How to Bid a Paint Job – A Free Guide to Estimating

March 25th, 2017 | Chandler Zieg | Featured, Painting Business Articles | 13 Comments

I’ve painted houses for 11 years now and I still run into situations that are difficult to bid, but over time i’ve developed a simple process that can teach anyone to bid a painting job; exterior or interior.

There are really only 5 expenses to consider when estimating a paint job:

  • Paint
  • Materials
  • Labor
  • Marketing
  • Your Mark-up

That’s why I love painting businesses; they’re simple. I’ll break down each of these categories in detail:

1. How Much is Paint?

A gallon of paint can be anywhere from $15-80. It really depends on the brand, the quality and the contractor discount you’re getting.

A homeowner might be paying $30 for a gallon of paint, when a seasoned contractor can get the same gallon for $15. This depends on the relationship the contractor has with the paint store, and how many gallons they’re buying each month.

A personal example: When I first started, I was paying $37 per gallon of Sherwin Williams “Super Paint”. Over time, I developed a relationship with the store and proved that I was buying hundreds of gallons each month. After a couple years I negotiated my Super Paint price down to $25 per gallon.

From $37 to $25! That’s a big deal for my painting business: That’s 33% off my paint expenditure category.

The cost of paint also depends on the quality. A lower quality paint typically has less resin (the resin is what actually holds the paint together), whereas high quality paint has more resin and holds up better over time.

Cost of Paint (Avg. Per Gallon)

Quality: Low Medium High
Homeowner Price $20 $40 $80
Contractor Price $15 $25 $45

How much paint do I need per house?

Size of House Body Color Trim Color Total Gallons Total Cost (@$25 per gallon)
1500 sq ft. 8 2 10 $250
2500 sq ft. 12 3 15 $375
4000 sq ft. 20 5 25 $625

2. How Much are Materials?

These are the most common painting materials you’ll need on each job and how much you’ll need for a 2,500 square foot exterior paint job with medium prep work:

-Masking Plastic (2 rolls) $25
-Masking Paper (3 rolls) $15
-Tape (10 rolls) $35
-Caulking (6 tubes) $15
-Primer (1 gallon) $25
Total Cost: $115

How many materials you need also depends heavily upon:

  • Amount of prep-work needed
  • How many windows
  • How much brick
  • How much roof line

This checklist is pretty typical, but can vary greatly depending on the house.

If there is a LOT of prep needed, you might go through 3 gallons of primer, and 12 tubes of caulking.

If there is a LOT of brick + roof line that needs to be masked off, you might go through 5 rolls of paper and 3 rolls of plastic.

3. How Much is Labor?

This is by far the hardest cost to estimate when bidding a house, mainly because there are SO many factors.

The short answer is this; A good crew of 2-3 painters can finish the exterior of a 2,500 square foot house in 1-2 full days. And a good crew usually costs about $800 per full work day.

However, the following obstacles on a house can TRIPLE the time + labor it takes to paint a house:

  • Heavy Prep-work (peeling, wood damage, failed caulking)
  • House access (difficult ladder placements, steep roof etc.)
  • Type of windows (embedded windows, vinyl windows)
  • Vegetation coverage (trees in the way, lots of ivy, nice gardens)
  • Radically different colors (applying 2 or 3 coats before the paint covers)

The safest/best way to get a good price on labor is to actually bring your experienced crew to the house with you. They can alert you of certain aspects of the house that are very time-consuming, so you can factor in the extra work.

If you are inexperienced at painting or estimating, it is better to charge MORE in order to protect your profit margin. Making mistakes at the beginning is inevitable so charging more protects you against an underbid job or a missed expense.

Here’s a quick table to help you with labor cost:

Size of House Full Work Days Total Labor Cost
1500 sq ft. 1 $800
2500 sq ft. 1.5 $1200
4000 sq ft. 3 $1800

4. How Much is Marketing?

You can market your painting business a variety of ways, we have 7 proven methods here

No matter what you use for marketing, whether it’s lead providers, lawn signs or door-knocking, you should track the overall cost. It’s important to isolate the marketing that gives you the best ROI (return on investment) and spend all your time/money there.

Keeping your marketing percentage below 10% is a good rule-of-thumb. Let’s say you sell a $3,000 paint job. Spending $300 or less on marketing to obtain the job will still leave you plenty of profit.
Here are some typical marketing costs for our painting business:

  • Lead Providers – $30-$60 per lead
  • Lawn Signs – $10 per sign
  • Door-to-door leads – $10 per lead
  • Flyer Drops – $1,000-$4,000 per drop
  • Referrals – FREE
  • Lead Groups – FREE

5. Mark-up: How to factor in your profit.

You’re in business to make money right? And to provide the best dang paint job out there, so it’s important to add mark-up into your bid.

Let’s use our 2,500 square foot house as an example:
Paint – $375
Materials – $115
Labor – $1,200
Marketing – $100
Mark-up – ?

Let’s say I want to make 35% profit on this paint job. I’m spending $1,790 on paint, materials, labor and marketing.

So I should charge around $2800 total, which would make my mark-up $1,010.

Summary

I’ve used this basic formula for many years with success. Please keep in mind that it takes a lifetime to truly master painting, and there are an infinite number of obstacles and situations that house painting can create.

Some painters keep it simple and just charge by square foot; If you charge $1.25 per square foot, 2500 sq ft. would cost $3,125 for the homeowner etc.

Thankfully, almost every paint job will fall within the following pricing:

Exterior Paint Jobs:
1500 sq ft – $1,500-$2,500
3000 sq ft – $3,000-$5,000
5000 sq ft – $6,000-$10,000

Interior Paint Jobs:
1500 sq ft – $1,800-$3,000
3000 sq ft – $3,500-$4,500
5000 sq ft – $5,000-$8,000

Find a method that works best for you and keep it consistent. Let us know about estimating tips that you like! Thanks for reading!

-Chandler Zieg

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