New Build House Paint Problems

Judging by recent enquiries it would seem some people are encountering problems when they start decorating their new-build homes, usually a couple of years after moving in.

The most common issue is with paint bubbling and coming off the wall when they redecorate. This may seem an unusual and unexpected problem but, from what I’ve witnessed in the past, it’s surprising to me that it doesn’t happen more often?

Why is the quality of work on new build homes so poor?

The business model of a typical volume house builder is quite simple and goes a long way to explaining why the standard of work is often so shoddy.

First, they buy a plot of land, then they borrow money to build houses on it. This creates an incentive to get the houses finished and sold as quickly as possible so they can pay the least amount of interest and make a greater profit.

This model doesn’t exactly lend itself to quality, especially as skilled tradesmen who take a pride in their work are so thin on the ground. Works, like painting & decorating, are often carried out by sub-contractors on a price per room or per home basis. They do the work in a hurry and inspection by the site foreman is often casual with a blind-eye turned towards a lot of poor practice

And, unlike with some trades, poor preparation doesn’t always become apparent until years later. By which time, everyone has been paid and has moved on, leaving you, the hapless homebuyer, to sort out the mess.

Plastered Walls

With traditional plaster finish walls, the biggest issue is decorating before the walls before they have had sufficient time to dry out.

Contract matt emulsion, the most common type of paint used on new-builds, is microporous, which means moisture in the wall can dry without causing the paint to bubble (as would be the case with the vinyl-based paints you’ll be more familiar with.

However, because the surface of the wall was damp when the work was done, the paint hasn’t properly adhered in the first place so it’s not going to take much for the bond to fail.

Although it’s hard to anticipate when you apply new paint to the wall you’re adding extra weight, coupled with the fact that wet paint is naturally sticky. So you’ll see the old paint actually lift off as you go over it with a roller.

It’s possible to mitigate this by using a large brush instead but, for large walls, it’s not really practical and only leads to more problems at a later date.


A more recent problem is when walls are dry-lined and paint is applied directly to the plasterboard which hasn’t been properly sealed. The boards and the fillers used to level the joints are very absorbent and need to sealed before paint is applied.

Dry-wall sealer is colourless, expensive and takes time to apply, so, obviously, this is a process that’s often by-passed altogether!

As a result, the resins in the paint are absorbed beneath the surface of the board and this means the paint loses a lot of its adhesion properties.

Again, everything looks OK at first but, again, when you try and paint over the walls the original coating bubbles and lifts off the surface.

As you can imagine, this can be quite frustrating and makes it very difficult to redecorate to an acceptable standard. At best, you’ll need to do a lot of filling or, in extreme situations, have to use a thick lining paper to provide a decent surface finish.

Obviously, when you bought your new house you never envisaged having to deal with this problem and the cost and time required is likely to be double or triple what you expected.

Do you have a claim against the builders?

Some building defects are easy to diagnose and photographic evidence is usually quite damning. With painted surfaces though, evidence of poor workmanship is more tricky to prove.

However, if you have experienced the problems outlined above it may be worth making a claim regardless. Mainly because there isn’t any other reason why paint should fail in this manner; it is a defect for which there is simply no technical explanation other than poor workmanship.

You could claim for the extra expense involved in making good the defect and finishing to an acceptable standard.

If you do all the work yourself, any extra time you took off work should be included in your calculations.

Also, it’s unlikely the problem will be isolated to just one room – so take this into account too.


Derick – Retirees, not in the best of health, we bought what we expect will be our last home; a Victorian end of terrace. Reading your very informative site it seems poor preparation, poor workmanship and work done by people who don/t know what they are doing is rife. So knowing nothing about building and decorating ourselves, we employed a professional architect to specify and supervise works. A six figure sum and 9 months later work was completed. But now, three years later we have more damp patches or salts ruining the new decorations in several rooms, peeling paintwork on external masonry, cracking paint on woodwork on window frames! Do we blame our architect or the builder he recommended and what should we expect – if anything- in recompense or rectification? Thank you for listening. READ MORE…

If the architect was supposed to be supervising the works then, yes, he/she would be liable. If he/she is a member of RIBA you may contact them for further guidance.

Otherwise it would come down to the specification of works and, if the spec was right, did the builder follow it to the letter? If you had a direct contract with the builder then the liability would be with him.

I would contact the architect in the first instance and get a copy of the specification. Also check the wording of the contract regarding his/her supervision.

It’s likely the works were correctly specified and the builder has cut corners, applying paint finishes before the fabric of the building has fully dried-out.

Using cheaper materials than were specified is another trick that’s often employed. Supervising builders on site is a bit like being a night club bouncer at times and it’s not unusual for an architect to turn a blind eye in order to avoid any conflict.

Also, check your home insurance policy as sometimes there is cover for legal expenses included.

Sam – Hi there, I’m currently repainting the downstairs of my house but I’m having issues with the paint developing tiny blisters everywhere as it dries. Read more…

It’s definitely not damp, and so far I’ve tried switching between different types of rollers and a paint brush, painting slower, switching primer and switching paint – nothing seems to stop the blisters forming. If I try and pop them they just start peeling and it peels off the entire paint that was there before I started painting – it’s driving mad!! Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated!

Darren – The original coating has not adhered to the surface which is a common problem nowadays. Likely the paint was applied directly to plasterboard/dry-lining or onto a damp plaster surface.

All you can do is make a claim against the builder which they will deny despite offering no plausible explanation.

Mark – Just checked our new build house. White emulsion to all walls but on some walls when I touched them I got a white powder /dust only hands. I checked other walls n got nothing on my hands. Site manager said you always get white dust with matt ! I have used matt (diy) over 30 yrs and never had this. Read more…

Darren – On new build it’s normal to use contract matt which has no vinyl content (unlike most DIY paints) and this can explain why you are getting a bit of powdery residue. To say it always happens is a bit of a stretch but it could be a plausible explanation, particularly if they’ve used a very cheap brand or over done the watering-down.

Vicky – I have recently moved into a rental property. Disappointingly we have found it not to be in the best cosmetic order. But I am concerned as all of the walls and ceilings have ‘chalking’. Even when just touched with a dry finger to test. And wiping definitely makes the problem worse. Other than complete redecoration, is there a solution? Is it safe? read more…

Darren – Hard to say without seeing the problem but it could be down to natural drying-out (assuming it’s a new building)?

I would get in touch with the building owner before doing any work yourself. It is going to be an expensive undertaking to redecorate and may not solve the problem. Regards safety, it’s not going to have any adverse effects on your health that I can think of?

Siobhan – Luxury New build painting and decorating of a poor standard in my property. I have requested a spec for the work carried out and how it was measured. Builder says the decorating standard is fine. And has ignored my request. This I dispute. Can you please advise? Read more…

Darren – You’ll need to gather evidence to back-up your claims of poor workmanship and supervision. Clear photographs and, if possible, written evidence from neighbours and/or anyone involved in putting the work ‘right’.

You will also need to itemise any costs incurred, including your own time (maybe based on your usual hourly wage) plus any other expenses. Write to the chief executive of the company setting out your complaints and your intention to claim for damages in the county court. It will help your case if you give them an opportunity to rectify the works, if not done so already.

Ultimately, you may have to follow through with your threat but once you have made it clear you’re not bluffing the builder will probably want to settle.