Inside Job: A Look at Common Interior Prep Mistakes

by Brian Sodoma

iStock_000013717458_DoubleAs we head into the cooler months, interior work will dominate the job list for paint pros in four-season climates. After a long summer of exterior work, interior prep can seem tedious and time-consuming, especially in the case of repaints of occupied buildings.

Paint pros would much rather be rolling paint than hanging drop clothes on precious belongings, but most will take the inconvenience in the name of steady work.

Transitioning from exterior to interior work requires tapping different skill sets and habits. Whether it’s surface prep or logistics, several experts offer up these helpful tips and reminders.


Jeremy Rhett, owner of CertaPro Painters of Atlanta, has been in business for 15 years. And he says when it comes to caulk, what goes outside should come inside too.

Too often, pros assume a climate-controlled environment means caulk quality can go by the wayside. But saving a few bucks only hurts the whole job.

“We use elastomeric sealants on everything,” he said. “In Atlanta, with the humidity and dry, cold winters, you can get gaps and cracks, and a $1 tube of caulk can make the job look so bad.”


Even with a cozy, warm interior, paint adhesion issues can still occur due to surface-temperature problems, explained Rick Watson, director of product information and technical services for Sherwin-Williams.

Watson said an interior wall whose opposite side is exposed to the outside elements could be vulnerable to temperature concerns, particularly on older homes with poor insulation. “It could be 65˚ or 70˚ in the house but that wall surface could be 45,˚” he said. “That could really slow your drying.”


Nothing trips up adhesion like a dirty surface. Watson says all pros understand the need for a surface to be clean, dry and dull, but he emphasizes a particular order of prep activity that can help assure a surface is ready for a coat of paint.

Clean it, dry it, sand it, then give the space a final vacuum or wipe down to remove dust, he advises. Too often, that last dust removal step can go overlooked, he explained.

“You don’t have to be a fanatic about dust, you just have to make sure it’s removed,” he said.

If prepping a kitchen or bathroom, be super-vigilant in cleaning steps when dealing with soap and grease marks, he added.

Keep an eye out for existing roller and brush marks, too, Watson said. Indoor environments with limited lighting can hide imperfections, but a fresh coat of paint could reintroduce it to the room.

“All that stuff is going to telegraph to the next coat,” he noted.

Kasey Jenkins, senior applications specialist for Behr Process Corporation, says baseboards are common dust build-up areas that trip up interior jobs. While pros are generally good about wiping them down, he says a baseboard should ideally be vacuumed, especially if it’s next to carpet.

“That’s where the human and animal hair and dust can show up and, if not careful, you paint over it,” he said.

In general, Jenkins also encourages a wipe down of all walls with a damp cloth to clear away dust and, if dealing with an existing dirty semigloss paint, use a multipurpose cleaner or trisodium phosphate.


Jeff Spillane, senior manager of training implementation with Benjamin Moore, highlights the importance of understanding lead-based paint scenarios. Lead-based paint was outlawed in 1978 and older buildings can be called into question, particularly if surfaces require sanding or cleaning up paint chips during prep.

Spillane has done his homework on the lead-based-paint subject and knows that buildings built in the 60s and 70s probably have very little lead on their walls; whereas buildings built in the 30s, 40s and 50s could have as much as a third of the paint formula full of lead. Regardless, both situations require a tradesman who is trained in the best practices for containing and working with walls containing lead-based paint.

1-800-424-LEAD, the EPA’s National Lead Information Hotline, can offer resources for paint contractors and other tradesmen working on a building with potentially high levels of lead-based paint.


With today’s low-VOC acrylics giving off little to no fumes, it’s easy to forgo cracking that window or door on jobs, Spillane said.

But failing to properly ventilate a space could lead to an early paint failure.

“That air flow and humidity has a big impact on the drying and curing of the paint,” he added.


After working on exteriors all summer, painters can become careless about where their feet land.

“When you are used to climbing ladders and walking through dirt and grass, you have to remind yourself to think about where you’re stepping,” said Rhett. “It seems like a real common sense thing, but we have to remind exterior painters to take their shoes off at the door.”

Rhett cautions commercial crews accustomed to high-production work to slow down and refine their cutting-in practices for crisp, straight edges that homeowners demand. He also encourages his interior teams to work on small sections of a house, focusing first on high-use areas, to restore order to the home.

“It’s important for homeowners to still have some sense of home while you’re working there,” he said.

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