How to Paint the Outside of Your House

Painting the house with white paint.
What You'll Need
Lead test kit
Power washer
Paint scraper
Wire brush
Tack rag
Latex caulk
Oil base primer/sealer
Finish coat paint
Single edge razor blades
Professional quality paint brushes

Painting the outside of your house is a very broad subject. There are many types of houses covered with different types of paint: oil base or latex. Some have aluminum or vinyl siding, which may have been painted already. There are also homes that have aluminum or vinyl siding which you may wish to paint over for the first time. There are also different types of windows which may or may not require painting, and different procedures for each type. Houses built before 1979 also may be covered with lead base paint, which is physically harmful to the do-it-yourself painter as well as the environment, and especially harmful to children. Special protection and procedures are required when dealing with lead base paint. And no matter what type of house or paint, much care must be taken to use ladders safely. In this article, I will cover the basic procedures for all types of houses.

Step 1 – Determine Paint Type

The very first step in painting the outside of your house is to determine if the existing paint is oil base or latex. To do this, moisten a rag in denatured alcohol and rub the paint with it. If some of the paint shows up on the rag, your house is covered with latex paint. If no paint comes off on the rag, it is oil base paint. You have to use the same type of paint to repaint. If you paint over oil base with latex, the finish coat will soon peel off in large strips. If you really want to use latex over oil you can, but you have to first cover all of the oil base paint with an exterior oil base primer/sealer. With this done, you can paint over the sealer with latex paint.

There are test kits to determine if there is existing lead base paint. You can buy lead base test kits at the hardware or paint store. Check an area where the top coat has peeled in order to get to any possible coats of lead base paint. Even if the top coat or coats of paint do not contain lead, the original coats may be lead base, which is dangerous to health and the environment, and special handling and protective gear is necessary. More information on lead based paint can be found here.

Step 2 – Prep the Walls

Before painting the exterior of your house it should be power washed. This is a simple process, but there is some nuance to it. You can find all the info you need here.

Since you’re thinking about painting the outside of your house, you probably already have some paint peeling off. Use a triangle scraper to remove the loose old paint. A lot of people use a wire brush after this, and it can be very effective, but be careful not to score the surface you’re painting over. Next use a medium grade sandpaper to sand down the peeled areas, and “feather” the edges of the peeled area. If the existing paint is gloss or semi-gloss, you need to sand the entire house by hand with medium sandpaper to break the surface of the paint before applying a finish coat. Any bare wood must be primed. There are many types of exterior primers, but I recommend an oil base primer/sealer. First, remove any dust from sanding with a tack rag. A tack rag is a cloth rag permeated with a sticky substance, and is very effective in picking up and removing dust.

Step 3 – Prep the Windows

For painting the exterior of windows, there are basically three types. There are the old style, consisting of wood sashes holding glass. The second type is metal or fiberglass with inserts on the interior of the windows. These do not need to be painted, but you may wish to paint them for a color change. For the old style, scrape out any loose putty and prime the wood that is exposed by removing the putty. Let the primer dry for the time recommended on the can of primer. Buy some glazing compound (putty), and use a putty knife to fill in any missing areas. Let the putty cure for several days and prime any new putty. There will be dust and chips of paint and putty in the window sills. A battery powered, small hand vacuum is helpful with this, followed by wiping several times with a tack rag.

After sanding and priming everything, you are ready to caulk. Caulk all cracks and holes. Caulk around windows and woodwork. Use a high quality latex caulk. Do not use a clear silicone caulk, as it will not accept paint.

Step 4 – Paint the Windows and Trim

After preparing the windows and allowing any primer to dry, you are ready to paint. Paint onto the glass 1/16 of an inch and use a single edge razor blade to remove the paint on the glass. Do this preferably the day after you paint, but don’t wait more than two days. If you allow the paint to sit on the glass too long, it will be very hard to scrape off.

If you are painting the newer steel or fiberglass windows, still paint 1/16 of an inch onto the glass. It seals the window. Many of the newer style windows have interior inserts that mimic the look of the older windows and make it appear as if there are many smaller windows rather than just the larger one. You can easily remove these inserts to paint the exterior, wiping off any paint that gets on the interior with a clean, dry rag. You can even paint these inserts on a rainy day in a garage or basement, thus not losing work time because it is raining.

The third type of window is vinyl. These are becoming more and more popular. They come in a variety of colors, but they cannot be painted.

Step 5 – Paint the Walls

When painting large areas with latex paint, the brush strokes will show. Latex paint dries up very fast, so apply only as much as you are able to give a straight line brush stroke in one stroke without removing the brush from the surface. Don’t try to do too large of an area, as the latex paint brush strokes will show up. Work from one side of the wall to the other, always overlapping your strokes as you go, to create an even surface. Plan on painting at least two coats.

You may wish to paint aluminum or vinyl siding, and this can be done without priming if the siding is clean and free of mold or mildew. If the siding has mold, power wash it and use a soft car cleaning brush to remove the mold and/or mildew.


Now a word on ladder safety. When using a step ladder, never stand on the top surface, as you may lose balance and fall off. The warning is there for a reason. The same goes for the last step before the top of the step ladder. When using an extension ladder, always have an assistant hold the base and put their foot on one of the bottom two rungs to keep the base from kicking out and allowing the ladder to fall. When placing an extension ladder on uneven ground, you have to put something under one of the lower feet of the ladder as a shim to make up the difference. Don’t use something as small as a brick, get larger pieces of wood or stone block that won’t slip or shift under your weight. Never use a ladder alone.