The Real Cost of Cabinet Painting

The Real Cost of Cabinet Painting

Cabinet Painting on the Web

If you don’t live under a rock, I’m sure you’re aware that cabinet painting is a popular option for homeowners to update their kitchen. When searching for the cost of cabinet painting, you’ll find conflicting information. For example, Thumbtack.com has an article stating the average cost to paint cabinets is between $990 and $1600.

Angie’s List has a post that is a bit more accurate, but very vague, stating the cost to be between $1200 and $6000 for kitchen cabinets.

While the range is true, it does little to help the homeowner get an understanding of the real cost to paint cabinets.

From hosting a podcast directed towards painting contractors to help them build stronger businesses, I’ve gotten to know hundreds of smart and knowledgeable painting business owners across the country. I’m here to spread light on the situation of cabinet painting. For a “normal” kitchen with 28 doors, 15 drawers, and about 55 ft. of boxes, my community of painting contractors explained what they would charge. Here are a few photos of the example kitchen we painted in Denver:

Know that everyone that responded gave pricing using their own process, specific to the area of the country where they do business.

The Cost of Cabinet Painting Across the US:

Number of contractors that responded: 85

Number of states represented: 30

Average price in the US: $4,909.78

Most expensive State/price: Washington/$8,361.57

Least expensive price quoted/state: $3135.00/Illinois (southern rural)

Highest price: $10,310 Seattle, Washington

California average: $5,792.86

Cabinet painting is very subjective, just like any other remodeling project. Many variables go into a project and the more information that can be provided by the contractor, the better. Homeowners should know the following:

  • The type of surface preparation that will be done
  • What type of primer will be used
  • Type of application (spray, hand painted, etc.)
  • How many coats of primer and finish coat will be applied
  • Where the cabinets will be painted
  • How long the project will take
  • How safe for their family are the products that will be used
  • What type of warranty or guaranty does the paint contractor offer

Painting cabinets offers an affordable way to update a kitchen without replacing both cabinets and countertops. With that said, painting cabinets is a very technical process to be done well and should not be thought of as a good candidate for a weekend DIY project. We recently had to strip a whole set of cabinets after a homeowner tried to paint their cabinets themselves but failed to prepare the surface properly. The paint peeled right off!

Surface prep

Proper surface preparation will allow primers to properly bond with the existing finish. If a bond is not created, the paint will simply bead up. At Walls by Design, we recommend a mechanical and chemical etch. First, the cabinets are buff sanded with fine grit sandpaper – a 220 grit will rough up the surface well. Second is a chemical etch with a de-glossing agent. Using a two-method system ensures that all areas are etched.

Primers

Using the wrong primer is possibly the most common problem we find. A bonding primer will ensure a proper bond between the top coat and the existing substrate. One should never use a paint and primer in one. Many people outside of the painting industry do not know that different types of primes are suitable for different kinds of applications. For cabinets, a bonding primer is needed.

Application

Though many painters want to spray boxes, this can cause problems with the use of a kitchen and have a more significant adverse impact on the family during the project. If applied with a mini roller, the finish difference is almost undetectable, requiring less preparation of the interior of the home, due to the lack of overspray. Spraying the doors and drawer fronts not only produces the best finish quality on the majority of the surfaces you see when you view your cabinets, but also is the fastest way to apply the paint.

Coats of Paint

The most significant difference in any painting project from one contractor to another is usually the number of coats applied. Specific language should be in the contract stating how many coats of primer and of finish will be done. More coats of paint do not always equate to more durability, but usually help with coverage to hide the previous color or fill wood grain.

Where to Paint

Where your contractor will paint your cabinets may sometimes be an afterthought. Many will either paint everything in the kitchen or garage, but some will take your doors and drawers offsite. If the garage is to be used, you will want to clear out a good size area for working space. If everything is to be done in the kitchen, have the homeowner know that the space will be unusable for the duration of the project.

Duration

How long does it take to paint my cabinets? That is a question that only your painting contractor can answer. It will depend on the application method as well as the number of painters assigned to the project. Usually, the contractor can give a range. In the case above, our teams would complete the project in 5 days with one painter, or 3 days with two painters – including dry times. A cabinet project can’t be effectively completed in less than three days.

VOC

Volatile Organic Compounds are what make a paint friendly to be around or not. In the last 15 to 20 years, green products have become a big topic, to say the least. Lacquers and solvent-based paints are not only highly flammable but are not safe to be around. Low VOC products are very popular, and most of the major paint manufacturers have different low VOC options that perform very well. If the homeowner will be living in the home during the project, we do not recommend that a non-low VOC product.

Warranty

Durability is the question on many people’s minds. Most painting contractors will give a year warranty to guard against failure, which does not include chips. Cabinets can chip and flake if impacted or cleaned with an abrasive material. However, you want to have a warranty that guards you against paint failure or large areas that release and peel off.

The Bigger Issues

My company, Walls by Design, has painted well over a thousand kitchen cabinet sets, and when you paint that many, you come across just about every problem that can happen. Customers that were unhappy with being able to see the grain on their oak cabinets in our early days. Oak can be filled with certain products, but it is timely, so we decided to not attempt to fill the grain 100%.

However, deep grain can suck in the paint, producing the effect that not enough paint was applied. We had people telling us we had not primed the cabinets, when in fact, there were two or three coats. To solve this issue, we changed our application method with our first two prime coats (on oak cabinets), literally pushing the primer into the tiny groves, not once, but twice, buff sanding between coats, and then applying one more coat prior to the finish coats. Since changing the process, there have not been complaints.

Many times, when a project has a failure and a customer calls us in to fix their cabinets, we find that the wrong type of primer was used – commonly Kilz. Though not a bad product, Kilz is not a bonding primer; it is a stain blocking primer and does a great job of it. A bonding primer is needed as at least the first primer on the project.

Hopefully, this has helped to give you a better understanding of what goes into a proper cabinet painting project and the cost of cabinet painting. Just like anything, it is based on labor and supply and demand. Different regions of the country list different prices, but know that the average is about $4900, not $2-3000 as some sites have proposed.

Cabinet Painting FAQ

It is not a secret that painting your cabinets, at least in Denver, has become a very hot commodity. If you have not done it already, my guess is that you have some questions. I get questions about painting cabinets from all over the country; from designers, homeowners, and even from other painting contractors. So, let’s talk about some of the most common questions, when it comes to painting cabinets.

  1. Is painting cabinets just a fad? Will I want my stained wood cabinets back in a few years?

I get this question a lot, especially when we paint cabinets white. My answer is that white cabinets are just like a little black dress. They are classic. Yes, they may be what’s hot right now, but since I have been an adult, white kitchen cabinets have been hot at least three times. Also, if you decide you want to change the color in a few years, once you’ve had your cabinets painted the first, it is much less expensive to change the color…about half the cost. A white kitchen is classic though, and will be in style for quite a while. Besides, a majority of the cabinets we paint are oak…I can almost guarantee you that oak cabinets, unpainted, will never come back as a HOT style trend (and I’m not sure they were ever on trend to begin with).

  1. Will painting my cabinets last?  Will they chip and peel?

This is a very valid question, and one that should make you do your research before you jump in. A painted cabinet can last a long time, if it is done correctly. The problem is a lot of painters and homeowners do not know the right way to paint cabinets.  How do I know this? I’m in painter chat rooms, I see lots of cabinets that have been painted and fail almost immediately, and I’ve walked through houses that have just been placed on the market with half-assed painted cabinet jobs. Yes, it is EASY to paint them the wrong way, but takes much more time and energy to do the research and paint them the proper way. We give our customers a LIFETIME warranty on all of our painted cabinets…and we do free touch-ups for as long as our customers live in their home. So the answer is, yes, they can chip and you can have failure. BUT, the good news is, if you do the proper steps (and I will get into that in a bit), they will stand up quite well to everyday life.

  1. Do I need to clear coat over the paint to protect them?

Please do not do this! If you select the right finish paint, you will have a hard surface that will not easily yellow. I was called out to see a set of cabinets last year that had yellowed almost immediately after another company painted them.  The homeowner showed me the color she had selected (a very clean and bright white), but her cabinets we a dingy off-white yellow. She was so disgusted. I told her we could repaint them, but it was going to be more than she paid previously for the other job that didn’t work out. So do it right the first time.

  1. How long does it take to paint our cabinets?

That depends on the process. The typical painting contractor will do one of two things. They will either take over your garage to paint in, or they will take your doors and drawers to their shop.  In either case, you can expect the average kitchen to take about two weeks. At Walls by Design, our average kitchen takes about a week. The reason is because we bring a mobile spray booth (a 20-foot trailer) to your house and spray all the doors and drawer inside it. This system has enabled us to be super-efficient and provide a superior end product.

  1. Can I keep using my kitchen during the process?

Again, that depends. If the company you hire is spraying your boxes they will have to tent off the area; they will cover everything in your kitchen completely with plastic. Often times, you will not be able to use it for 3 to 4 days. If they are spraying a lacquer, you will want to leave your home for 3 to 4 days. With the process we use at Walls by Design, you can continue to use your kitchen throughout the process, minus the time we are actually in it prepping and painting…you just won’t have your doors and drawers for 4-5 days.

  1. Can you paint the end panels that have laminate on them?

It’s not real wood but yes. We have painted hundreds of kitchens now, and have not had one failure to report. If your painting contractor uses the wrong type of primer though, you will have more problems other than just the end caps.

  1. How do you prep the cabinets so they last?

Surface preparation is the most important aspect of any cabinet painting project. It is the foundation. If the foundation is not solid, nothing on top will last. This is the biggest area of failure we see with other painting contractors. They try to skip steps, or simply do not know what the correct steps need to be. When we started getting a lot of requests for painting cabinets, we did our homework to figure out what was the best way to prep cabinets. This is our process:

  • Dismantle everything. We mark and take everything apart. I saw a kitchen once that was getting sprayed. They opened all the doors, taped off the hinges, and let the paint fly. As you can imagine, it was not a pretty site.
  • Buff sand all surfaces. Not a heavy sand, just a light scuff to break down the finish a little.
  • Wipe down all surfaces with a de-glosser. This is simply a very strong cleaning agent, and does two things for us: Gets rid of all the dust we created with sanding, and further etches into the finish. Paint does not like shiny surfaces. If it doesn’t have anything to hold onto, it will release. Most painters only like to wipe down with the de-glosser, and not sand, but we feel these are two very important steps done together that cannot be missed.
  • Prime with a bonding primer. This is one of the biggest area of failure by most painting contractors. They simply do not understand what a bonding primer is compared to any other primer. We see Kilz used a lot, but typically not the Kilz bonding primer. We like a product called Stix. It is made by Benjamin Moore, and will literally stick to glass.
  • Then, if we have an oak cabinet or a dark stained cabinet we use another primer called Fresh Start, also by Benjamin Moore. This helps seal the grain of the oak and/or block any stains. We apply a heave rolled coat onto the oak cabinets, then spray two more coats to get the best coverage.
  1. Can you get rid of the grain I see on my oak cabinets?

Yes and no. Yes, it is possible. They make some putties and fillers that will do the job, but it is very costly. We find that most people want to paint their cabinets because it cost WAY less than replacing them. If you try to fill the grain and make them smooth, it will cost you as much as if you replaced the doors.  Almost anything is possible, but some things are just not practical.

These are some of the most common questions we get about painting cabinets in Denver. If you have additional questions, we would love to answer them. Contact us via our website, call in, or message us on our Facebook page. Some of our customers want to see finished cabinets prior, and we gladly invite you to come visit us at our office where we have actual cabinets we have painted. Unfortunately, we cannot bring you into other clients’ homes to see their cabinets…that would be weird. We have both smooth doors, as well as oak doors that we have painted using the same process we would use in your home  If you would like to see additional pictures please check out our Facebook page, as most of our projects get uploaded there.

Painting Accent Walls

Painting Accent walls

accent walls

Have you ever wondered how to pick the right color and which wall to feature as an accent wall?  I get this question a lot.  In fact, on occasion, customers will have us come out to give them an estimate just to paint some “accent walls.”  I think we have all gone to a model home or seen a featured home in a magazine with a dining room, or hallway with a stunning accent wall.  The problem is, you are only seeing part of the picture.  You may be seeing a well-staged room, but you have to remember you live in your home, and you need to think of the space as a whole. 

I realize that cost can be a driving factor for people to want accent walls.  People want to decorate, they want to have a home that is on trend, but they don’t want to spend thousands and thousands of dollars.  Accent walls can be a great addition to a project, but they need to be executed the right way, or they will just stand out and feel off. 

Just accent walls?

I have had several customers over the years call me with the typical, “builder white” walls: all the ceilings and walls are the same color and are all flat.  When I have been called about this, I am often asked to “just paint a few accent walls.”  I will almost always talk them out of this for a few reasons. Firstly, the finished product will look unfinished.  The home will look like you have done exactly what you asked, “just painted a few walls” and like you didn’t have the money to paint the entire house in full.  If you saw a home in a magazine or a model home, all the colors would be designed to work together along with the décor.  Adding a few “pops of color” will not get you to your intended look.  If you don’t believe me, have you ever gone shopping wearing your “normal clothes,” picked up a scarf or hat you liked, added it to your outfit in order to add a “pop of color,” and it magically just worked? My guess is no, of course not.  Instead, you would put together a whole outfit involving that accessory so that everything matched.  In order to achieve a certain look, all of the colors and the décor in a space must be considered.

When simply choosing to paint a few accent walls, you are ignoring the other walls that most likely need attention.  Most homes I enter, unless it is a brand new home, have wear and tear.  Walls get grimy.  My wife and I bought a house two years ago, painted all the walls, and already our upstairs hall looks horrible due to the two teenage monsters that inhabit the end of the hall.  Unless you and your spouse are empty-nesters or require your children to wear gloves in the house, your walls will also take a beating on a regular basis.

Selecting the right wall to accent.accent wall

Besides the topic of “just painting accent walls,” I often get asked how to select the right wall as an accent wall.  I have a few rules of thumb.  Most accent walls should only be done for two specific reasons:

  1. The wall is symmetrical.
  2. The wall has an architectural detail you want to highlight, like an art niche, a fireplace detail, or special moldings.

When you paint an accent wall, you are trying to grab attention.  You are saying:  “Hey, look at me!” You don’t want friends and guests in your home to then think: “Why am I looking at that wall?”  If the wall is odd shaped or just ordinary, you should not accent it.  I had a customer insist on painting a HUGE wall that stretched over her kitchen and into her entryway in a deep red.  I told her not to paint it, she insisted, and boy did it stand out…and not in a good way.  And no, I don’t think the customer is always right.  She was definitely wrong on this one. 

Picking the right color for and accent wall.

Customers always want to know how to pick the right color for an accent wall.  Now I am no color expert, but I have selected a TON of colors for customers over the years.  In fact, I used to do all the color selection for our customers and was even named as one of the best resources for color design in Denver by a major home décor magazine.  When selecting an accent color, I usually look for colors that are already present in the space.  For inspiration, I will usually look at pillows, pictures, rugs, drapes, or bedding.  Often times, I would recommend a color that we would use in another part of the home for an accent color.  For example, the living room and dining room might be one color while the main space or family room is another.  I would use the living room/dining room color as an accent in the family room, whichThis works well to bring unity and cohesion in the space, without letting it get too busy. 

One big mistake I often see other “color designers” do is make an accent color two or three shades off the main color.  As a painter, it drives me crazy, as you can barely see the color change due to shadows and different light directions.  If you want to accent something, go big or go home I always say.  The worst is when we are asked to use one color number off of the main number.  You would look straight at the walls and not notice anything.  My feeling is that some color designers feel the need to select a lot of different colors to justify their fees.  I believe less is more and to keep it simple.  I like using multiple colors, but you need to be thoughtful and be sensible.  If you can hold two color cards out with straight arms, separate them (not hold them right next to each other), and are unable to tell a color difference, you need to select one of them and terminate the other.

Accent walls can be tricky to select, but if done right, they can add interest and excitement to a space with little additional money.  I would suggest not to over think it and not to force it.  If you want an accent wall, go back to my two rules of thumb: Is the wall symmetrical? and/or does it have an architectural detail you would like to highlight?  I have literally had to tell customers that they have NO good walls to accent.  It’s okay.  Just make sure to use other types of décor in order to spice up the space. 

If you are looking to paint accent walls in Denver, and would like some assistance, please reach out to us, we would love to help.

How to Properly Remove Wallpaper

How to Properly Remove Wallpaper

As a kid, I can remember my parents hiring a painting contractor team for our new house.  They did everything, and one of the things they did for my parents was to hang rolls and rolls of wallpaper.  There was a big patterned wallpaper in the entryway (which helped to hide a hole I later created as a teenager), a grass cloth in the family room (which I later painted over), a small print in the powder bathroom, and many other patterns throughout the house.  So, when I think of wallpaper, I think of the 80’s.  Lots of browns and flowers.  Maybe you also have visions of wallpaper from the 80’s.

Parker painting contractor

Different methods to remove wallpaper.

As a paint contractor, I have learned how to remove wallpaper the hard way…by trying every way under the sun.  While Walls by Design strictly focuses on painting and no longer removes wallpaper, there are lots of techniques that I have tried and heard of, and I would like to share my comments and experience on a few of them with you.wallpaper removal

The Paper Tiger.  You may have seen this.  It looks like an oversized computer mouse that you roll over the wallpaper, and it creates a scoring pattern in the paper.  The thought behind this tool is that it helps to penetrate the wallpaper’s top layer, which allows water to get into the paper, to release the glue.  The problem with this method is that I found that it damages the drywall too much.  There is a balance between getting aggressive with removing the wallpaper and leaving the drywall intact.  It is very difficult to avoid drywall damage with any of the methods, but it has been my experience that the Paper Tiger causes a bit too much damage when trying to remove wallpaper.

Dif: wallpaper removalWallpaper remover solution.  There are different brands that make solutions that are supposed to break down the glue and make it easier to remove the paper from the wall.  One I have used in the past is called Dif.  I have always found this method to be too tedious and not very effective.  If you want to use something, I would suggest trying liquid fabric swallpaper removaloftener.  I have heard this provides very similar results.

Wallpaper steamer.  This is the tool I have found to have the best and most consistent results. Wallpaper steamers are not expensive, and if you have a lot to remove, you might considering renting a commercial grade steamer, as most local rental stores will rent them for $20 – $40 per day.  A lightweight residential version by Wagner can be purchased at Walmart for about $50.  These have worked well for us in the past, but can crap out after a dozen projects or so.

I like using a wallpaper steamer because it is predictable.  It does take patience, and can still damage the wallboard, but once you get a feel for it, it is easy to work…boring, but easy.  Wallpaper removal is not rocket science, and I think most people just get impatient with it.  What makes it hard is working on large walls or above your head. Wrestling with the machine hoses can also be frustrating.  Tight spaces between trim or walls and cabinets can be difficult as well, but usually, wallpaper installed in these areas do not receive as much glue, and can usually be removed without too much problem.

After the wallpaper is removed.

Once you are successful at removing all the wallpaper from the walls, you still wallpaper removalneed to deal with the residual glue.  You can do one of two things:

  • You can keep washing or steaming the walls, and try to scrape all the wallpaper glue off. This is usually a ridiculously laborious task, one that I would avoid like the plague.
  • The better option is to seal the glue in. Because the glue is typically water based, it would reactivate if you seal it with a water-based product.  My recommendation is to seal the walls with an oil based primer like Alkyd Fresh Start by Benjamin Moore.  This will seal the glue in and provide a good solid foundation for whatever you need to do from here.

Problems that will occur if you DO NOT seal or remove all the glue.

A friend of mine who lives on the east coast emailed me a few weeks ago with a question.  She wanted to know why her walls were bubbling in places after they had removed wallpaper.  To which I told her she needed to seal her walls.  What most people do after wallpaper removal is repair any drywall damage.  Drywall compound is also water-based and will reactivate the glue.  This causes the bubbles.  I once walked onto a project where a drywall contractor had skimmed most of the house after removing wallpaper.  Bubbles were created throughout the entire house.  I had to tell the homeowner the best way to proceed was to oil prime the walls, then fix any of the bubbles.  A costly mistake.  Once the oil prime and drywall repair are done, a latex drywall primer can be used, and then a finish coat or coats can be applied.

So to recap, here are the proper steps for wallpaper removal:

  • Remove the wallpaper.
  • Clean off all the glue OR seal with an oil-based primer.
  • Repair drywall damage.
  • Prime new drywall with a drywall primer.
  • Top coat.

With anything, people will try to skip steps and cut corners…that is where problems occur.  Can you remove wallpaper, get lucky and skip to painting with no problems?  Sure, I bet, 1 out of 10 times you try it, you will escape with no problems, but it is usually because the glue that was used was either very lightly applied, or the project is so old that a different kind of glue was used.  In that case though, there are other problems that can occur.

Removing wallpaper can be a huge task.  When we did it, we always gave an estimated range of the cost but never could give an exact number.  The reason is, we never knew how easy it would be to remove.  I have had wallpaper tear down in big sheets in minutes, and I have spent hours on just one wall.  You can never know how it will go.  Everyone always says:  “I think they did a really good job during installation, so it should come down easy.”  Well, we will see.  And even if one wall comes down easy, it does not mean all the wallpaper removal will go easy.  I once worked in a dining room that started great – sheets were coming down with ease.  Then we hit the second wall, and they installed the wallpaper right over raw drywall and we spent 4 hours on a 6 ft. wall.  So, you never know.