone.

Overhead Costs

Overhead costs typically account for 10 percent of your business outgoings, but they are essential to keep your business afloat.

Here’s what you need to include:

  • Equipment (including computers, printers, and cell phones).
  • Office rent and utility bills.
  • Advertising.
  • Tools and equipment.
  • Liability insurance.
  • Business taxes.
  • Vehicles, maintenance, and fuel.
  • Travel time.

Most overheads are monthly costs, so it can be tricky to calculate when quoting per job. The easiest way is to divide the total monthly expenses by the number of working hours in that period.

For example, your monthly overheads are $4,000 a month, and your total billable hours are 600 a month. Divide 600 into $4,000 to give you an hourly overhead rate of $6.66.

To get the specific overhead costs per project, multiply the job hours by your hourly overhead rate. If the total job hours are 24, multiply this number by $6.66, and you get a total job overhead cost of $159.84.

Markup Costs

Once you’ve calculated the overheads, cost of labor, paint, and materials, add them together to give you the total quote price. But before you tell the customer how much they’ll pay, you need to add markup for profit.

If you’re unsure how much to add on, 20 percent is always a good place to start. Markup is the difference between the job cost and the price you charge.

Additional Painting Costs

There are always extra costs when doing home improvement projects; quoting for house painting is no different. Let’s take a look at the things that increase the price:

Repairs

Sometimes, removing old layers of paint can reveal problems that were hidden until now. Mold, damp, rot, and insect infestations are some of the usual suspects you find when working on houses.

You will need to make good any damage before continuing, which adds to the cost. As a professional, you need a keen eye and a nose for detail when drawing up your pricing guide.

Missing potential problems could cost you dearly, especially if you’ve given a quote instead of an estimate.

Lead Paint Removal

Lead paint is toxic and commonly found in homes built before 1970. You need to know how to spot lead paint before you submit your price to the customer. You can buy lead paint testing kits, like this Lead Test Swab, online or in-store.

They tell you within 30 seconds whether lead paint is present in the building. If the test kit changes color to pink or purple, you have lead paint.

There are specialist lead paint removal companies that you can call, but don’t expect it to be cheap. Depending on how much lead is present, it could run into thousands!

Painting Estimate Example

Tips for Writing a Paint Job Estimate

As a newcomer to the painting world, you will learn the ropes as you take on more jobs. That means that mistakes will happen. So, getting handy tips on how to draw up an accurate painting quote is crucial.

Make it an Estimate, Not a Quote

One of the best ways to ensure you control costs is to estimate rather than quote. An estimate is an educated guess at the final total, but if you uncover unexpected problems, you can add the extras to the final bill.

A quote is a fixed price for the entire job, so you bear the cost if you incur additional work. The customer will simply refuse to pay extra, leaving you with the burden.

Be Specific

Your estimate should contain the specific instructions of your client. It should include what you are painting, the prep work, the paint type, color, and other bespoke touches ordered by the client.

It should state the price, added taxes, timescale, completion date, and areas excluded from the estimate, like closets and shelving. Being specific removes the element of doubt and sets out the exact terms.

Include Disclaimers

State how long the estimate is valid because materials and supply costs change. What you charge today may not be the same as tomorrow. You don’t want the customer to delay for six months and then expect the job done at the quoted price.

Most painters allow 30 days from the date of the estimate, but how long you give is up to you.

FAQs

How Much Should You Charge For a Car Paint Job?

The standard charge for painting a car is between $1,000 and $4,500, depending on the paint you use.

How Much Does It Cost to Paint a 12×12 Room?

The average cost to paint a 12 x 12 room ranges from $375 to $1,000. The price changes depending on whether you need a primer and the amount of prep work.

How Much Should I Charge to Scrape Off Old Paint?

Most painters charge between $4.80 and $10.27 per square foot. This figure will change depending on whether lead paint is present, the location, and the amount of work involved.


Quote Me

If you want your new painting business to succeed, you need to know how to estimate a painting job. The contract is won or lost at the first contact between you and the potential client. You should sound confident and show you understand what you are doing.

Good luck, and here’s to the first of many repeat customers!

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Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.