Painting can be a real chore in the wintertime. You’re geared up to get everything finished and then then a cold front moves in and you’re wondering “Do I really have to wait for it to warm up again?”
Always ask your paint manufacturer first and use these tips to decide if you really can paint in cold weather or if you should wait till warmer days prevail.
The answer may not be the one you like, but remember this: Patience is always cheaper than having to do it twice.
Paint & Cold Weather
By cold weather painting, we are talking about temps below 55°F. If you’re using water-based paints, it should be a no brainer that water freezes at 32°F so any water-based paint that has been exposed to freezing temperatures will no longer be viable.
Sure, you can thaw it out if it sat in your shed all winter and maybe you’ll get lucky and it will work alright, but I wouldn’t take the chance. If your paint has frozen, I would recommend getting new paint. If you’re wondering if your paint is still good check my post Can Paint Go Bad?
When temperatures start dipping into the 50s or below, many paints won’t dry properly and it can cause big problems. There are some premium or specialty paints that can be applied in temps down to 35°F so check what the actual limits of your particular paint are. Some of the issues common to painting in cold weather are:
- Poor color uniformity
- Water spotting in latex paint
- Extremely slow and inconsistent drying time
- Film cracking
Proper Scheduling is Key
Nobody wants to have these issues, so it’s best to wait for warmer temperatures to avoid these altogether. I do realize that there are times when you simply can’t wait. I’m not encouraging impatience here, but some projects can’t wait 6 months for winter to break.
Scheduling your projects for the right time of year is the first step to avoiding problems. Don’t plan that siding overhaul in January unless you’re okay waiting a few months before any of it can be primed and painted.
If you are painting in the colder months of the year, plan your painting for warmer days and plan your application of the paint for the warmest times of the day. Painting outside between 10AM – 2PM is usually your best bet for warm temps.
One last thing about scheduling, paint can take up to a month to finish curing even under normal temperatures. So, even if you paint on a warm day and the paint has a couple days to dry, it is still more sensitive to extreme weather in those first couple weeks. Don’t paint before a brutal cold snap is expected. Sub-zero temps can wreak havoc on freshly painted surfaces even if the paint has been dry to the touch for a day or so.
How to Paint in Cold Weather
So, you’ve decided that despite my warnings, you need to paint in cold weather. Okay, brave soul! I’ve done it before and you can too, it just takes more careful planning and prep. None of these are foolproof ideas and you can still end up with problems if everything doesn’t go just right. I’ll say it again that you should wait for warmer weather, but if you can’t wait, here’s what I would do:
1. Check the Weather – Check your local weather forecasts and find the warmest days and week, and that’s when you want to paint. Don’t just look at the high temps, the most important number is actually the low for the day. If the overnight temps will dip below the recommended temperature on your can of paint then even if it went on smoothly during the day you will have big problems later. The temps need to stay above the minimum temperature your paint is rated for the whole time it is curing preferably, but at least for a few days after application.
2. Check the Surface – The air outside may be warming up a bit, but that doesn’t mean the surface you’re going to paint is warm yet. Make sure the surface is warm enough to accept paint ~50°F. If the air temp is over 50°F but the surface is still cold, use a hairdryer or heat gun to warm the surface up a bit. Don’t cook the existing paint off, just warm it up to the touch. Paint goes on best between 70°F and 80°F, so it won’t take much applied heat to bring the temp up.
3. Build a Bubble – If the air temps are not above 50°F, then you’ll have to create your own little greenhouse. Using 4 or 6 mil plastic create a bubble around the area you hope to paint. You can build a frame with 2×4’s or by using zip poles. Put a small space heater in the area and let it run for a little while so that the building surface is warmed as well as the air. Don’t make the area too hot. Ideally, you want the temperature to be in that optimal 70°F to 80°F range. Paint inside your bubble and leave the bubble up with the heater maintaining that temp as long as you can, but for a minimum of a few hours. Don’t leave the heater on unattended overnight to avoid the risk of fire!
4. Use Additives – Paint gets thicker in colder weather which makes it harder to work with and get an even coat. The best way to counter this problem is by using the proper additives. Use Floetrol for water-based paints and Penetrol for oil-based paints. Follow the instructions for how much to add to your paint and these additives will keep things flowing properly.
That’s about all you can do when it comes to painting in cold weather. For those of you suffering through extreme cold, you’ll just have to wait until the mercury is on the rise again. I hope that this post will either help you extend the periods that you can paint effectively or encourage you to wait for warmer weather. Either way, you’ll be set up for success!
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.