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10 House Painting Rules You Should Never Break

No home improvement project revives, protects and beautifies a house as quickly, effectively and affordably as exterior painting. A new coat of paint can completely transform a house and, though painting a house can be a big job, it’s a project that can be completed in a week or two.

painting house with roller and brushLisa F. Young / Shutterstock.com

If you hire a professional painter, expect to pay from $1000 to $4500 or more, depending upon the size and condition of your house. By doing the work yourself, you can save the labor portion of the cost—typically more than half—but it will take some serious effort.

Regardless of whether you hire a pro or do it yourself, painting your house is something you won’t want to repeat in a few years. With this in mind, here are nine critical rules that will ease the work and help ensure a beautiful, lasting result.

1: Don’t skimp on materials. Pay for top-quality paint, primer and caulking compound. Top-quality paint lasts longer, and flows and covers better than poor-quality paint. Buy paint that has a lifetime warranty against defects in the finish.

With most house paint, you get what you pay for: The best ingredients are expensive. High-quality exterior paint typically costs from $35 to $40 per gallon—in fact, you can pay up to $70. Choose 100% acrylic paint.

Top brands recommended by Consumer Reports include Behr Premium Plus Ultra Exterior, sold at Home Depot, and Clark + Kensington Exterior, sold at Ace. Both contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds) below federal limits. Both performed well in Consumer Reports’ tests that simulate 9 years of outdoor exposure, and both cost from $35 to $40 per gallon. Other top-performing brands include Sherwin-Williams Duration Exterior and Benjamin Moore Aura Exterior—pricier at about $68 per gallon. For complete ratings, visit ConsumerReports.org.

Flat finishes, preferred for siding, do a good job of hiding defects and irregularities. Satin and semi-gloss enamels, used for trim, are more durable and easier to wash.

2: Do the necessary preparation. For paint to adhere well, it must be applied to a surface that is clean, dry and not flaking or peeling. Depending upon the condition of existing siding and trim, this often means considerable scraping and sanding may be required before you can paint.

Begin by washing the surfaces. You can use a hose and a scrub brush with water and detergent, or a pressure washer. If you use a pressure washer, you must be careful not to drive water deeply into the joints between siding or erode the surface of the wood with the high-pressure water spray.

To remove loose, flaking paint, you’ll need a scraper. Then, for removing tougher paint and smoothing the surface, a 5-inch disc power sander or a random-orbit sander will work well. Start with 60-grit sandpaper and follow-up with 100-grit sandpaper. The idea isn’t to remove all of the paint—just remove loose paint and smooth the surface. Use a putty knife and wood filler to fill cracks and holes. Let the filler dry, and then sand these areas again. Brush off all of the dust, caulk the joints, and allow the caulk to dry before applying primer.

3: Beware of old lead paint. Though today’s house paints do not contain lead, old paint applied before 1978 is likely to contain lead.

According to the EPA, “Common renovation, repair, and painting activities that disturb lead-based paint (like sanding, cutting, replacing windows, and more) can create hazardous lead dust and chips which can be harmful to adults and children. Home repairs that create even a small amount of lead dust are enough to poison your child and put your family at risk.” For lead testing and removal, the EPA recommends that you contact local lead-safe certified renovation contractors, which can be found through the EPA’s website.


4: Don’t skimp on coats of paint. Begin with a high-quality oil-alkyd primer if you’re painting over bare wood or metal. Some painters like to tint the primer toward the final paint color to minimize the need for two finish coats of paint. Others prefer to tint the primer to a contrasting color, which will highlight any spots where the final coats haven’t completely covered.

Apply the first finish coat and, after it becomes tacky, apply a second top coat.

5: Use the right tools, including a high-quality brush, roller and—for some houses—an airless sprayer, which can be rented at most home improvement centers or tool rental outlets. The easiest way to apply primer and paint to textured surfaces is to spray it on with an airless sprayer, and then back-roll it by hand with a roller to ensure adhesion.

If you have never used an airless sprayer, pay close attention to the equipment’s directions and gain a little experience by painting a less-conspicuous side of the house first. Work from a 5-gallon paint bucket and use a paint strainer so paint doesn’t clog the sprayer.

6: Be realistic. Don’t paint your house yourself unless you have the time, tools, skills, and stamina to do the work. Though saving half the cost of the job is a strong incentive, be prepared! Depending upon the size—and height—of your house and the condition of the existing siding, preparing and painting a house yourself can be a tedious, difficult job.

7: Wait for temperate weather. Don’t paint on hot days, in the rain, or during windy or dusty weather. Ideal for painting are temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees F. Hot weather causes the paint to dry too quickly, as does direct sun so, when possible, follow the shade. Temperatures below 50 degrees may prevent the paint from adhering to the surface properly. Dampness or dew can bubble surfaces.

8: Cover and protect decks, shrubs, gardens, plantings, patios, and walkways from paint spills and splatters with drop cloths and/or plastic sheeting. This will save you from big cleanup problems later. If you use an airless paint sprayer, masking and covering will be absolutely imperative. Be very careful of overspray—it can coat your neighbors’ cars!

9: Paint using proven techniques. If you plan to do the work yourself but you’re a novice, do your homework. You can find lots of free information on the Web, including videos by pros and experts that show specific techniques. Work from the top down, starting with overhangs so fresh paint won’t drip on newly painted surfaces. Paint the siding, and then, when it is dry, mask around windows and doors, and paint the trim. As soon as you’re finished painting the trim, remove painter’s tape or masking tape so it won’t leave a residue. After all of the paint has dried, touch-up “holidays” where paint hasn’t covered fully.

10: If you hire a pro, get bids and references. Request detailed bids from at least three painting contractors, and ask them for the names and phone numbers of satisfied customers. Call two or three of those customers or, if possible, visit their homes to inspect the workmanship and confirm the customers’ satisfaction.

This article, written by Don Vandervort, first appeared at USNews.com.

How to Use a Power Paint Sprayer

Though the debate continues over whether a spray-painted finish is as durable as one that has been painted or rolled on, there is no disputing that using a power sprayer is a real time saver.

An airless paint sprayer makes quick work of painting shingles, lap siding, or other irregular surfaces. Photo: Graco

Sprayers are a particular convenience for surfaces that would be difficult to paint otherwise, such as shingle siding, latticework, and other surfaces that are textured or have multiple planes.

When you use a paint sprayer, you must meticulously protect surrounding surfaces with plastic and dropcloths. And do not even consider using a sprayer outdoors if it is even a little breezy. Also follow these tips:

* To achieve a uniform spray with the least amount of pressure, practice on a large disposable surface, making adjustments until the setting is right.

* Spray the surface straight on in overlapping strips with the gun about a foot away. Move the sprayer smoothly, about 3 inches per second. When you get to the end of a strip, release the trigger and then engage it again as you reverse direction, taking care not to swing your arm. A steady hand and a consistent pace will produce an even coat.

* Do not take longer than 15-minute breaks or the paint in the sprayer will begin to harden. And when you do take a break, set the safety lock. If you must take a longer break, or you are done for the day, clean the paint from the sprayer after turning off and unplugging the unit.

* Pay attention to all recommendations posted with the sprayer. Always wear safety gear, including gloves and goggles, and protective clothing such as a durable long-sleeve shirt and long pants. A respirator is essential gear because paint is airborne. A paint sprayer is a powerful tool—if a jet from a paint sprayer hits a part of the body, it can drive the paint underneath the skin.

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Should You Stain Siding?

Whether you are staining a deck, exterior trim, or siding, the job is easier than painting because no primer is required and it is easier to apply stain than paint.

Natural wood siding can be painted or stained. Photo: Weyerhaeuser

Natural wood siding can be painted or stained. Photo: Weyerhaeuser

New wood, wood that has previously been painted and then is sanded, and wood that has previously been stained can all accept stain.

Even though staining is an easier project than painting, it needs reapplying more frequently than paint because it fades more rapidly. The time between recoatings can be lengthened by adding a second coat, but be aware that this may darken the stain, so test it on a sample piece of wood or in an inconspicuous area first.[GARD align=”right”]

If you are able to apply a second coat without compromising the color, this will also help hide any lap marks, which staining is prone to get from the brush because of how fast it dries.

Whenever you are working with stain, stir it frequently as the pigment that gives it its color settles to the bottom rapidly and can result in an unevenly colored surface.

Preparing Exterior Trim for Painting

Step-by-step DIY tips to help you in preparing exterior trim for painting, from cleaning to sanding to stripping the woodwork.

When it comes to damage from sun, rain, and wind, one of a house’s most susceptible elements is its wood trim, and few things look shabbier than cracking, peeling paint.

paint exterior trim

Classic San Francisco Victorians proudly display colorful exterior trim.

At the very least, preparing exterior trim and siding for painting involves thoroughly cleaning, lightly sanding, and priming the surface. It may also require scraping, stripping, reglazing, wire brushing, filling, and caulking.

Preparing Exterior Trim for Painting, Step-by-Step

Start by scrubbing off all dirt and chalking paint with a scrub brush and a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP). Rinse the trim thoroughly, and allow it to dry completely before preparing the surface for primer and paint.

Primer seals the surface and provides a base to which the paint can adhere. Slow-drying alkyd-base primers are your best bet. On partially bare wood, apply two coats of primer. To help the paint cover, have your primer tinted with some of the finish color.

Here are some other things you may have to do to prepare your trim for paint:

1) Disc sand the fascia, graduating from rough- to fine-grit paper. Wear safety goggles and a dust mask or respirator.

2) Blister the paint with a heat gun, and then peel it away with a putty knife. Keep a hose nearby as a precaution.[GARD align=”right”]

3) Tap out old window glazing compound that is cracked or brittle.

4) Power sand the windowsills with a palm sander, graduating from rough- to fine-grit paper.

5) Fill cracks and holes with a vinyl exterior spackling compound, and sand the surface when dry.

6) Spread new glazing compound along the window frames at an angle and let it cure.

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Preparing Wood Siding for Painting

Proper preparation is key to painting wood siding successfully. If the existing siding is in good shape, the only preparation necessary may be thoroughly washing it. But if the existing paint is cracked and peeling, you’ll need to remove it to a point where the surface is flat, smooth, and free of the old, failing paint.

When hosing down the siding, be careful not to force water into the joints between siding boards. In some cases, you can use a power washer to clean the surface, but, if you do this, be very careful not to drive water into the wood or the joints between siding boards, and don’t erode the wood’s surface with the powerful blast. (Washing alone is often not enough to remove mold or mildew from the surface. For more about dealing with this, see How to Remove Mildew From Siding.)[GARD align=”left”]

Power sanders can be used to smooth the edges of scraped areas or to clear an entire surface of paint. For big jobs, such as sanding down an entire home’s siding, a commercial-grade, 7-inch sander works best. You can buy one at a home improvement center or rent one from an equipment rental company.

Sanding is accomplished in two stages. First, the paint cover is completely removed with coarse sandpaper-60-grit is recommended. This will leave cuts in the wood, so these must be smoothed with medium sandpaper (100-grit).

Sanding is a meticulous process that requires the following precautions:

• Make sure the sander is running at full speed before touching the wheel to the surface.

• As you bring the sander into contact with the wall, lean on the tool slightly until you hear the motor slow, and then keep moving it along the surface so you do not gouge the wood.

• Keep the sanding wheel at a slight angle (5 to 10 degrees) to the wall; otherwise, the wheel will spin out of control across the surface.

• Discard sanding disks as they become clogged with paint; otherwise, they will actually burn the surface.

• Do not use a power sander in the rain.

To scrape small areas of peeling paint, a paint scraper, putty knife, or molding scraper is sufficient. If you are using a power sander to remove an entire finish, use these tools to scrape areas that the sanding wheel cannot reach, such as corners and other tight spots.[GARD align=”right”]

To be sure you loosen as much paint as possible, scrape areas of loose paint from every direction; sometimes old paint that’s scraped from left to right seems solid but comes off easily when scraped in the opposite direction or up and down.

Place two hands on the scraper and keep it flat to avoid gouging the wood. If you do happen to create gouge marks, sand them down or fill them with a vinyl exterior spackling compound so they will not show through the new paint job.

If the paint that remains after scraping has high or rough edges, sand, or “feather,” them with coarse sandpaper to make them less noticeable.

Damaged sections of siding will need to be repaired or replaced. (For more about repairing wood siding, see How to Repair Wood Siding.)

Upon completing the steps shown here, dust off the sawdust and caulk any open seams. Prime any bare wood with a latex primer that is tinted toward the finish color, and allow the primer to dry thoroughly before starting to paint.

1. Scrub surface with stiff-bristle brush


1Hose down the siding, and then scrub it with a stiff-bristle brush mounted on a pole. Clean the area with a solution of water and tri-sodium phosphate (TSP). Because this solution is caustic, do not use it on bare wood, and always wear rubber gloves and safety goggles when using it.


2. Scrape and sand the siding


2Scrape any loose paint, and use a power sander to remove large areas of paint. When using a sander, work in 3-foot sections at a time. Move the sander horizontally across the top of a board, in a wave-like pattern across the middle, and horizontally along the underside of the lip.


3. Fill holes and gouges


3Fill any holes or deep gouges, using a putty knife to apply vinyl exterior spackling compound. (Use a matching wood-toned filler if you intend to apply a semi-transparent stain.) Allow the spackling compound to dry.


4. Sand until smooth


4Use a sanding block or a palm sander with 100-grit sandpaper to sand each patch until it is smooth. Finally, sweep away residual dust and scrapings.

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How to Paint Stucco Siding

The beauty of stucco as a siding choice is that it already contains its finish color when applied, and the look usually lasts for years. Eventually, however, the surface begins to show signs of age and must be painted.

Mask windows and doors with painter’s tape and plastic sheeting before painting stucco walls.

If you just want a change for aesthetic reasons, keep in mind that once stucco is painted, it will need to be refreshed periodically.

Like any surface, stucco must be clean and free of cracks, holes, or other blemishes for paint to adhere to it. To clean stucco that is sound, simply scrub it with a stiff nylon brush and detergent. If it has previously been painted, scrape it with a wire brush or with a scraper if it has a smooth finish.[GARD align=”left”]

Apply 100% acrylic latex paint. For more about paint, see House Paint Buying Guide.

Scaffolding makes the job of painting a two-story home much easier than painting with ladders. Edw / Shutterstock.com

Scaffolding makes the job of painting a two-story home much easier than painting with ladders.

New paint may have trouble adhering to previously painted stucco. To give the surface some “tooth” for the new paint to grip, “scratch” the stucco with a wire brush.

If the previous paint is in serious disrepair, you may want to sandblast the surface; this is best done by a professional. Pressure washing is not a good idea because it can damage the stucco. If you notice patches that look like they have a white powder on them, see How to Fix Chalking Paint.

Protect windows, doors, and fixtures from paint by masking them with plastic sheeting and and painter’s tape.

Stucco siding can be spray painted, but you’re more likely to get better paint adhesion by applying paint with a roller that has a nap suitable for the texture of the wall-the bumpier the texture, the thicker the nap. For best adhesion, brush-in the paint with a wide nylon-bristle brush.


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