Fall is by far the best time to paint a house in most locations. The cooler, drier weather allows the paint to cure properly and also makes the work more enjoyable rather than suffering through the summer heat or spring showers.
Keeping your house painted is the best way to keep issues like rot or termites at bay and should be a regularly scheduled part of your maintenance every 10-20 years depending on your climate and the condition of your paint.
If you let a paint job go too long you run the risk of damage to the underlying structure AND increased costs for more involved surface prep. Heavy sanding, scraping and carpentry repairs can be budget busters so keeping your house painted regularly is a time and money saver.
Picking a Color Scheme
Before you do anything you need to start shopping for colors. Today there is an almost endless choice of colors for house paints. I have put together a listing of dozens of historic paint palettes and manufacturers on my free resource page Historic Paint Colors to help you find the right colors for your house.
While you should start with color swatches nothing beats seeing the color actually on the house. Once you have some ideas of the colors I would have your house virtually painted. Virtually? That’s right, it’s a pretty cool process you should definitely try!
My friend Ken over at OldHouseGuy.com offers Virtual House Painting where you send him a picture of your house and he photoshops your color choices on the house so you can see exactly what your colors will look like. The cost for the service ranges from $375-$425 usually and only takes a couple days. Bonus: Get $50 OFF any Virtual House Painting if you my mention my name when you book!
That is a sound investment to make sure you or your painter have a perfect template to work with. Virtual painting helps avoid mistakes when the painter is wondering where one color stops and another color starts and makes the painting process go off without a hitch!
Prepping Like a Pro
My grandfather was a painter and he always told me “the paint job is in the prep.” Anyone can slap some paint on a wall but only a meticulous person can make it last a couple decades. The secret to a lasting paint job is the proper prep. I’ll go through the steps we use for the best preparation and therefore best looking, longest lasting paint job you can get.
If your house was built before 1978 you’ll first need to test for lead paint. If the test comes out positive then you’ll either need to hire an EPA certified professional who has been properly trained in dealing with lead paint or you’ll need to follow the precautions listed in my post Working Safely With Lead Paint in an Old House.
- Wash – Give your house a good washing. I recommend a good rinsing with a hose end sprayer and a long brush to get the surface thoroughly clean. A pressure washer can cause more damage than you think. Read 4 Reasons You Should Never Pressure Wash Your House. Give the house at least a couple days to dry out. Even if the wood isn’t wet to the touch it may still have too high of a moisture content to hold paint. Checking with a moisture meter is the best way to be sure it is ready for paint. You’re looking for a moisture content below 15% for wood before painting anything.
- 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 ProScraper, Speedheater or chemical stripper; 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 down the rough edges where the paint chipped off to smooth the transitions out. And keep the remaining paint from peeling further.
- 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 or weathered surfaces and you’ll wish you had replaced them when you had the chance. Any grey weathered wood should be sanded until it reveals healthy brown wood again. If the rot 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 Abatron WoodEpox.
- Caulk & Prime – Before you start caulking everything spot prime any bare wood or filler/epoxy repairs with an oil-based primer. For extra adhesion prime everything including the old paint. While not always necessary it results in a better finished product. Next, make sure to caulk any gaps around siding and trim junctions. My caulking plan is to caulk all vertical joints. Horizontal joints between siding or above and under doors were designed to be left open in most causes in order to accommodate for movement of the wood and to allow water to drain out. For gaps 1/4″ or larger you’ll may need backer rod before caulking to help the caulk bridge the gap.
Applying The Paint
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.
- Buy quality brushes and quality paints. You DO get what you pay for!
- Start your painting from the top and work down to avoid repainting any spills or splatters.
- Try to avoid painting in direct sunlight because it can cause poor adhesion and uneven drying.
- Clean up spills and drips quickly before they dry.
- TWO Coats! One coat is not enough to protect your house from Mother Nature.
- Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for drying time between coats and don’t rush re-coating even if it feels dry to the touch. Hurrying the 2nd coat is a sure fire way to get peeling paint that doesn’t adhere.
- Cold or humid weather will slow your drying time so adjust accordingly. If temps are forecast to fall below 50 degrees then it’s best to hold off on painting until you can have temps consistently above that threshold.
There you have it! The right way to paint your house. Don’t settle for a bargain basement paint job because the short term savings inevitably ends with greater long term costs. As with anything, doing work the right way is expensive and time consuming, but in the end very satisfying.
Paint brushes up!
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
12 thoughts on “A Better Way to Paint a House”
Great article. Do you think its acceptable to use cheaper paint for the primer and quality for the final coats?
Not really. A good primer is meant to prepare the surface for paint.
Properly cleaning of the house before and after is really important for effective work. Nice post… Thank you for sharing the post.
I have used the 4 coat system for years. After all the prep is done I apply 2 coats of the best primer for the job and 2 coats the best paint for the job because from year to year the products change. I have had houses look great going on 20 years.
Excellent information throughout this site. Somewhere you recommend painting the exterior of a historic home in the fall. Elsewhere on other sites I read that temperature and humidity can effect the quality of the paint job. I am looking outside right now at poor quality on my 1922 Bungalow someone did in the past. The home is located in Louisiana. Chips, peeling, and brush marks on the west side walls are the worst and where the daily sun is most intense. What are your thoughts/tips for painting in a high temperature/high humidity location such as the deep South?
Thanks so much for reading our blog. Our company is actually located in Orlando, Florida which is also incredibly humid and hot so anything that we’ve found works great for us will probably have a great chance of working well for you as well! I hope this is helpful for you. Have a great week!
-Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog
Thank you for the tips you shared and I hope to read more techniques on how the proper way in painting. Great job!
This list is great, looking forward to these ideas and inspiration for a savvy home. I recommended it actually to my wife since we are planning to renovate our home. However, in every home there should be a home inspector – like for us, we have encountered problems and defects on our home and you should add Inspect East for your house inspections melbourne. You will be safe from any house problems plus you gotta refresh in a cozy surrounding with these painting tips. I found their site a few months ago and I definitely would recommend their quality service. It’s http://www.inspecteast.com.au if you are looking for home inspection services.
I am painting a 1885 house in South Carolina, mostly bare weathered gray wood, don’t know when the last time it was painted, probably 40 years but in good shape. Should I use oil base primer? If so what kind? And should I paint over it with latex paint? It’s a big project and want to use the right paint and primer, also was told to use boiled linseed oil?
I would sand the Grey wood off until you get to healthy wood. Then prime with oil based primer and paint with an acrylic.