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What You Should Know About Painting the
Exterior of Your Home

Spring is just around the corner and homeowners will soon be seeking advice on how to paint their own home or how to choose a qualified paint professional who can do the work for them.  Either choice can seem a bit overwhelming!   Regardless of the decision, I recommend a few steps that should be taken to ensure a quality and lasting paint job.   First, plan a visit to the professional staff at Benjamin Moore.  These individuals will help you choose the best color palette for your home and will assist you in locating a qualified paint professional, should you need one. 

Before beginning any exterior paint project, I always stress the importance of properly preparing all surfaces.  Doing so will ensure the longest-lasting and most attractive finish possible.  The first step of this preparation should always be a thorough home washing, preferably by hand.  I recommend mixing 1 cup of TSP (Tri Sodium Phosphate) and 1 cup of bleach with 2 gallons of water, stirring until dissolved.   Pour the mixture into a tank sprayer, taking care to avoid the skin and eyes (always wear gloves and safety glasses when working with these types of chemicals).  Wash one side of the house at a time, starting from the top, moving across and down before moving to the next side.  Before brushing on the bleach/TSP mixture, gently spray the house with water using a garden hose.  Then apply the cleaning mixture in sections and allow it to sit for 15 minutes.  Use brushes to scrub away dirt, grime, and mildew from all surfaces.  If the chemicals dry before you begin scrubbing, it may be necessary to reapply. 

Before moving on to the next steps, be sure to lay a drop cloth around the perimeter of the home, extending approximately 6 feet from the walls.  This cloth will make the cleanup process much faster while also keeping dangerous objects such as nails and paint chips confined. 

Next, scrape all peeling paint chips and thoroughly sand all surfaces in order to ensure complete adhesion of the paint to the walls and trim. Seek out and repair any rotted wood, particularly around windows and doors, fill all cracks and crevices with a quality sealant, and fill nail holes with putty.  Apply a primer coat to all exposed wood, metal, vinyl, and raw masonry surfaces, using only primers intended for the particular surface you are working with at the time.  For more information on the types of primers available and the benefits of each, check out my article, To Prime or Not to Prime, or consult with the pros at Northside Decorating.  It is important to note that the house must contain a moisture level of no more than 12% before applying primer or paint.  We use a double-pronged moisture meter and test several areas around the house, paying special attention to the north side. 

Depending upon the size of your home, the preparation alone could take several days, but it is well worth the additional time, money, and elbow grease.  NOW, let’s talk about paint!

The key to a beautiful final coat is attention to detail.  At the Olde Fashioned Paint Company we take great care to ensure all brush strokes are smooth and straight.  We do not typically apply paint via sprayer (painting by hand is our specialty), but when we do, the spray coat is always applied evenly and without streaks or runs.  It is also important to seal all window sashes to prevent sash rot; I recommend a cut-in of approximately one sixteenth of an inch into the glass.   As far as the paint itself, it’s important to choose paint designed specifically for the type of surface to be covered, which sometimes means that several types of paint types will be used for a single exterior home (we recently painted a large home and used eleven different finish paints for eleven different types of surfaces on the structure).   Furthermore, all non-painted surfaces should be fully protected.  Be sure to cut-in or shield shingles and use drop cloths or plastic to cover the driveway, shrubbery, and grass.  Chimney caps, mail boxes, light posts, and rusty gas meters should all be painted as well, in order to make certain the entire residence appears fresh and new.  We also make a point to leave at least one gallon of each type of paint (sealed, dated, and properly noted) for future touch-ups by the client. 

If you choose to hire a paint professional, remember the importance of a sound contract and clear communication.  There should be no assumptions regarding what is covered versus what is not.  The contract should be fairly specific and include details regarding the type of prep work included in the agreed upon price.  Will the painting be done with a brush or sprayer?  Does the price include washing, scraping, sanding, and caulking?  Be certain to ask these questions and again, make certain the contract is clear.



To Prime Or Not To Prime…..That Is The $64,000 Question

Most homeowners understand that a superior paint job begins with quality and thorough surface preparation. What they may not understand, however, is that the primer used can be the most significant component to that prep work.  As a professional painter, I believe it to be of utmost importance to continuously educate myself on the types of primers available.  Paint and hardware stores stock shelves with new and improved primers about as often as Apple© comes out with a new iPhone.  It is critical as a professional to know what is available, and what works, in order to provide the most durable and lasting finish possible. 

When determining which of the countless primers to use, it is imperative to consider the type of surface you are working with.  Universal primers that claim to bond with a variety of surface types are available, however I prefer to use primers made specifically for the type of surface I’m working with at the moment.  For example, in preparing a metal surface for paint, many painters and/or homeowners may choose to use one of these Universal primers, however I will always use a Direct to Metal (DTM) product.  This type of primer is almost always more expensive, but knowing I won’t have to worry about paint failure makes it well worth the additional cost.

Many paint manufacturers now advertise “Paint and Primer” (P&P) products that offer complete coverage in a single coat.  Beware of these claims.  These products have limited capabilities, and if you read the instructions carefully you will find that most suggest using a separate primer before applying the “P&P” product.   I frequently use P&P type paints because they provide such a nice top coat, however I almost always use a traditional primer as a base cover in order to avoid flashing, particularly if the walls have been repaired in any way. 

As I mentioned previously, it’s important to choose the best primer for the project at hand.  Semi-gloss and glossy surfaces such as interior trim work can be extremely difficult for paint to adhere to.  If you are covering an oil-based surface with a latex paint, a coat of bonding primer will always be necessary.  If you are applying an oil-based paint, however, you can probably skip the primer coat and lightly sand the surface instead.   Semi-gloss and glossy latex paint surfaces do not necessarily need to be primed before repainting, however a light sanding is recommended prior to the paint application.  If you are not certain whether the surface is painted with an oil or latex product, you can test it by applying denatured alcohol to a rag and rubbing a small area.  If paint appears on the rag, you know a latex paint has been used.  If the rag is clean, however, it’s safe to assume you are working with an oil-based surface.   

For masonry surfaces, such as brick, block, cement, stucco, and synthetic stucco, I always recommend a specialty primer or P&P intended specifically for these types of mediums.  Unfortunately, many painters and home builders neglect to include a primer coat, and then use standard exterior house paint rather than the appropriate masonry paint.    This shortcut can save hundreds and even thousands of dollars, as house paint is far less expensive; one gallon covers three to four times more surface area than a masonry primer or paint.  The cost to properly cover masonry surfaces with the specialty products recommended here can be quite high, however, you can be certain that the finish will last many more years than with the exterior house paint.  
My advice to homeowners is to always talk to your contractors about the primers they use, and also discuss your projects with the paint professionals at Benjamin Moore. My advice to contractors is to stay educated on what’s available in the marketplace and understand the pros and cons of any new product to hit the shelves.  Doing so makes for a happy client and a more robust bottom line.