freshly finished unpainted drywall with can lights in the ceiling

Kendall "aka Renos"

Founder, Lead Instructor of Renos 4 Pros and Joes and Bathroom Update Guide

When to Paint During a Remodel or New Construction

I’m standing here in the living room of a partially completed renovation project. We passed all of our rough building inspections a week and a half ago. The drywall was installed last week and now the carpenters are installing trim, including doors, window casing, and baseboards.


No matter how many times  I complete projects similar to this one, whenever I get to this point, I always find myself debating and asking myself the question, “Should I paint before or after electrical is complete?”


The short answer is complete all interior painting first, then finish electrical. If you are completing a remodeling project that does not involve rewiring the house, this should be a pretty straightforward decision because you are able to use the existing electrical service for power for lights, heat and tools.


But what if you are completely rewiring a house, or you are building a new house? In both of these scenarios, power will likely be limited to only a few circuits until you pass your electrical final. And that is assuming that you have temporary power at the jobsite. Keep reading as we take a closer look at this common remodeling and building scenario. We will try to answer a few more questions so that we make the right decision and we will also cover a few some valuable tips and best practices.


Painting can be a messy process even for professionals. And as a result of this fact painters typically spend a great deal of time prepping the areas where they will paint before they get started with any paint brushes or rollers. They have to cover every surface where they don’t want to get paint. In many instances, the prep work makes up a substantial amount of the overall time it takes to perform the paint project.  


new freshly finished drywall


New Electrical Work

For these reasons, it is preferable to paint interior ceilings walls and trim before finishing electrical trim work. When the painters paint before electrical is completed they don’t have to remove switch plates and outlet covers.  They don’t have to power outlets and switches. They don’t have to tape off and wrap overhead light fixtures in plastic. And when they begin to actually paint they don’t have to cut in around the outlets and switches or ceiling light boxes.


Old Electrical Work

As we just mentioned the decision of whether to paint first or complete electrical work is more easy to make if you’re doing a partial remodel that does not involve upgrading electrical wiring in the property.  The main reason that decision was easier is because you still have use of the existing electrical outlets and overhead lighting and power to the house in general. This is a major advantage because it makes the painting process much easier.


The painters don’t have to worry nearly as much about overhead lighting because you already have light fixtures there in place. If they need additional likes to illuminate the space this is easy as well because you have outlets throughout the property that can provide power. And if you have power and light there’s a good chance that you also have heat.


Temperature is a huge factor if you are painting in the fall and winter time. If the temperature in the room is below the paint manufacturers specified temperature range then you will probably have some difficulty painting. This is true even if the temperature starts out within the paint manufacturer’s specified temperature range, but falls below the temperature range before the paint has time to dry.


If you’ve ever painted when the temperature is too cold then you know that it can turn into a complete mess.  The paint that has been freshly applied two walls or trim can begin to sag and slide off the painted surface!


Replacing Old Electrical Work.

In addition to having the use of the existing electrical system, the painters also have the added benefit of not having to be as careful when they paint. If the outlets and switches and light fixtures are being replaced, this can speed things up.


Paint Ceiling before or after Downlights

If you are installing can lights as part of your project the type of can light your installing will help determine when you should paint your ceilings.  If you are doing a renovation or new construction you have the option of installing and laying out your light fixtures during the rough-in phase of the project.   This phase occurs before drywall is installed and it will be very easy for the electrician to install the can lights at this time. However, if you’re doing a remodel and the existing ceilings will stay in place then you will most likely be installing what is known as a remodel can light.


New Construction or  Remodel Can Lights

The main difference between the new construction can light and the remodel can light is the way that the light is supported.  New construction can lights are attached directly to the ceiling joists or framing. Remodel can lights are held in place by clamps on the light fixture that use the drywall to support the weight of the can light.


Should I Install Recessed Lighting before or after Drywall

Both new construction and remodel can lights should be installed before painting the ceiling. This should come as no surprise for the new construction can lights since they are typically installed before drywall. But remodel cans are also easier to work with before painting.

Painting is a task that is associated with finishing work. Once paint is applied you don’t want to have to cut into the ceiling in order to install the can lights. Additionally, if you make a mistake and miscut, the painter is going to have to return to repair the drywall and then repaint that area of the ceiling. And that’s assuming that you get lucky and he can make the repainted area match the rest of the ceiling. If not, the entire ceiling may have to be repainted.

Now there is one instance where you could wait to install your can lights until after paint. And this is a very recent development as new types of can lights come to the market. There is a new style of LED can lights that does not actually have a can. The light essentially functions like small flush mount light.  The working components can easily be slipped through the ceiling whole for the light fixtures and into the ceiling out of site. But even if you end up using this type of fixture, it still makes sense to cut your holes for the lights before you paint, for the same reasons stated for the remodel can lights.


How to Cover Ceiling Lights for Painting

If you have flush mount fixtures or lights that hang down from the ceiling you can use painters plastic to wrap the light fixture in its entirety and then use tape to hold the plastic ends place. If you have can lights you can use either paper just stuff the can light holes and prevent paint from going in or you can use a can light stuffer which is a product that does the same thing.


Paint Ceiling with Ceiling Fan

If for some reason you already have a ceiling fan installed and you’re preparing to paint your space you have three options. the first option is to use painters plastic and wrap the entire fan and then use tape to hold a plastic around the housing where it is closest to the ceiling.

The second option is to remove the blades from the fan and then wrap the motor and the rest of the housing and painters plastic and tape. This will make it easier to paint up close to the fan and will also make it easier to wrap. Your third option and perhaps the least desirable is to completely remove the fan from a ceiling installation and then paint.