I feel that all your employees are true artists and professionals, and their commitment, creativity and craftsmanship are evident in the finished product.
- Diane Hohmann, North Barrington
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Archive for House Painting

The Reasons why a Paint Job Will Cost More in 2017

We have been in business as painting and decorating contractors in the Chicago area for over 28 years. During that time, we have seen many changes take place in our industry. One major change has been the plethora of new paints that was brought to market by manufacturers. A major impetus for those innovations was the need to adapt to new governmental regulations regarding VOCs in paint. Another major shift, although much less publicized, has greatly reduced the labor pool available to our industry, thereby very significantly increasing labor costs and the price of your paint jobs in 2017. Let’s examine the two main reasons for this shift.

A- Scores of Painters Dropped Out of the Industry
Starting in the Spring of 2007, the residential painting market started to go into a recession, a good eighteen months before the rest of the economy. In the Fall of 2008, the other shoe dropped and the economy entered its worse recession since the Great Depression era – it was very long and very painful. The field of residential painting did not start to sustainably recover until 2013. That was a six-year stretch! During that period of time, a lot of people exited the field of painting, learned new skills and never returned to painting. This is also true for most of the trades. There is a major shortage of trained workers in painting and the trades in general. That shortage has resulted in major wage increases and higher prices to consumers.


B- Scarcity of Young People Entering the Trades
Young people generally do not look at painting and the trades as a viable career track. Part of the reason is cultural: our culture regards the trades as less glamorous than other fields, like technology, health care, business for example. The other part of the reason is that the painting industry has done a very poor job at marketing painting as a viable career track for young people.

Typically, contractors advertise online for already trained and qualified people, in spite of the fact that the quality of the people in the labor pool has diminished a lot. This is a strategy that is proving very frustrating in this current labor market. A more promising alternative is to mine High Schools and Trade Schools: attract young people early, help train them and retain them as young super stars in one’s company. In the long run, such a strategy could help contain labor costs and soften price increases to the consumer.

A Young House, Made to Look Old, Is Being Remodeled

Cottage Facade

Cottage Facade

Cottage Woodwork

Cottage Woodwork

Cottage Window and Door Detail

Cottage Window and Door Detail

In a week, we will be starting the interior painting for this entire six- thousand-square-foot house on the shores of Lake Michigan. Even though the house is only thirteen years old, it was built to look old, from its architecture to the hand-brushed oil paint used on the extensive and detailed woodwork on the walls, trim, windows, doors and cabinetry.

Even though the interior surfaces were still in mint condition, the arrival of grandchildren in the family precipitated the need to remodel the house to accommodate the needs of the children (and some needs of the grandparents also). Very few areas in the house will be left unaffected by the remodeling, thereby causing the repainting of all the interior surfaces of the house. Below is a list of the major challenges we will face on this special project.

1- Volume of Woodwork Challenge:
The walls on the first floor and basement are almost all clad horizontally with four-inch beadboard. I guesstimate that there is at least mile of that beadboard and more is being added on the second floor. So one of the woodwork challenges is just the sheer volume of painting involved. Everything is to be hand-brushed from the beadboard, trim, built-ins, doors and windows.

2- Hybrid Paint to Be Used Over the Old Oil:
Because of the great amount of woodwork involved and the fact it is painted in oil, we were faced with the decision of choosing a new finish coat that would stick well to the old oil without requiring a primer coat on everything.

3- Matching the Finish on New Doug Fir Beadboard on the Hallway Ceilings in the Basement.
New beadboard needs to be added on some areas on the ceilings. Our challenge will be to match the umbered look of the old Doug Fir, as well as the old sheen. This one is still on the drawing board!

4- Painting the Kitchen Cabinets
The cabinets are currently stained, glazed and varnished. We will have to apply a paint finish on all the cabinet surfaces. That is a piece of work in itself.

Meeting the challenges of a project, developing the procedures necessary to achieve the desired result and doing additional training and practice where necessary are the ingredients to the success our team of craftsmen pursues on every job.

Laser Cleaning – A Cutting Edge Approach to Cleaning Historical Exterior Surfaces

Driehaus Museum - After

Driehaus Museum – After

Driehaus Museum  - Before

Driehaus Museum – Before

Jefferson Statue - Lincoln Park

Jefferson Statue – Lincoln Park

Historical Restoration being one of our main specialties as painting and decorating contractors in the Chicago area, we look to stay current with new technologies, methods and practices. Belonging to trade associations is how we stay connected with the happenings in the industry. Last week, we attended a meeting held by the Western Great Lakes Chapter of APT (Association for Preservation Technology). The meeting was hosted by CSOS. The topic was on the applications of the laser cleaning technology they have developed, including a live demonstration of the cleaning process.

Being new to this technology, I was fascinated by the range of potential applications, the environmentally friendly nature of the process, all-the-while leaving the substrates in mint condition. CSOS has designed and manufactured their own state-of-the-art laser cleaning equipment. Another interesting aspect of this cleaning process is that it barely raises the temperature of the substrate.

One of CSOS’s success stories includes the cleaning of 25,000 square feet of the stone exterior substrates of the Driehaus Museum in Chicago.. The before and after pictures illustrate the dramatic result. This was the first building in the U.S. to be entirely cleaned with lasers. The other picture shows Jefferson’s statue, grander than life, normally resting in Lincoln Park. It will soon be laser-cleaned to its bronze substrate and prepped to receive its 24 carat gilded finish. It will be back in the Park this summer.

In our work as painting contractors, we take a custodial view towards our clients. It means that we try to think as the owner of the building. Because of the trust we establish with our clients, we are sometimes asked to put a team together (carpenters, metal fabricators, masons and now laser cleaning) to tackle the entire restoration project. This is why being knowledgeable in the restoration of other related substrates is an asset to our customers. Sometimes, it is about making our clients aware of different alternatives and levels of intervention, so they can make the most informed decision possible.

The Refinishing of an Ipe Wood Front Porch Floor

Ipe Wood Decking - 1

Ipe Wood Decking – 1

Late last summer, our painting and decorating company was tasked with the refinishing of a front porch deck and the railings, as well as the refinishing of the front door system for a six-year-old house in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. The decking was made of Ipe wood, the railings of Cedar wood and the front door of Doug Fir. Ipe is also known as Brazilian Walnut ad is one of densest hardwoods in existence. It is three times harder than cedar and is very heavy lumber.

Needless to say, creating color harmony between the different woods was very important to the client. To achieve the desired result, we had to resort to three different stain products, depending on the wood specie. Samples were prepared using similar woods. The client having specified Penofin as the product to use for the Ipe wood, it set the tone for the stain colors of the other two woods. Penofin is the Cadillac of finishes for Ipe and several other hardwood species. It is made of Brazilian Rosewood Oil and penetrates deeply into the wood and performs the best of any products I know of. In the long-run, it is also the easiest finish to maintain.

Ipe Wood Decking - 2

Ipe Wood Decking – 2

The major challenge we faced in refinishing the Ipe floor was that a different product had been used, the first time it was finished. We used a deck stripper to remove the old product and then sanded the whole deck floor. Strippers typically raise the grain of any wood. Normally, the sanding knocks off the dead wood fiber. However, we learned that , for a hard wood such as Ipe, the wood fiber is very soft, short and dense. It is similar to a peach fuzz. We tried sanding off that fuzz, with only very limited success. We ended up having to buff out the fuzz with an orbital sander and a soft foam pad covered with 1000-grit sandpaper. To achieve the desired finish, we had to wipe on two additional thin coats of Penofin, on top of the first coat.

Taking the additional finishing steps and doing the stain samples proved key in producing the look the client was after.

Venting a Dryer or Bathroom Fans in an Attic Creates Mold

Mildew Problem on Eaves – 1

Mildew Problem on Eaves – 2

When doing exterior house painting, especially in Northern areas like Chicago, you can expect to have to deal with mildew. In order to flourish, mildew needs moisture, darkness and food. Not surprisingly, the North side of a house is especially vulnerable to mold. However, when we see mildew thriving on the sunny side of a house, we ask more questions to find out what may be going on with the house.

We recently saw such a situation, as shown in the attached pictures. The eaves, all around the garage were loaded with mildew. After taking a quick visual of the problem, I asked the owners: “Is there something venting in your attic?” A quick answer followed: “Yes – our dryer, but we have louvered openings in the gables.” I said that the moisture thrown off by the dryer was such that it overwhelmed the attic’s ability to vent off the moisture. They never thought the mildew issue was related to the dryer’s moisture. They said they would have the venting issue corrected immediately. I also advised them to have the attic inspected. If the mildew issue is this bad outside the attic, I could only imagine what the inside looks like.

A few years ago, we ran into a similar situation, where the bathrooms on the second level all vented in the attic. The attic was actually covered in mildew – it was black! The client had to have a mold remediation crew come over to eradicate the problem. With the benefit of hindsight, I remembered my eyes getting itchy and teary after fifteen minutes in the house on my initial visit.

As house painters, we see our role as going beyond paint. We look to understand what is at the source of the problems, so we can empower our clients to be good stewards of their property.