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How to Estimate a Painting Job: 5 Steps to Making a Profit

March 4, 2022 9 min. read
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Knowing how to estimate painting jobs is the key to making accurate, detailed painting estimates that compete with other painting contractors and make you money.

We’ll show you how to estimate all the costs involved in a painting job, how much painters usually charge, and how to turn your cost estimates into quotes that win you painting contracts.

READ MORE: How to start a painting business: an easy guide

1. Estimate the cost of painting materials

Your painting material costs will depend on the job’s size and complexity — and you’ll need different materials for an interior versus exterior paint job.

You’ll only need to buy new paint and primer for most new jobs after you’ve purchased materials for your first interior paint job, such as rollers, brushes, trays, drop cloths, and painter’s tape. Those basic materials, minus paint, can cost as low as $30 for a 400-square-foot room.

Expect to buy more materials for exterior painting. For a 2,000 square foot home, it can cost between $100 to $120 (USD) to purchase new:

  • Primer
  • Painter’s tape
  • Caulking tubes
  • Masking paper
  • Masking plastic

READ MORE: A complete painting equipment list: 50 must-have tools for professional painters

2. Estimate paint costs

Paint will take up a large portion of your costs. Here’s how to estimate the amount of paint you need and how to accurately measure your paint site for interior and exterior paint jobs.

Interior paint costs

The average one-coat interior paint costs $20 to $50 per gallon, and higher-end paints can cost over $60. One gallon of paint will usually cover 300 to 400 square feet of wall or ceiling.

For projects that need primer, you should budget for $30 to $70 per gallon, depending on the type of primer. You need a bit more primer than you do paint — one gallon of primer will only cover 200 to 300 square feet.

Here are some examples of interior painting cost estimates based on home size (with primerless paint):

Home sizeGgallons of paintTotal paint cost ($30 per gallon)
1,500 sq ft.5$150
2,500 sq ft.9$270
4,000 sq ft.14$420

This is just a starting point. For your specific project, you can estimate how many gallons of paint you need by measuring the home’s exact surface area:

  • Find the surface area of the walls. Measure the perimeter of the room, then multiply this number by the height of the room.
  • Find the surface area of unpaintable sections. Measure each window, door, cabinet, and other sections you won’t be painting.
  • Subtract doors, windows, and cabinets from your wall surface area.
  • If you’re painting trims, baseboards, and ceilings, use the same method to measure the area of each.

Many professional painters add a small percentage to this number to budget for patching, paint overage, and detail work.

Once you know your client’s square footage and how many gallons of paint and primer you need, add these paint costs to your total cost estimate.

Exterior paint costs

A gallon of exterior paint can cost between $25 and $80 per gallon. It’s always good to use higher quality paint ($50 to $70) to get better coverage, paint fewer coats, and give your clients a quality finish.

On average, one gallon of exterior paint can will cover 250 to 400 square feet with one coat. That can vary depending on the exterior siding material —for example, painting stucco can take almost twice as much paint as vinyl, since textured surfaces have more area to cover.

Here are some exterior painting cost estimates based on the square footage you need to paint (total paintable area):

Total paintable areaGallons of paintTotal paint cost ($50 per gallon)
1,500 sq ft.5$250
2,500 sq ft.8$400
4,000 sq ft.12$600

To find the total paintable area for a house’s exterior:

  • Measure the perimeter of the house, then multiply by the height.
  • Subtract the area of doors and windows from the house’s surface area.

If you’re painting the garage door, trim, soffit, and eaves as well, make sure you measure these during your site visit.

3. Estimate the cost of labor

To calculate your labor costs, start by inspecting the job site and estimating how long the work will take. After all, you need to be compensated for your time, not just for the paint and materials you purchased.

Visit the job site

When you visit your potential client’s home, take careful measurements and write down how much prep work each room will need. Without inspecting the space carefully, you could overestimate or underestimate how much labor you need—and set the wrong prices.

Take note of any obstacles that could slow down the job and increase your labor hours. Those could include:

  • Hard-to-paint windows (e.g. vinyl, embedded)
  • Height of the house (taller houses take more setup and equipment)
  • Outdoor obstructions like trees and ivy
  • Time-intensive prep work (e.g., peeling, fixing wood damage, caulking failure)
  • House structures that are hard to paint around (e.g., steep roofs)
  • Needing more paint coats than expected

READ MORE: How to get painting contracts

Calculate your labor costs

Once you know how much time the job will take, calculate your hourly labor cost (or direct labor cost). When you price your labor cost using an hourly strategy, you’ll incentivize your team to work quickly in order to complete more jobs in a day.

Estimating labor costs is more straightforward if you’re a solo entrepreneur. For example, if you set your hourly rate at $30 an hour and the job will take a full 8-hour day, you should estimate $240 in direct labor costs.

4. Estimate overhead costs

Your overhead costs are any additional expenses that keep your business operating, and they usually take up around 10% of your total costs. These could include:

  • Business equipment (including computers and tablets)
  • Office rent & utilities
  • Reusable painting tools
  • Liability insurance
  • Taxes
  • Software subscriptions (for painting business management software like Jobber)
  • Vehicles, fuel, and maintenance
  • Travel time to the job
  • Marketing and advertising

READ MORE: Guide to marketing your painting business

Most of your overhead costs are likely monthly or annual, so it can be hard to calculate what your overhead will be for one specific job. You can estimate overhead costs for one specific project by finding your hourly overhead rate.

To calculate your overhead costs per hour, use this formula:

Total monthly overhead ÷ # of billable hours per month

Let’s say your overhead costs for the month are $5,000, and your team works 800 billable hours every month. Your overhead cost per hour would be $6.25.

To calculate your overhead costs for one specific project, multiply your hourly overhead rate by the number of hours your project will take. If you have a 2-day, 16 hour paint job, your overhead for the project will be $100.

READ MORE: Apps for painting contractors to help you streamline your workflow

5. Get your total cost estimate & add markup

Now that you’ve figured out your material, labor, and overhead costs, add them together to get your total cost estimate.This is approximately how much you can expect to spend on the project.

To decide the total price you should charge for your paint job:

  1. Make your cost estimate (material + labor + overhead costs)
  2. Choose your desired profit margin
  3. Calculate your markup
  4. Cost estimate + markup = total price for the job

Let’s say you’ve estimated the following costs for a paint job:

  • $380 for paint and materials
  • $170 for labor
  • $90 for project overhead

Your cost estimate for this job is $640. Now, you need to set a price for the client that’ll bring you enough revenue to profit from the job.

Decide what you want your operating profit margin to be—that’s the difference between your revenue and your costs after a job.

Here’s how you calculate your operating profit margin on a job:

(Revenue – cost) ÷ revenue

In this example, if your costs are $640 and you charge the client $800, your operating profit margin is $160, or 20%.

To meet that profit margin, you need to add markup to your estimated material, labor, and overhead costs. Markup is the difference between the cost to you ($640), and the amount you charge to the customer.

If you charge your client $800, you’re charging 25% more than what the job cost you. That 25% is your markup.

How much do painters usually charge?

On average, interior painting contractors charge between $1.50 and $3.50 per square foot. Prices average around $1.50 to $3.50 for walls only and $3 to $4 if you include trims and ceilings. The U.S. national average cost to paint a home interior is between $951 and $2,906.

Exterior painting services can cost $2 to $4.50 per square foot, and an average of $1,700 and $3,700 per house.

Your painting estimate will depend on typical painting contractor pricing in your region, as well as job-related factors like:

  • Square footage of the house
  • Number of stories in the house
  • Location of the house
  • Conditions of the walls, windows, and other surfaces
  • Paint and material prices
  • Amount of coats you need to paint
  • Amount of prep work required

If any of these job conditions demand more labor than expected, write them on your final invoice where you outline the work you’ve done. When it’s time to charge your client, use a painting invoice generator to easily add your services as line items on your invoice.

Pro Tip: Check what other painting contractors in your region are charging to make sure your pricing is competitive. If their websites don’t have pricing information, try calling for a quote.

READ MORE: Is an estimate a contract?

Build an effective painting estimate

Understanding how to estimate painting jobs properly and send detailed quotes will help you win jobs, set clear expectations for your customers, and drive profit.

A detailed quote should describe all the work you’ll do before, during, and after the paint job. It also needs to look professional and include you and your client’s contact details, your company branding, terms and conditions, and any special discounts or rates.

You can add that level of detail with quotes in Jobber—and when you’ve built your quote, it’s easy to send it to clients and get approval online.

Originally published in October, 2019. Last updated on March 4th, 2022.

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