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Okay, so you want to paint the inside of your house. Should be a pretty simple process, right? Well, it can be. See, painting is one of those things that's easy for anyone to do, and very easy for someone to do badly. But if you know a few things before you get started, you can get a professional-looking result without having to pay professionals to do it.

The first thing you need to consider is what kind of paint you're going to use - latex or oil-based. For most people's needs, latex is the best choice. It dries quicker, it cleans up with water, and it's generally cheaper. Oil-based paint is tougher once it dries, but that can take up to 8 hours (or more depending on humidity.) The fumes from oil based paint are also more potent than those of latex, and can cause dizziness if you don't have adequate ventilation. You'll also need to get some kind of paint thinner or other mineral spirits to clean it up with. Mineral spirits include things like turpentine and oleum (and if you think the paint smells bad, wait until you smell these!)

So why would anyone use oil-based paint? Well, it's more commonly used in institutions where the walls get dirty often and require a lot of washing and scrubbing. Under these kind of conditions, oil-based paint will last more years than latex. It's also used to paint metal surfaces, as it will adhere better. But unless you need it for these purposes, go with latex.

After you pick out the color of your paint, you'll need to pick out a finish. Finishes typically come in these varieties: flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. A finish basically determines how shiny your walls will be. This is somewhat of an aesthetic choice, but you should keep in mind that a semi-gloss or gloss paint is usually easier to clean and will last a little longer if you scrub the walls. Flat and eggshell finishes tend to get smudged and marked up a bit more. A glossier paint will also reflect more light, making the room brighter. For these reasons, most people choose to go with semi-gloss. If you're wondering, "Why not just go with gloss?" -- well, again, it's about aesthetics. A gloss finish is usually too much for most people, as it makes the walls very shiny. Many paint stores will have samples of the different finishes so you can see for yourself and decide.

Ok, so now you have the paint, but you still need to prepare the walls. The most important thing is to make sure the walls are washed. Clean them with a sponge mop or damp rags or whatever it takes, but get them clean. Paint tends to adhere better to surfaces that don't have dirt or dust on them.

The next thing to do is look for places where you have paint chipped off, revealing layers of older paint underneath. To get a smooth-looking finish for your new paint job, you have a couple of options. The straight-forward one is to get some sandpaper and sand the chipped area down until the edges are smooth. If the area is large, though, all that sanding can get tedious. Instead, get some spackling compound and a flexible putty knife. The idea is to cover the edges of the chipped area with the spackling compound, giving it an illusion of smoothness. After the spackle dries, it is very easily sanded - you can go over it lightly with some sandpaper to work out any unevenness. Spackle is also useful for filling in nail holes and such things.

The next step in the painting process is priming. Primer serves two purposes - it allows for better adhesion of the paint, and it covers up dark marks so that you only need to put one coat of actual paint over them. If you are putting the first coat of paint over drywall or plaster, you must paint the wall with primer first. Otherwise, not only will your paint have a hard time covering the wall, but in a few months time it might start peeling off. If you are painting over a light-colored wall, you probably do not need to put primer over it. If you have a few spots where you have, say, something written on the wall in permanent marker, put primer over just these spots, and it should cover them up quite nicely. If you are painting over a very dark color that will probably require two coats of paint, you may want to consider priming the whole room first. Primer is cheaper than paint, and it is probably more economical to cover a room with a coat of primer and a coat of paint than it is to put two coats of paint on it.

So now you're ready to start painting. Make sure you cover your floor with tarps or drop cloths, and put masking tape over window sills, baseboards, and those kinds of things. Have a rag accessible in case you need to clean up any drips. Use a brush only for painting against the edges and corners of the walls; for everything else, use a roller. To get an even finish, use these techniques:

For the brush, always paint in a side-to side motion when painting against a horizontal edge, and an up-and-down motion when painting against a vertical edge. Never dip the brush all the way into your paint; the bristles should have paint no more than a quarter of the way up. When you dip the brush, always dab off a little bit on the inside of your can to ensure you don't have too much paint on your brush. Putting too much paint on a small section of the wall will result in ugly drips and runs.
For the roller, use the "square method." After getting paint on the roller, make a diagonal stoke on the wall. Then, work the roller back across the diagonal you just made with an even up and down motion, until you get back to your starting point and have made a square of paint on the wall. This method insures you get a nice, even distribution of paint in a very efficient way. (If you ever watch professional painters, you'll notice that this is probably how they do it.)

So there you have it - all the information you need to do a professional-looking paint job yourself. Like anything else, painting requires practice. Start out slow, don't rush it. Once you get used to it, you'll realize that it may not be easy to do a good job, but it's really not that hard either.