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Does a Room Get Smaller When you Paint it?
The other day I finished painting my daughter's room; I converted the bland white walls into a bright pink facade fit for my little princess. While my wife inspected the overall look of the room, I stood there wondering how much the room had shrank because I painted it (yeah I'm an odd one). I was curious about how two things in particular. 1) How much smaller (physically) did the room get when the paint was applied, and 2) Why did the room feel smaller?
What is the Thickness of Paint?
With literally thousands of different types and brands of paint it's difficult to determine a single value for the average thickness of dried paint. In general there are two types of residential paints available to the consumer: ones that are oil based and ones that are water based. Then there are exterior and interior paints. There are also generally 5 different finishes (or sheens) that the paint can come in: flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. In addition to this, the thickness of the paint also depends on it's age, whether the wall is primed or not, how you actually apply it to the wall, and, obviously, how many coats of you apply.
Aside from purchasing a paint thickness gauge (PTG) and finding out the thickness for myself experimentally, I decided to take a less scientific approach and calculate the thickness based on a paint's advertised coverage area. I derived the following formula to calculate the paint's thickness (in millimeters) based on the advertised coverage area for one gallon of new paint:
Where A = the coverage area (sqft) & T is the paint's thickness (mm) - (for 1 gallon of Paint)
Given that paint coverage generally ranges from 250ft2 to 400ft2, the thickness would also vary from 0.101mm to 0.162mm. Based on my research and my calculations, the average paint thickness for new interior water based paint is 0.132mm. This is the number I will use in my analysis later on in this article.
Can Color Influence a Room's Size?
When painting a room it's obvious that the choice of color is a major decision. Choosing the right color is not often that easy and may require taking samples and test painting certain areas. Wall color is probably one of the most important factors in determining what the overall tone and feel of a room is (does it feel like home or like a dungeon, etc). It's also a factor that influences how well you sleep, your mood when you wake up, and even how often a couple gets intimate. Moreover, wall colors can greatly influence how big or small a room feels when you are in it.
Based on my research regarding colors, it's generally accepted that the darker the color of the walls the smaller the room will feel. Since how people see and feel things is different for everyone, the "size" of a room based on color is subjective and it cannot easily be quantified. This conclusion is inline with what I felt when I looked at my daughter's finished room. The bright pink room did indeed feel somewhat smaller than when it was white. For more information on this, check out this great article from A. Allbright Painting.
My Daughter's Room
Now that we know all about paint and colors, I wanted to see how much smaller her room became because I painted it. Unfortunately, I did not keep track of the exact amount of paint I used when I painted my daughter's room. I also spilled some like an idiot. Therefore, I will have to use the average paint thickness value I computed above to determine the physical difference in size that the room underwent during the color change. At right is the floor plan of my daughter's room.
The actual measurements of the room are slightly different than that shown on the plan. The ceiling height of the room is 96 inches. Subtracting 2 inches for the floor trim, the height of the wall that was painted was actually 94 inches. Based on this information, I covered 293sqft of wall area in pink paint. This means that the room lost approximately 219 cubic inches (or 0.127ft3) of volume simply by painting it.
My wife didn't quite like the amount of pink in the room and decided to cover the bottom half of the walls with a denim wallpaper (meaning that she decided that I had to do it). The denim wallpaper rose to a height of 36 inches and therefore covered 120sqft. Using a micrometer I measured the thickness of the wallpaper to be 0.28mm. This means that the room lost an additional 190.5 cubic inches (or 0.110ft3) of volume because of the wallpaper.
In total, the room lost 409.5 cubic inches of space (or about 0.237ft3) of volume because of the wall coverings. That's actually quite a bit of space! If you've read my article about animal speed, you'll know that this amount of space is nearly equivalent to the volume of three average sized domestic cats! So it's interesting to think that my daughter's room did get smaller when I painted (and wallpapered) it. And because you know you want to see it, here is a picture of the finished room (yes I hand painted the Guess logo).
Given that the average American bedroom has a floor area of 144sqft (12ft x 12ft) with 8ft high ceilings, you would lose approximately 0.17ft3 of space when you painted the walls. If you included the ceiling as well the total volume lost increases to 0.23ft3.
This begs the question, how much paint would be required to literally fill an average sized bedroom? Well, this 12ft x 12ft x 8ft room would require 8,618 gallons of paint to fill and it would weigh over 43 tons. This would require 13,855 coats of paint and would likely take you just over 2 years of continuous painting to apply. Let's hope that you at least chose a good color.
So yes, painting a room does make it physically smaller. Painting with a dark color makes it feel smaller as well. However, if you are claustrophobic you needn't worry as the reduction in an average bedroom's volume caused by painting it is less than 0.015%