The news broke yesterday, and today it is official – residential painting contractors in Michigan no longer need a builders license to operate. This sounds bad – checking out a contractors license is a vital step in the vetting process. How can consumers protect themselves without being able to verify the contractor they have chosen for their paint job know what they’re doing? Lucky for you, Hire it Done has a handy dandy guide to choosing a great painting contractor, and getting a hassle-free home improvement experience. But first, we need to talk about WHY this may not be such a bad thing.
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Painting Isn’t Structural
Most painting projects do not involve any change to the underlying structure. Therefore, forcing painting contractors to go through training around building and construction principles seemed a little like overkill for the types of work they typically do. Yet this was the standard that was applied to residential painters in Michigan. Licensing requirements vary widely across the country, and up until now, Michigan’s were among the most restrictive on the books.
On paper, that seems like a good rule for consumer protections but what happened in practice was that many painting contractors either ignored the requirements or simply were not aware. That means that the protections for both the contractor and the homeowner were at risk. A contractor performing unlicensed work gives up legal standing and a homeowner who hires an unlicensed contractor often has little recourse through official channels. Removing the overly burdensome licensing requirements for painters solves that problem. But what about consumer protections? How can homeowners protect themselves and their home when hiring a painter?
Is Everyone A Painter Now?
No licensing requirements mean that technically anyone who picks up a paintbrush can call themselves a painting contractor. That doesn’t mean you should believe them. Finding a great painter is not as easy as looking for someone with paint stains on their clothes – here are some concrete steps you can take to make sure you are getting a professional.
Painting may seem simple – pick a color, grab a brush and go, right? Wrong – great results start with great prep. Paint is a coating, and the surface being coated must be painstakingly prepared to get the best results. You want someone with at least 5 years experience in residential painting, but don’t stop there. Just because someone is a great painter, doesn’t mean they run a great business. They should have a residential painting company that has been in business under the same name for at least 5 years, as well.
We can’t say this enough. Yes, of course the contractor is going to provide you references that will give them positive reviews. Check them anyway. Of course, if you use a Hire it Done contractor, we have taken that step for you. Here’s a secret – since we already know they will give the contractor a great review, we ask specific questions like “Were there any issues that came up during your project”? “If so, how did the contractor solve them”? This often leads to a better understanding of the contractors communication style and can give you insight into how they work most effectively.
Test Their Product Knowledge
With painting, the proper tools and product knowledge are almost as important as the prep. That is not to say that there is ONE right way, or correct set of tools. What we mean here, is that the contractor should not be experimenting with new techniques or unknown products on your project. A professional residential painter will almost never get their paint from a big box store or a discount store. They should be purchasing paint from a trade-focused source, like Sherwin Williams, or a pro Benjamin Moore dealer like Teknicolor paints.
Professional painters should be familiar with which crew members are best at prep or spray (two very different skill sets), what kinds of paint are best suited to your project (Oil, Latex, Low VOC, Enamel, etc.), and how to effectively apply them (brush, roll, spray) for both the paint type and the site conditions. Professional painters are usually very happy to talk about why they prefer a natural brush over synthetic for enamel paints, why the texture of a heavy nap roller can be a lifesaver, or how they set up their sprayer to get the best finish. It shows a passion for the work and thoughtfulness around the end result.
Painting is messy. It is also one of the last steps before the project is finished. Protecting the work area is important – you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where your paint looks awesome, but the overspray has killed your lilacs or ruined your new flooring. Ask the contractor to walk you through exactly how they will protect your home and belongings from potential damage while they are there.
License requirement doesn’t mean that insurance is waived. A residential painter should have liability insurance of AT LEAST $1,000,000 and proper workers’ compensation coverage. If your contractor is using subs, check their insurance as well. If they aren’t properly covered, you the homeowner, could have the liability.
One final note – just because a license is no longer required, doesn’t mean the work doesn’t require a permit. Usually, with painting, no permit is required. The rules vary from city to city, though, so check with your local building department.
We have created a guide sheet you can print and fill out to ensure your painting project is hassle-free!
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