Plan Your Exterior Painting Project

a man paints the outside of the second story of a house yellow

Painting is one of the most common home improvement jobs that homeowners decide that they can do themselves. There is a good reason for this - they can! While it may take you a little bit more time than a professional crew, with the proper preparation and with the right tools, you can refresh the look of your house. Not only will you be improving the aesthetic value, but you will be protecting the surface of your home's siding and trim from harmful weather damage.

Once you have made the decision to paint the exterior of your home, there are a few things that you should know before you begin.

Surface Preparation

There aren't many things that are more important than properly preparing the surface to accept the paint. This step will make or break your paint job. If the surface isn't clean, dry, and free of debris, then your new paint won't stick. No matter how expensive it is or what the label guarantees about coverage, it just won't.

It can be a little tedious, but go ahead and spend the money on a heavy scraper and get busy knocking off all of those loose flakes of paint. Take a wire brush and scrub off any old cobwebs that may be stretched across your siding and use it to break loose the mildew that tends to grow on the shady side of your house. Borrow your neighbor's pressure washer and remove all of the dirt from the foundation and salt residue that the snowplow may have blasted up against the side of your house that faces the road. Any and all of these steps will greatly improve the life, look, and quality of your paint job.

Watch the weather

It may sound a little obvious, but check the weather. Most cans of paint will tell you right on the label how long the paint will take to cure, and some even tell you how long the paint must not be rained on for. Make sure you look at the long term forecast, and if it's bad, don't paint - even if it means you have to wait until next weekend or you lose your volunteer help. There is no sense in spending money on paint only to watch it all wash down the storm gutter, leaving your house a mottled mess.

hand removing ivy from a wall with a scraper

Which paint?

Ideally, the person who built your house left a can of the original paint in the garage or basement. If this is the case, use the same thing. Paint sticks best to itself. If you can't find the original product, make sure that you at least determine if the product that is already on your house is latex or oil based. You should not put one over the other. If you do, it will begin to peel off in sheets in a very short amount of time. The best way to find out what you already have is to grab a sheet of sandpaper and run it over an inconspicuous place on the house. If the paint begins to roll up into little balls on your sandpaper, then it's latex. If it gets dusty and chalky, then it's oil.

Brush? Roll? Spray?

This really depends on the type of house you are painting. On a house with horizontal siding, a big 4" brush is the way to go. A brush allows you to work paint into all of the crevices and creates a much more even coat than a roller would. It also allows you to work up underneath the bottom edge of the siding a little bit. Obviously, you would also need to use a brush on any trim work. A 2" angle brush works well for window and door trim.

If you are dealing with a masonry surface like stucco or brick, it is advisable to roll the surface. Get a roller head with a thick nap like 3/4" to 1". This will allow the head to hold a lot of paint and will also allow it to work a little better into the natural pits that occur in masonry surfaces. If you have access to a sprayer and are in an area where it can be safely done without worrying about overspray landing on your neighbor's car, then that is the way to go. You will still want to use a roller in a technique called backrolling. Immediately after you spray the surface, go back over the whole face with a wet roller to balance the paint coverage. If you don't, the surface will most likely look streaky after it dries.

Drop Cloth

True, you are outside and there is no way for you to spill paint on the carpet while you are out there. But even if you spill paint on an inconspicuous spot in the grass, you will step in it. After you step in it, you will walk on your pristine front walkway. Wire brushing a painted footprint up off the sidewalk is not fun. Do I need to say more?

Clean Up

Take the time to read all your labels before you start and make sure that you have the necessary supplies for clean up before you begin. If you are using oil based products, make sure that you have plenty of mineral spirits on hand. This is an important step to remember because, if you don't have the supplies to clean your tools handy, you probably won't clean them at all. A painting tool that is left sitting around for a few hours full of paint becomes trash worthy very quickly. So if you want to preserve your tools for next time, make sure clean up is included in the planning stages.