How To Paint Your Historic House…Properly

In Choosing Exterior Paint Colors For Your Historic House we discussed how to go about picking the right colors for an historic home. Will you choose colors that are historically accurate to your home, historically appropriate for the time period your home was built or will you just wing it and pick your own color palette?

So, now that you’ve picked your colors and are ready to go, what’s next? The folks at Historic Shed covered that as well and so we’ll walk you through a few things to consider when hiring a painting contractor or for the braver folks who choose to go it alone.

First Things First

Before you start purchasing buckets of paint and 100′ drop cloths you should test your paint colors out on your house. Buy a few small samples and paint them on your house. See how they look at different times of day. You may be surprised. Your about to spend a lot of time and money and it’s best to be absolutely sure you are happy with your choices.

Also, most painters recommend flat paint for the body of your house and satin or semi-gloss for the trim and windows. Make sure your happy with your choice of sheen as well. If your pleased as punch then it’s time to move on to prep.


Anyone can paint a house, but a quality paint job will become apparent as it ages. Make sure you or your contractor properly prepare your house for new paint.

If your house was built before 1978 you’ll need to test for lead paint. If the test comes out positive then you need to hire an EPA certified professional who has been properly trained in dealing with lead paint and the dangers it poses. Assuming there isn’t lead paint you can proceed to prepping the surface.

  1. Wash – Give your house a good washing. We recommend a good rinsing with a hose and a long brush to get the surface thoroughly clean. A pressure washer might cause more damage than you want if there are some soft spots. After the surface is completely dry you can continue.
  2. Remove Loose Paint – Depending on the condition of your existing paint job this might take 10 minutes or 10 days! Paint is only as good as the surface it adheres to and if you paint over loose or chipping paint it will be a matter of weeks before your new paint job starts to fall apart. Paint adheres best to bare wood so for the best adhesion you should strip all the old paint off using a scraper, infrared heat gun or paint shaver; however this will take a lot of time and cost a lot. At the least you want all the loose paint off. Once that’s done you’ll want to sand the rough edges where the paint chipped off to smooth the transitions out.
  3. Repair Damaged Wood – Now is the time to repair your rotted wood. Whether it’s replacing a battered clapboard or rotted trim don’t skip this. Paint will not hold onto rotted surfaces and you’ll wish you had replaced the rot when you had the chance. If the damage is small you can use wood fillers or epoxies. For nail holes wood filler is fine, for larger spots like knot holes or rotted sections I recommend KwikWood or some other epoxy.
  4. Caulk & Prime – Make sure to caulk any gaps around siding and trim junctions. Then spot prime any bare wood or filler/epoxy repairs.

The Big Job

You’re almost there! If you’ve done all the extensive prep we’ve talked about your house probably looks like a mottled mess, but that’s all about to change. Here’s just a few tips for the main attraction.

  1. Buy quality brushes and quality paints. You DO get what you pay for!
  2. Start your painting from the top and work down.
  3. Try to avoid painting in direct sunlight.
  4. Clean up spills and drips quickly before they dry.
  5. TWO Coats! One coat is not enough to protect your house from Mother Nature.
  6. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for drying time between coats. They know best.
  7. Cold or humid weather will slow your drying time so adjust accordingly.

Now stand back and enjoy the fruits of your labor! You’ve just completed a paint job that will stand the test of time. One last tip before we go. Keep some of each color paint for touch ups and color matching. Keeping your paint touched up will protect your house, prevent any further rot, and keep you from having to do yet more repairs!


This series was done in conjunction with Historic Shed which is based in Brooksville, FL (just north of Tampa) and provides affordable traditional wood garden sheds, cottages, detached garages and outbuildings that complement historic homes. You can contact them at or (813) 333-2249

Photos Courtesy 123RF Stock Photo

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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and licensed contractor. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and sons Charley and Jude.


  1. Corbin D. on said:

    You list step 4 as caulk and prime. Isn’t it important to prime before caulking so that the wood doesn’t suck the moisture out of the caulk? And for what reason do you advocate only spot priming, rather than priming the entire area?

    • Corbin, priming before caulking does help with adhesion of the caulk which is always a good thing. Bare wood should always be primed prior to applying finish paint, but priming already painted areas on the exterior of the house doesn’t have much payback in my opinion. Does it help with adhesions? Yes. But unless you are covering oil with latex or vice versa the need for primer is minor.

  2. I strongly disagree that folks need to hire an EPA/RRP certified professional if they discover lead paint. Homeowners can do it if they follow lead-safe work practices ( and clean up properly. The Speedheater Infrared Paint Remover (UL-listed from makes soft curls of paint waste that are easy to contain for thorough and safe disposal. Not everyone can afford the $10,000++++ most contractors will charge. Homeowners can buy quality tools, use their own labor, and do the job as time permits while still protecting their kids from lead poisoning.

  3. KL on said:

    Thank you for this article! We were just going to “touch up” the peeling paint on our house’s wood exterior (by painting over the peeling spots), but after reading this, we’re going to do it properly, beginning with scraping. Thank you for the timely advice!

    • Our pleasure! Send us some pictures when the house is done. We’d love to see the final result.

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