Although it was more than 30 years ago, we still can visualize our parents, Morris Sr. and Alvera, perched on ladders meticulously painting the ceilings in the living room and dining room of the home where we grew up.

The Mediterranean-style home, built by our contractor grandfather at the turn of the 19th century, had 12-foot coved plaster ceilings with intricate plaster cornices and a decorative wood picture rail. It was a nightmare to paint since the cornices and picture rail were painted a different color than the base color of the ceiling.

Mom and Dad had had plenty of experience painting and making home repairs around the old house. It was amazing to watch them transform the dingy ceilings — tainted with soot from the oil burner in the basement — into a work of art. We credit our fascination with remodeling to our folks.

They taught us early on that a top-of-the-line paint job is the result of good planning and job preparation along with top-quality tools and materials. After more than 20 years as remodeling contractors, we couldn't agree more.

Preparation (cleaning, scraping, sanding, patching and priming) accounts for well over three-quarters of a good paint job. Taking your time and using high-quality patching products will yield the most professional results. Remove as much loose paint as possible (down to bare wood, if necessary) using a scraper. Fill uneven surfaces and damaged areas with an exterior grade vinyl-spackling compound, let dry, sand smooth and spot prime with an oil-base primer-sealer.

When choosing paint, let price be your guide. The less expensive the paint, the harder you will work. If you enjoy painting, go for the bargain-basement stuff — you'll get plenty of practice. The notion that you can end up with one-coat coverage that will last five or more years for $5.99 a gallon is wishful thinking. Plan to spend $20 to $25 per gallon for your acrylic latex paint.

Water-base latex paint is the first choice for interior and exterior walls and ceilings. It is user-friendly and makes for easy soap-and-water cleanup.

Oil-base paints are best for painting exterior and outside doors and trim, the laundry, kitchen, bathroom and other damp areas. They are more moisture-resistant, have a tougher finish and are easier to keep clean. They cost about 20 percent more than their latex counterpart. Unfortunately, most do-it-yourself painters shy away from oil-base products because of their strong odor and because mineral spirits are required for cleanup.

Regardless of the paint you choose, the tools you use to apply it (brushes, rollers, paint pads) can mean a better-looking job with less effort.

The elements to consider when choosing a brush are the paint (oil or water), the finish (smooth or textured), and the size of the object being painted. The latter will determine the size of the brush or roller to use.

When painting with oil (or solvent-thinned paint or stain), use a Chinese bristle brush made from natural animal hair or hog bristle from China. These are more expensive and should not be used in water-based finishes. With water-based paints or stains, use a brush made of synthetic bristles such as nylon, polyester or a combination.

If you're painting a large, flat surface such as a flush door, cabinets, baseboards, woodwork, beams, fences, gutters, stair steps and shelves, a 3-inch brush is best. Use a 4-inch brush for larger flat areas such as siding, walls, ceilings, paneling, floors, and fences.

When painting windows and trim, and shutters use a 1- to 2-inch trim brush. There are two types. One has bristles cut straight across and the other cut at a slight angle to the ferrule. The sharper pointed edge of the angular sash brush allows precise trimming or fine-line work. Also, the brush handle is long for pencil-grip control.

Roller covers are used when there is a need to spread much paint over a large area. Though the standard roller cover is 9 inches wide, they are available in various widths. When roller shopping, you will notice a difference in the length of the nap or fibers. Some roller covers have a short, smooth surface while others have a long, bushy look. A roller with short nap is designed for smooth surfaces whereas long nap is best for rough or textured ones.

Aside from the size and the length of the nap, fabric type determines which roller cover is best to use. As with paint brushes, a roller cover can be made of natural material such as mohair or man-made polyester. Mohair, woven to prevent shedding, works especially well when used with polyurethane, oil-base enamels and solvent-thinned paints and stains.

A word to the wise — use a quality roller frame. They have a compression-type cage, also called a "bird cage." Compression frames are convenient because they grip the cover securely, yet covers can be removed quickly and easily. The roller handle should be "beefy" and have a threaded end to accommodate an extension pole for painting walls, floors and ceilings.

Formed paint sponges and fabric-covered paint pads have become popular in the past few years. We have found the foam sponges to work exceptionally well for minor flat wall touchup or for small craft projects. We don't recommend them for serious painting jobs where quality is a concern. The same goes for fabric-covered paint pads. They are well- suited for applying stain or varnish to smooth surfaces such as a deck or hardwood floor, but are not especially effective for applying paint.

A tip: Save time and wear and tear cleaning up paint-covered brushes and rollers at the end of a day by wrapping the brush or roller cover in plastic food wrap and placing it in the refrigerator. Remove the brush or roller the next morning, allow it to get to room temperature, and continue where you left off.

For more home improvement tips and information visit our Web site:

Readers can mail questions to: On the House, APNewsfeatures, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020, or e-mail