House Re-Painting Conundrum in India

       So, your house is showing up some minor cracks on the surface and hopefully things are not literally falling apart!  Some of these cracks are air cracks (sometimes called settling cracks) that developed within the first few months of construction and has always been an eye sore but the others have started to go deeper a little.  You are seeing more cracks developing from a door frame corner onto the wall or place where two different items are laid together like around the grills on the balcony. If you have a terrace where you can walk on or having pots on for terrace gardening, there are going to be cracks observed and hopefully they are not at the stage where it starts leaking through  your roof. Assuming there are no major re-construction issues and the house needs re-painting as it has been anywhere between 5 to 10 years since construction, then continue reading this document.

    As with the cracks, they are usually the air line cracks that are mostly superficial and not deep.  If they are deep, then this may be due to improper plastering and inadequate curing of the cement during the construction stages or just pure aging.  You would notice more cracks on the places which were done last as the contractor would have been in a hurry to finish up the house towards the end.   From your perspective, the cracks gets worse as you move up the floors inside the house or in an apartment (the highest floor would naturally have been more hurriedly done than the bottom floors due to time pressure).  Or there could have been an internal water pipe that would have broken and had caused water seepages in odd places. This is more worrisome as you need to trace it properly, remove the plaster till the water pipe is seen and do the necessary repair, replaster it, do the putty and then be ready for painting. The same applies for any cracks that appear on the terrace – has to be filled properly before any water proofing is done on it.

   Now you have decided you are in for re-painting (I am not writing this for new painting but the process is somewhat similar, may be easier but the putty part is more rigorous).   I am assuming all your construction problems are fixed through a proper civil work before re-painting starts.

    If you live in the Western countries, you have a one-stop shop like Home Depot or Lowes  where you can pick up your paints and accessories and then  do it yourself (DYI) during the weekends and in phases.  But unfortunately due to lack of these stores in India and because we Indians are not used to doing our own painting, we are at the mercy of the painting contractors.  Remember, they all talk well but when the rubber hits the road, they seem to be up to their tricks, as always. It is time you played hard with them to get things done your way.  Never assume they know what they are doing – they have learnt most of the stuff by doing it over and over again and any variation that you may have is not in their comfort zone.   Also towards the end of the painting work, they would like to rush and walk out without proper cleaning and final touch-ups, hence be aware and be smarter to hold on to part payment till couple of weeks after the entire painting job is done.   Ensure they send only experienced painters and not the guys they bring from their native place who have not seen any sort of brush before.  And their supervision on a daily basis is essential and part of the contract. Please read this document carefully so that you can talk the same language with them that would immediately become a good bargaining tool for you.

     And if you are doing both exterior and interior, it is better to have the exterior done first before they come inside the house.  Ensure you start painting during a sunny season (or rather a non rainy month), especially for the exteriors.  Peak summer may not be conducive for the workers as heat exhaustion would result in improper efficiencies and bad quality.  It  would take anywhere from a month to  45 days for a reasonable size house of two floors to be repainted both exterior and interior, and it may take only 10 days for a 3 bedroom apartment to be painted for interiors alone.   Keep the wood related painting and polishes towards the end after all the interior walls are painted or even to the next season as a separate job.

     There are lots of paint companies operating in India and have been around for a while. Some good names are Asian Paints, Nerolac, Berger paints, Dulux paints, Shalimar Paints and Nippon.  There are many more but these are top few paint companies that are more known here.  If you already know what Paint Company you used and what type of paint you used and what exact paint color and code you use while you originally constructed, it may be helpful information to have – this applies for both interior and exterior paints.  If in an apartment, you would be more worried about the interior paint and if you are in a house, you need to take care of the exterior paint as well. Most of the interiors of the apartment are the basic distemper paints only.   Exterior painting in an apartment is done after approval from their association that is maintaining their complex and various other factors may creep in. Many of these paint companies are getting more aggressive in the residential sectors as they seem to be losing out on the commercial complexes where the exterior is mostly of glass and Aluminum sheets now, and the interior is open with just bare walls. Hence, be aware that they would try to sell up to any residential customer to make more money out of you rather than choosing what is good enough for the price and quality you need.

    If you do diligent planning up front in the re-painting process, most of the execution issues would be solved later while the actual painting is happening.  First, get the catalogs from 2-4 companies for both interior and exterior paints, and browse their website for information.  NEVER use the computer to choose the color of your paint as they get reflected badly on any computer screen – what you see on the computer display would be totally off from what the actual paint would look like.  It would be difficult for the paint companies to give catalogs but convince them that you need to have their LATEST catalogs to plan something down the near future for your house painting.   You can walk into your neighborhood paint stores and start probing for information – I would say you can gleam a lot of information by talking to 3-4 paint store guys.

    First a few painting jargons to remember to ‘talk the lingo’ with the painting professionals and with your neighborhood paint store:

Crack Filler – if you find any surface cracks and if you see any water leakages, it is better to fix this first before you start re-painting.  The cracks can be on roofs (sloping and flat), terraces, exterior and interior walls – they may not look like air cracks but more where the water seeps through.  Take care of this first by grooving them properly, fill it up with water proof fillers and then let it set and then check for any water seepages by spraying water around them after couple of days for some time.  Dr Fixit is the most commonly used filler by most painters.

Putty – Putty is something you put for filling holes and minor cracks in a small area before you paint.  After plastering of the walls, they do not look smooth or regular and this is where we start using Putty around smaller areas.  The surface must be moist to apply a putty coat using a putty knife, and this is a MUST for new painting jobs where they do two coats of putty.   The surface must be sanded completely around the putty area after the application is dry and before further priming and painting happens.  Some folks put a primer coat before putty work takes place in which case the primer has to dry before putty work starts – many painters do not believe to put a primer coat before putty and even some paint companies do not suggest to use primer both before and after putty – please read the instruction given in your putty box before you take a call.  At least one coat of this is needed for covering major undulations in a repainting job.  

      All loose particles should be removed using the putty knife then and there. There could be a need for a second coat of Putty for finer finishing (usually associated only with new painting and not with re-painting) but do not confuse putty with a levelling material.  Putty even if done very well may not result in a completely smooth surface.  Putty needs to be applied on a clean, non-dusty and non-oily surface.  If the putty is done well, there may not be any need for a primer although it is highly recommended for good adhesion of paint.  Sand the surface for making it smooth for the primer coat. Since the putty usually contains filler materials which decrease the curing time, it is always better to do proper curing after the putty coat.  Putty for exterior wall is different from interior wall – the one for the exterior wall is more water resistant and may be cement based.  Some people even use Plaster of Paris instead of normal putty for the interior walls.   Insist on using putty to cover those small cracks although your painting contractor would like to avoid using putty for repainting jobs.   The most commonly available putty is the Birla Putty but each paint company have their brand of putty as well.

Primer – Primers are used to make the surface less absorbent so that it increases the spreading capacity of the paint.  They must essentially also be done when you paint light color over an older dark color wall, or the other way around.  If a primer is done after the putty work, the wall has to be sanded and dry before primer coat is given.  If the wall is more porous and has signs of water damage, primer is essential and hence for exterior walls, kitchens and bathroom walls, one needs to add primer before you paint.   One coat of primer is what one can expect in a repainting job and not two.  There are different primers for exterior walls, interior walls, wood and metals.

Base Coat – start the painting process only when the walls are completely dry by applying the first coat called Base coat from the shade and color of your choice.

Top Coat – apply the second coat, called the top Coat, over the base coat after it is completely dry for 6-8 hours. If needed, because of bad coverage, a third coat may have to be applied.

     The entire re-painting process , whether it is exterior or internal walls or wood or metal, thus would be High speed Power wash (only for exterior walls to remove mildew and algae) – Surface Preparation – Crack Fill and Waterproof Filler –Sanding – Putty – Sanding – Primer – Base Coat – Top Coat – 3rd coat if needed. 

     For a new painting process, there would one more primer and putty round.  At the very end after all the painting is done, it is imperative that there are touchups to be done, following the same process in an isolated spot, where there has been noticeably change in paint condition after the second coat. Touch-up and cleaning are the two last steps before the painting is considered done.

    The first thing, in both interior and exterior painting, one needs to do is to scrap the old paints and remove any loose dust particles by sanding and prepare the surface for painting.  For exterior first does a complete high pressure wash before you start preparing the surface.  Check for any black patches which may be due to some fungal or algae growth.  Fix this right away with some anti-fungal, anti-algae treatment.  If there some dampness seen, which may have been caused by some internal water pipe leakages or seepage through the walls or terraces, fix them first with a good civil contractor.  Use a good waterproofing compound to treat those areas that are affected.

     There may be boils on the surface or even detachment of the paint films from the surface due to use of poor-grade primer previously on the walls.  Check for any cracks (usually you near a hollow noise while tapping on the wall) – these are just surface deformities caused by just aging and settling of the construction compounds. If they are believed to be structural cracks (usually they are wider), again a good civil contractor has to break it and apply proper cement-sand paste to cover it and smoothen it out.   If they seem to be non-structural in nature and smaller cracks, then any good crack filling compound can be used to fill the plaster cracks after a decent grooving.

    After the surface is prepared and the cracks have been filled and all the fungal treatment done, it is time to do apply the putty. Putty is a paste that is used to smoothen the surface and to get rid of holes, dents and waves. Putty levels the surface to achieve the expected smoothness for painting.  If the putty work is not done, walls would not have a smooth finish and if they are painted with glossy finish, then all the waves and undulations would be seen by the naked eye clearly.  If you feel that there are undulations even after putty, then it is better to go with a Matte or Satin finish.

     Now the wall is ready to be painted but we need to ensure the paint sticks on the surface properly. This is when we apply primers to help paints stick better to the surface. Primers available in the market are usually mixed with water in the same proportion before applying in both exterior and interior walls.

    Now the walls are ready to get its first coat, called Base coat, of a great looking shade you have chosen. If you have bright sunlight inside the house, one can risk going with a medium or even rich shade for the inside, but if you live in an apartment where you have to constantly switch on your lights even during the day and if you have dark furniture, it is better to always go for a lighter shade.   This base coat has to be applied with the proper dilution as listed in the directions of the box and must have a consistent finish.

    After applying the basecoat, it is better to give it 6- 8 hours for it to dry before you apply the next coat, called Top Coat.  There would be pressure from your contractor to apply this top  coat within couple of hours of the base coat – please ensure that this is not the case and you state it clearly to him up front to wait a day between coats. While preparation of the surface of the wall during a re-painting process, the painters would generally not sand the entire surface of the wall but just the places where they observe cracks or deformities – ideally they should do it the same way they do it for a new painting job – that to sand the entire wall.  Due to this irregular sanding, even after the top coat is applied, you may still see aberrations of any old paint remaining or the color does not match the expected color for you wherein you may have to do one more coat of Top Coat (the third coat).  Ensure your painting contractor is aware of this – let him know it may take 2-3 coats of paint while fixing the contract and he must agree to it on paper.  If the Top coat shade color is different from the Base coat shade color, which is a possibility, then you may have a dual tinge to your wall which may look excellent in one case and awful in another.

    How to choose the shade color?  Are you going to paint the entire exterior with the same color with borders differently, or use two colors for the exterior with a third border color.  Using more than two colors for the outside would not look great.  As a resident you are more concerned with the interiors, but people always make impressions and talk-their-tongue with the color choices you have made for your exterior.  Remember again, do not get fooled by any computer modelling of the different colors – they will give you an idea but they are NOT exact by any means.  The only hope is to get shade cards of the colors you want and make a decision – again here, they are closer to reality but not the exact one.  Once you have made your choice of colors, it is always good to negotiate samples to be put on one wall for real so that you know what the exact color would be.  The samples come in small 100-150ml ml plastic boxes and there would be a 5% variation to the real ones that come in 1L or 4L or 10L boxes.  

       If it is an exterior paint, ask the contractor to apply to an exterior wall looking outside and then decide.  If it is an interior paint, ensure this get applied to the exact room wall you want painted with that color. You can always do two colors per room inside, or just have one of the four walls in a different color – this contrast would look great.  You can even apply the same color throughout the interior walls and have one wall in each room in a different color.  You can always experiment with the sense of colors and ask for choices from various members of the family.  Ask the kids what color they prefer in their room, and ask your old parents what colors they prefer in their room and give it to them.   In all cases, kindly see to it that the walls can be washed properly with a damp cloth to remove stains.   For ceilings, they generally use WHITE color with some Indigo drops on them so that it shows a little violet when they apply it. Once you are done with two coats of ceiling, you can get innovative and add the luminescent paints for the kid’s room that shows the planets and stars using stencils (do not stick anything as they fall off after 2 to 3 years and leave an ugly mark).

     But ensure you have a contract that for every room, you would request 2-3 colors for sampling and they would be different in each room.  Since you are going to paint your house only once in 7 to 10 years, it is better to pay a small price for the samples and get it right, before being stuck to the paint you may not like. Your likes and dislikes would certainly change every coming year and next time while re-painting, you can always do something more different.  If you are big Vaastu believer, then you have certain colors for each room that you can apply and you can choose shades from that color.  Whatever you choose, ensure your kitchen has a Teflon coating or enamel based color on the walls so that you can wipe the dirt and oil stains properly.

   Now you know the jargons being used, have an idea about what is to be done and you have chosen your choices of colors from the catalog.  Now you must ask for quotations from the paints companies directly and couple of painting contractors.  I would recommend you get a quote of like grades of paints from two different paint companies (say Asian and Nerolac) and couple of KNOWN painting contractors (either someone you know personal or someone who had done your friend’s house recently).             Remember, even if you get a quotation from the painting companies, they go only with contractors whom they say are certified by them (but when you ask for any certification proof, no one would provide you with one) and they enjoy a minimum of 20% margin for nothing (may be to employ a sales guy for  a region).  Some paint companies do not even seem to care and do not respond to any calls or emails at all and some try to ask for money to visit your site and give quotation – my take is, if they really want your business, they better come running and give you a quote free of cost.  There is no way I am going to pay someone to give me a quote – I cannot assure them any business unless all the ducks are lined up and so should you. 

      Some paint companies try charge you for sending a contractor to give a quotation. Say NO.  Especially with their slow loss of commercial business, thanks to the outside being non-paintable for most commercial establishments, they better be hungry for any and all residential business.  The other thing they would do is to SELL-UP – you would start with their Extra Luxury brand and then with their Luxury brand and then with their Premium brand and they would not even suggest an Economy brand (which essentially is a Tractor Distemper).  Usually their Extra Luxury and Luxury brands give you a glossy finish which would show the undulations if your wall is not properly puttied.  So, I suggest go with a Matte (or they call it Satin) finish for your interior walls – go for something that you can clean stains with a wet cloth. 

     It is absolutely essential to have a contract written on paper as to what the process and the actual paints are , get it signed and put your own terms of payment, even it is with paint companies – if they agree, great.  They would try to push for payments that is more convenient for them, but as I said, hold on to 10% even after the paint job is over for 2 weeks so that you know where the issues are that are remaining. You have every right to make your own contract and get it signed by them, and initialed in every page.  You do not need to sign any of their contracts if it is disagreeable and not in line with your expectation. This would be to document that you would refer to for any mediations and pretty close to a legal contract. Do not go only with the ‘word assurances’ as invariably you would be holding the bag as they may go back on every word they said.

    Now you have a quotation and have gone through the contract with the contractors to ensure all things are on the table and discussed properly – ensure this happens.   It is time to choose your contractor now and from here on, it has to be execution and quality focus only.  It is imperative that you and the contractor arrive at a schedule for each room and floor and you compare it with the actual progress that happens. It is also good to have your contractor tell you what he intends to do that day and the next day so that you plan accordingly.  Emphasize on experienced painters and regular supervision.   Give them one room at a time, let them do the putty, primer and the two coats including the doors, windows and any grills before they get another room.  Or give them a pair of rooms – usually they would need 2 painters and 1 helper for every room.

     Ask them to switch off their cell phones during work and keep them outside and let them use that only during their lunch period. Otherwise, it becomes a nuisance as not only it is loud when they get a call, and disturbs you when you are around, it wastes quality time in painting and they do not concentrate on the work.  Also ensure that no one chews tobacco or smokes during the work day – they have the tendency to spit irrespective of where they are. A painter’s day should be a minimum of 8 hours not including their 1 hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks for tea.  Let them complete a task or work before they leave for the day and not have a room half done. Ensure they follow the process very clearly in terms of how to paint and what is the curing time and whether they are diluting the water solvent paints to the right proportions.   Keep on insisting on the same every day to ensure you get a consistent finish on your paints.

   A good estimate for one room with 2 painters would be about 3 to 4 days.  On the first day they would take out the furniture and other stuff from the room, sand and clean the walls and crack fill, and also sand and dust the grills and windows and doors. They would do the putty on the wall and the polyester putty on the wood as well and then do primer on everything.   After the primer is done, they would be able to see more cracks that they did not find the first time and they would fix it with putty and sanding.  Ensure they do the lofts and attics as well as they are doing it.  The second day they do the first coat on the ceiling, the base coat for the walls and the first coat on the windows and grills and doors.  On the third day they would do the second coat on ceiling, the top coat for the walls and the second coat on the windows, doors and grills and clean up the place.  On the fourth day they would put the furniture and things back to the room that has been painted.  Then they go the next room.    Bigger rooms may take more time.  After all the rooms are done, it is essential they come back to inspect each and every room and do the touch up and clean the entire place once  with a good chemical wash.

   If you are polishing the doors and not painting them, all polish work would be done at the end after the wall painting is done.  It is always better to paint any wood surface if they get exposed to rain or water constantly, rather than polish.  If you have an exquisite teak main door that is still exposed to rain, it is better to do polish them with Poly Urethane (PU) rather than with Melamine.  Melamine polishes are usually done on teak doors for wardrobes and kitchens where either full teak shutter or plywood with veneer has been used. Remember, Melamine has the tendency to turn yellow in years to come.   Of course, the base polish that all painters would use is the Sheenlac polish.

   As for the metal grills, painting them with light colors would allow you to get more light in and paint them with dark colors would not reveal the dust that settles on them – it is essential that you dust the grills once in a month to get rid of dusts and keep it clean.  For metals as well, wherever there is rust, they would fill it up with a metal paste and prime that area before they start their two coats of painting.  If the rust is too much and has eaten up the metal, the only option is to weld that area with a metal bracket again carefully before primer is applied.

   If you are intending to waterproof your terrace or roof slope, again, one can do it after all the painting is done (or when the polish work is going on). Dr Fixit NewCoat  is the big name in waterproofing(and you have Perma Guard, Fosroc Brushbond Roof Guard and Roof Hyguard) and if the weather allows it, I guess, one can do it on their own by getting the materials from the local shop or have the painters do it as well. The process still remains the same – groove out the minor cracks, and fill it up with water proof paste, level it properly, apply primer on one day through the entire surface including some height of the terrace wall, and then start apply one coat of waterproof in one direction in one color and the other coat in another color the next day.  Some waterproofing requires three coats in three or two different colors. The main reason that colors is different between the coats applied is to see after some years how much of water proofing is remaining and what layer has eroded off by constant rain water hitting on them.  If you grow plants on small pots in the terrace, it is imperative you do an adequate water proofing (I have seen places where the roots have gone through the pots into the terrace roof) – I would suggest putting an Aluminum sheet under the pots and above the terrace roof. Ensure the waste water outlet is clear and sloped so that the excess water is taken out properly by proper drainage pipes.  One can also look at putting some artificial grass carpets that are available on the market so that it reduces the heat coming through the roof and can be used with some lawn chairs for some small parties and can be easily cleaned.

    If you have any stone cladding both internal and external, it is better to first pressure wash it at high speed with water, use some ordinary shampoo to brush the walls, treat them algae and fungus on them with chemicals so that it does not discolor the walls, clean with soap solution, and once it is dry, give it is a little shine with applying lacquer by brush or spray on it.    If you have Mangalore tiles outside the home, first fix any broken tiles, wash them thoroughly with high speed water, treat them for algae and fungus, crack fill with waterproof materials and sand, and then all the companies have a Tile protector paint in various colors that one can apply two coats with.

To summarize for a re-painting job, the ideal agreed-upon process should be:

  • For Interior walls and ceiling re-painting :  Chipping & Crack filling(with Dr Fixit) -> Waterproofing (if necessary) -> Sanding -> Touch up Putty -> Sanding ->  Interior Primer -> Base Coat -> Top Coat.
  • For Exterior walls and compound walls (and any Mangalore tiles)  re-painting:  Surface Wash -> Brush cleaning -> Crack filling and weatherproofing -> Sanding ->  Any fungal and algae treatment -> Exterior Primer -> Base Coat -> Top Coat
  • For wood(Doors and Windows) and metals (Grills):  Dusting -> Surface preparation and Sanding ->  Metal paste / Polyester Putty(Wood) -> Sanding -> Metal or Wood primer (most usually skip this step) -> 2 coats of enamel paint
    • If one is doing Polish for their woodwork – Surface preparation -> Wood Putty -> Emery Sanding -> Thinner based polish (like Sheenlac) -> Emery Sanding -> more coats -> Final Hand or spray polish of Melamine or PU.
  • For any stone cladding: High speed water wash ->Fill cracks -> Algae and fungal treatment (check for any discoloration through sampling) -> Spray the lacquer to get a shine.

     All the directions for applications are clearly specified on the paint, putty and primer boxes and cans – follow up them religiously for the best results.  Ensure the contractor also follows the same and he is aware that this is an essential condition to be met without any compromises.  In a hurry, they would decrease the time required between any coats drastically but do not allow this to happen.   If you have given them labor and material contract, they would dilute the paint more than necessary.

      As I write this in summer of 2015, for Exterior walls, one can compare Berger Paint Weather Coat All Guard with Nerolac Paint Excel All in One and Asian Paints Apex Ultima Weatherproof in the Luxury segment, Berger’s Weathercoat Smooth with Nerolac’s Anti-Peel and Asian’s Apex Weatherproof Exterior Emulsion in the Premium segment, and Berger’s Walmasta with Asian’s ACE Exterior Emulsion in the Economy segment.

     For interior walls, one can compare Asian’s Royale Aspira with Berger’s Silk and Nerolac’s Impressions 24 Carat in the Premium Luxury segment all of which would give a high sheen finish, Asian’s Royale Luxury emulsion with Berger’s Breathe Easy and Nerolac’s Beauty Gold in the Luxury segment which are all with low sheen finish, Asian’s Apcolite Premium Emulsion with Nerolac’s Beauty Smooth and Berger’s Bison Acrylic Emulsion in the Economy segment which all have Matte finish.

   For the metals and woods, one can find only two enamel products in each paint companies catalog – one with high gloss and the other one with Satin or matte finish.

    Happy re-painting !

This article for compiled and published first in 2015