This is a question that comes up a lot. Unfortunately the answer is, “It depends.”
The inside of a typical home will usually have at least three areas that get trim: around the windows and doors and baseboards. Many carpenters charge fixed rates per window or door and often use a per foot price for base. This rate may also vary based on the material that is being used. For painted MDF this rate may be half of what it is to install stain grade trim or real hardwood trim. With paintable MDF, the fit does not have to be as perfect as with stain grade trim, (though a good carpenter tries to get both tight and clean looking) and minor imperfections with MDF can easily be caulked and painted and it will still look great. I have seen rates of $30 for molding per window, to over $100 per window. Doors are sometimes even more.
Variation in Material Cost
MDF is cheap, at least compared to wood molding. Wood molding can also vary in cost. Clear pine is one of the more common stain grade materials and can run from $.50 to $1.50 a lineal foot, compared to the $4 -$5 per stick for comparable MDF. If you’re working with hardwoods like Oak, Maple, or Cherry, the price can go up dramatically. I have seen tall hardwood base molding that has exceeded $12 a foot. These are prices for “off the shelf” molding.
As a trim carpenter and custom woodworker I have also cut and milled custom molding for some clients. This molding can vary from simple bevel cut pine, to built-up profiles using multiple pieces of hardwood. With these installations I normally calculate a per-foot price to “build” this molding, that covers finishing as well. Installed pre-finished molding is a great time saver.
Special Trim and Other Concerns
It’s the number of corners and cuts that add up. Some carpenters charge per corner or “joint” ($20 to 25 ea.) If you expect your carpenter to be a furniture mover as well, be prepared to pay for it. Crown molding and stairs are areas that are a little tricky. These installations command higher rates due to the more complex nature of the install. While installing simple baseboards (in an empty room) can done quickly and inexpensively (average rate of about $2 a foot), installing trim in a stairwell and up along a 10’ ceiling in a room full of furniture is way more problematic, and therefore more expensive.
With new home construction, a trim carpenter’s job is much easier, as the room is usually empty and often he is set up with his miter saw in the same room, simplifying things even more. A lot of detail work is done when the stock is used and marked in place, eliminating errors due to measuring and transfer, for this type of work a piece may be finessed and cut a few times to “sneak up” on the perfect fit. It this is being done in an upstairs closet…and the saw is outside in the garage…the number of trips in and out and up and down can add up quickly. With work like that, you can see why many carpenters prefer to do “new” work rather than “remodel” work.
Exterior window trim, doorways, roof and fascia trim make up the bulk of exterior work. Along with the usual measuring and cutting, the exterior trim carpenter is also doing a good chunk of this work from a ladder, and here it is often a two man job. Aligning the end of a 12’ long fascia board for a perfect scarf joint is all but impossible from the middle “one man carry” position. A body is needed at each end. Doors and windows are pretty much a “one man job,” but long stock quickly becomes a two-person job. Sometimes this second set of hands is the homeowner, which is great for both cutting costs and keeping him involved in the process.
Not All Homes are Created Equal
A couple of years ago I installed a lot of base and door trim for a client. The base trim was straight forward and pretty easy. The door trim however was a pain. This home was owner-built (previous owner) and for some oddball reason 5/8” drywall was used on all of the interior walls instead of normal ½”. Thicker 5/8” drywall is normally used for extra fire protection in garages, this would not have been a problem if the door jambs were sized for it, but they were not. So each door had to be reset to one side and a ¼” jamb extension installed on the other side before the trim would fit flush. The end result looked great but it was a lot of extra work. The moral of this story is that the cost of installing moldings depends on many factors, including the thickness of the drywall.