Exterior House Painting Tips

Painting the exterior of your home is a huge undertaking. There's a lot of surface area out there, and failing to properly prepare and cover each surface will result in paint that peels and flakes all too quickly. To do the job right, there are some simple steps to follow.

Evaluate the Condition of Your Home

  • The south side is invariably the worst because of sun exposure. Run your hand over the siding. Is there a chalky residue? Then you must power wash the house. Acrylic paints will not adhere to the chalking. Power washing will also take care of dirt, mildew and some loose paint. They are inexpensive to rent.
  • Check under eaves, along soffet and on the north side of your home for mildew. Generally, mildew won't grow where it's sunny, but it loves shady, moist spaces. Mildew will bleed through your new paint. To get rid of it, use a commercial mildew removal solution or a strong solution of bleach. You can also ask at the paint store about mildew-resistant paints or additives that can be used with any paint to kill mildew.
  • With a screwdriver, poke at the trim to check for rotting wood. Any wood that remains damp for extended periods may rot. Check windowsills and doorsills, wood siding close to the ground and soffit that may get damp from water backing up in gutters. Replace anything that's rotted. Clean and align the gutters while you're there to remedy the problem.
  • Take note of any rusted metal on your home.
  • Carefully inspect any trim that's made of pine. Lower grades of pine will have knots that ooze sap. This must be sealed before you paint, or the sap will discolor the paint.
  • Check for wasps, bats and squirrels. You don't want to have a close encounter with wildlife while you're up on a ladder.

Make a List of Work and Supplies Needed

Only use good quality tools and materials. Cheap tools and paint cost in time and touching up what you thought you saved with that bargain price.

Supplies could include:

  • Power washer
  • Wood primer
  • Rust inhibiting primer
  • Scrapers
  • Caulking and a good caulking gun
  • Exterior spackle
  • Sandpaper and a sanding block or palm sander
  • Brushes, rollers or sprayer.

Preparation

If your house is relatively clean, without mildew, chalking or excessive failing paint, you do not need to power wash. Hose it down to get rid of dirt and cobwebs, and scrub grimy areas with a large brush.

If you power wash wood siding and trim, take care not to gouge the wood. You can remove a lot of loose paint from wood surfaces. When it dries, you will still need to do some hand scraping. Metal, aluminum and vinyl siding can often be completely stripped of failing paint with a power washer.

Moldings may need to be carefully removed and scraped down by hand to remove old layers of paint. If you have a newer home, it may be simpler to buy new moldings to replace existing ones. Avoid the temptation to paint over existing coats on moldings, especially if they're already thick with several layers or paint. Each additional layer of paint obscures the detail in the moldings, making them lose their impact. The exception to the rule is egg-and-dart moldings found on older homes. These are made of pressed plaster, not wood, and they should be left in place if they're intact. Most egg-and-dart moldings were custom pressed for each job, and they cannot be restored or matched without the help of a skilled plasterer. Synthetic versions are now available, but these won't match existing moldings.

If you are replacing any trim or siding, prime it on all sides before installing. After primer is completely dry, caulk joints and cracks. Use exterior vinyl spackle to fill knot and nail holes. Spot prime the spackle. There's no need to prime caulking. Allow caulk and spackle to dry completely before painting over it.

Bare wood and rusted metal should be primed with the appropriate primer. If you have knotholes, prime them with a material that's designed to seal in the sap.

All surfaces must be completely dry before using oil-based paints or primers of any kind.

Despite what the paint can label says, you can paint acrylic primers or paints on damp wood, as long as you let it dry fully between coats. In fact, this is preferable to painting bone dry wood on a hot day, because it will penetrate much better.

Unless your house was last painted in the 1970s, assume the current paint is acrylic. You do not have to sand all glossy areas. Do sand your front door to ensure it is smooth and pretty. Built-up paint can be sanded smooth around the edges; this is time-consuming and a palm sander works best. Be aware that wood is softer than paint and it's easy to gouge the wood.

Using flat paint on the body of your house will minimize irregularities. Satin or semi gloss is best for all the trim.

Start painting

The fastest way to get the body of your house painted is with an airless paint sprayer. They can be rented from rental yards and many paint stores. Most houses can be sprayed in one to two days, even if you have never done it before. It's actually rather fun. You will also lay on a heavier coat of paint this way.

Take great care to cover and mask windows, bushes and anything else you don't want painted. Don't try spraying your gutters because overspray will drift onto the roof and you'll never get rid of it.

Be aware that paint can drift quite a distance, even in a light breeze, so make sure vehicles are parked well away from the house.

If you don't spray, use a high-quality three- to four-inch brush and a roller, and work from a five-gallon bucket with a grid, instead of a pan. Brush first, then roll. Paint the trim last.

Tape clean rags to the top of your ladder so you do not mar the siding when you're painting the trim.

Use two coats, especially over primed and weathered areas.

Not only will painting your house make it look wonderful, you are protecting the surfaces from further deterioration, sealing energy-losing gaps with caulking and improving your home's value.

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