Any way you look at it, the entrance to your house is a snapshot of how you take care of your home. Sun, rain, and winter can take a toll on your exterior staircases. Whether the staircase is new, old, wood, or concrete, the stages of refinishing are virtually the same. The biggest difference would be what kind of paint to apply after all the prep work is done.
Step 1: Gather Materials
Take stock of all the things you will need. The worst part of any job is getting halfway through and discovering you don’t have something you need to complete the job. Gather your materials, which would depend on whether your staircase is wood (the most common) or concrete. The basic items you'll need for either kind of staircase are listed in the "Tools and Materials" section.
Step 2: Prep your Staircase
If you're refinishing the staircase, the prep work is the hardest step, but also the most critical. If not done correctly, you will be doing it all over again next year. If it's fresh new wood or concrete, you will have to let both the wood and/or the concrete cure before you can paint. New wood has moisture in it and needs to dry. The same goes for concrete.
Be sure to protect any plants or other areas around the staircase with a drop cloth. You will also want to protect yourself by putting on your safety goggles before you start scraping.
Scrape away any old paint flakes. If you want a fresh clean substrate, then use paint stripper to remove all layers of old paint. Scrape again. Rinse well with clear water. Repeat if necessary. A good stiff scrub brush will work well along with a mixture of one quart bleach to one gallon of water to remove any mold or mildew. Rinse again.
Let dry for at least two days. Wood is porous and will hold water. If not completely dry, your new paint will blister and peel. A good sanding will smooth out any rough surfaces. Sanding should also be done if the wood is new. New wood has a natural finish that comes from milling the lumber that could impair the acceptance of primer or paint.
A word of caution…do not use a pressure washer on wood. It’s tempting because it could make the job easier, but a pressure washer can damage wood. It will lift off the layers, but will make the wood swell so that it won’t accept paint very well.
Step 3: Fillers
Fill any gaps or cracks with the proper filler (wood filler for wood steps and concrete repair filler for concrete steps). Let dry. Sand down (for wood) to the level of the stair surface. For concrete, use an epoxy filler (exterior grade) or concrete repair filler. If you use the epoxy, make sure to overfill a bit because it will shrink as it cures. Let either filler cure per the manufacturer’s directions.
Step 4: Primer
Prime, prime, prime! Your wood (or concrete) is bare now. It needs to have a primer applied. The primer does two things: it seals the surface from further damage, and it prepares the surface to accept the new layer of paint.
An oil based primer is the better choice for wood as it soaks into the wood instead of just lying on top of the wood. It protects better and lasts longer. Wood expands and contracts with weather conditions, and since the oil is more pliable it will move with the wood.
Step 5: Paint
Paint on your color. A good paint will allow expansion and contraction with the changing weather conditions. Ask your local paint guru which variety has some flexibility without cracking and which will work best with the type of staircase you have. Most of today's paints can be tinted to the color of your choice. You can either match your house color, or use a contrasting color and really zip up the curb appeal of your home -- I have even seen an American flag painted on a staircase. The landing was the stars and the steps were the stripes. How unusual would that be?
Whatever you decide, a fresh coat of paint on the staircase leading to your home will definitely increase the welcoming effect it will have for years to come.