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How to Become a Licensed House Painter

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When the economy booms, new construction thrives, and house painters reap the rewards of steady employment. Typically, house painting jobs require minimal education, but many painters advance their careers by taking a house painting training course. Others earn professional painter certification, which can lead to higher wages and more job opportunities. House painters face increased risk of work-related injuries and illnesses and earn a moderate salary. But for many workers, house painting offers an enjoyable career.

Duties and Responsibilities of a House Painter

The job of a house painter goes well beyond dipping a brush or roller into a bucket of paint and applying it to a surface. Before a painting project can begin, a painter must carefully plan the project. First, a painter must discuss the project with clients to determine the color, type of coating, the project schedule and result they want. After negotiating a price with clients, painters purchase paint and supplies from vendors.

Next, a painter must prepare the surfaces that need painting. In older structures, preparation may take more time and effort than the actual painting does, and it can include:

  • Removing artwork from walls
  • Removing furniture or moving it away from walls to the center of the room
  • Covering furniture and floors with dropcloths
  • Erecting scaffolds or setting up ladders
  • Cleaning surfaces that need painting
  • Filling cracks and holes in walls and ceilings with plaster or putty
  • Scraping off old paint and smoothing rough spots with sandpaper

  • Removing doorknobs, light fixtures and electrical outlet and light switch covers

  • Masking windowsills and moldings with tape

Painters have several methods for applying paint coatings, including brushes, rollers and spray guns. In many painting projects, a painter may need to use several methods to complete the job. For example, a painter may spray walls and ceilings and paint windowsills and moldings with a brush. A painter may also paint concrete or wood floors with a roller or apply a stain with a foam brush or cloth. Applying finishes typically involves:

  • Mixing paint, primers and sealers
  • Applying sealers and primers to surfaces using brushes, rollers or spray guns
  • Applying paint with brushes, rollers or spray guns
  • Painting wall moldings and window trims
  • Removing scaffolds, ladders and dropcloths after painting is complete
  • Rehanging artwork and moving furniture to its proper place
  • Reinstalling light fixtures and electrical and light switch covers

The painting profession has evolved to accommodate contemporary interior design elements. Some painters specialize in areas such as faux finishes and wood stains. Others specialize in finishes for wood or concrete floors, which may include staining, glazing or ragging methods that require expert knowledge and skill.

Most house painters work full time. Typically, they work regular business hours, but some work on weekends.

House Painter Essential Qualities

To succeed as a house painter, you must have good color vision to differentiate between color changes. House painters must pay close attention to details to prevent flaws and the physical stamina to climb, bend and reach for several hours. You must have good communication skills and the desire to provide the best service for your client.

Work Environment of House Painters

House painters work indoors and outdoors. Typically, exterior painters work when weather conditions are optimal. However, some jobs require them to work outdoors in the summer heat or during the frigid winter months.

Indoor house painters work under various conditions. Some jobs may involve working in a heated or air-conditioned home or building. But when working on new construction, painters often work in buildings with no heating or air conditioning. Sometimes, indoor painters apply finishes before the installation of windows and doors, which can expose them to drafts and extreme temperatures.

Illnesses and Injuries Associated With House Painting Jobs

House painters face significant risk of on-the-job injuries and work-related illnesses. Many sustain injuries from falling from scaffold or ladders. Constant bending, climbing, kneeling and reaching can lead to muscle, joint and back injuries. They can sustain cuts from tools, chemical burns from solvents and eye injuries from drywall dust or paint shards. Some painters sustain shock injuries when removing light fixtures or wall socket covers.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, long-term exposure to chemicals puts house painters at risk of serious illnesses, some fatal. Common hazardous substances found in paint, paint strippers, paint thinners and varnishes include dichloromethane, formaldehyde and silica, which can cause injury or illness from skin contact or inhaling vapors.

Based on studies by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, painters face an increased risk for urinary bladder, lymphohaematopoietic and lung cancers. Many house painters must remove asbestos, a known cause of mesothelioma, a rare form of abdominal and chest cancers, as well as cancers of the larynx, lungs and ovaries, according to the National Cancer Institute. Painters regularly exposed to asbestos for 10 or more years face the greatest risk of cancer.

The NCBI reports that pregnant women exposed to paint, lacquer and stain vapors may put their unborn children at elevated risk of childhood leukemia. In fact, five studies found that maternal exposure to paint products can increase a child’s risk for leukemia even if the exposure occurs before pregnancy. Likewise, studies have found an increased risk of childhood leukemia caused by paternal exposure to paint substances.

House Painter Training

Most painters learn on the job, but others receive some level of training while taking a construction or maintenance course at a vocational school. Typically, painter training includes applying coatings, matching colors, assembling scaffolding and hanging wallpaper. Some painters enroll in apprenticeship programs, where they learn one-on-one from a seasoned professional. Apprenticeship programs often include pay and require around 2,000 hours of training.

Major paint companies offer on-site and online courses for painters. For example, the Benjamin Moore Paint Company offers several online courses administered by AEC Daily, a continuing education provider for the architecture, construction, engineering and interior design industries.

Benjamin Moore’s Color and Light course explores the properties of light and how it affects color. Students learn about different types of lighting, light reflectance values and how to read a color rendering index, a scale that helps painters understand how light with different color temperatures will affect the visual color of a reference sample.

In Benjamin Moore’s How to Specify Paint course, students learn about paint application standards and paint performance. The course also covers variables in paint specifications and recommended products.

Benjamin Moore also has courses on choosing colors for environments that house the elderly and paint technology that minimizes environmental impact. The Creating Healthy Living Environments With New Paint Technology course teaches students about paint components, LEED categories and provides instruction in sustainable design.

Benjamin Moore offers the courses free of charge. Most courses provide basic information, take about one hour to complete and do not include exams.

The Matthews Paint Company offers no-cost classroom training courses at sites in 14 states, which include classroom instruction, hands-on exercises and a certificate of completion. Matthews Paint designed the course for a variety of roles in the painting industry, including paint line supervisors, paint applicators, paint distributors and sign fabricators. The house painting training course covers topics such as:

  • Safety
  • Paint and primer chemistry
  • Mix station
  • Spray equipment
  • Fundamentals of painting
  • Troubleshooting
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Safety data sheets
  • Substrate cleaning
  • Matthews products

The Matthews classes include training materials, substrate samples, safety and technical information, and breakfast and lunch.

Young people can obtain free house painter training through the Job Corps, a U.S. Department of Labor program. The Job Corps program accepts people ages 16 to 24 who are U.S. citizens, residents of U.S. territories, legal residents and noncitizens who have work visas. Students can earn credentials and leave the training course qualified to enter an apprenticeship program.

Job Corps training includes classroom and hands-on coursework in:

  • Mixing colors for proper consistency
  • Drywall finishing and protection
  • Removing paint for new coating applications
  • Proper brush, roller and spray gun techniques
  • Protecting surfaces while painting
  • Ladder, lift and scaffold safety
  • Environmental safety
  • Painting buildings, equipment, structural surfaces and walls

Professional Painter Certification

House painters do not need a license to practice their trade. Certain industrial painting jobs may require a license in some locations, and if you decide to open a contracting business, you likely will need a contractor’s license. Contemporary architectural designs incorporate materials such as concrete and steel, so some jobs may demand industrial painting skills.

Some painters earn certification to advance their careers. The NACE International Institute, an organization focused on corrosion control, administers a Certified Coating Applicator certification for painters who work with industrial coatings. The program includes online coursework and hands-on practical exercises. It emphasizes the safe handling and application of paint, thinners and application equipment.

The Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) offers online certification courses, as well as live training programs in locations throughout the United States. SSPC’s on-site Fundamentals of Protective Coatings offers a four-year painting certificate and covers:

  • Painting safety
  • Corrosion control
  • Coating concrete surfaces
  • Types of coatings
  • Coating degradation and defects
  • Surface preparation
  • Coatings application

SSPC’s online Fundamentals of Protective Coatings is available in English and Spanish, and it allows students to complete the work over a 16-week period.

SSPC also offers the Protective Coatings Specialist certification for advanced painters. The course teaches coatings applications and surface preparation, and it also covers managerial topics such as:

  • Assessing coatings systems
  • Inspections
  • Developing coatings specifications
  • Contract management
  • Economics of coatings

The Protective Coatings Specialist course takes about four hours to complete and offers a four-year certification.

House Painter Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction workers, maintenance professionals and painters earned a median salary of around $39,000 in 2018. Government workers earned the highest salaries. Painters at the low end of the pay scale made around $26,000, and top earners took home nearly $65,000. Painters working in nonresidential building construction tend to make a little more money than their colleagues in residential building construction.

Painter salaries vary widely by state. In 2018, California painters earned an average salary of more than $49,000, while painters in Florida made around $35,000. Painters in Alaska earned the top average salary, coming in at nearly $56,000.

In the same manner, certain cities pay higher painter salaries than others. In San Francisco, California, painters earned an average salary of more than $60,000, while painters in Prescott, Arizona, made less than $34,000. In the non-metropolitan areas of Hawaii, painters earned an average wage of nearly $64,000 in 2018.

Based on a survey by the career website PayScale, few house painters receive comprehensive benefits packages. Just 10 percent have medical insurance, 6 percent have dental coverage, and only 4 percent have vision insurance. Given the risks and hazards involved in painting, lack of benefits leaves many painters to fend for themselves or rely on government disability benefits if they suffer a work-related illness or injury.

House Painter Job Outlook

Based on a BLS survey, more than 380,000 people worked as construction workers, maintenance personnel and painters in 2016. More than 40 percent were self-employed, and 36 percent worked for painting contractors.

According to BLS estimates, jobs for painters should increase by around 6 percent through 2026, which equals the growth for all occupations. The jobs increase stems from the upsurge in new construction and renovation projects. Since new construction fluctuates with the state of the economy, painting jobs usually decrease during economic downturns.


Michael Evans’ career path has taken many planned and unexpected twists and turns, from TV sports producer to internet project manager to cargo ship deckhand. He has worked in numerous industries, including higher education, government, transportation, finance, manufacturing, journalism and travel. Along the way, he has developed job descriptions, interviewed job applicants and gained insight into the types of education, work experience and personal characteristics employers seek in job candidates. Michael graduated from The University of Memphis, where he studied photography and film production. He began writing professionally while working for an online finance company in San Francisco, California. His writings have appeared in print and online publications, including Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool and Bankrate.

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