Exterior Painting Guide

August 29, 2018
Exterior Painting Guide

A new coat of paint on the exterior of your home provides many benefits — it makes your house look nicer, it increases the life of your siding and boosts your home’s resale value. If you think your home is due for an external makeover, take a look at our friendly step-by-step guide to preparing for an exterior paint job.

If at any time you feel overwhelmed reading this guide don’t hesitate to contact our professional team of painters today.



The best way to get a good paint job is to start with proper preparation. If the underlying surface isn’t ready for paint, paint won’t stick properly and won’t give you that fresh, clean finish you want.


1. Wash

Before you paint any surface, give it a good scrubbing. This will remove dirt, mildew and other residues that make it difficult for a new coat of paint to stick. Contractors use pressure washers to complete this task, although if you’re inexperienced with this equipment, you could end up gouging your wood or shattering your windows. Although a bit slower, washing with a regular hose and scrub brush will get the job done just as effectively.

Before you start scrubbing, protect plants by spraying them with water, saturating the soil underneath, pulling the plants away from the walls and covering them with fabric drop cloths. Lay extra drop cloths next to the house to catch any falling debris. Wet the walls and wash with a mixture consisting of:

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 cup of chlorine bleach
  • 1 cup of concentrated, phosphate-free cleaner

To avoid streaks, work from the bottom up. Rinse the walls thoroughly before the cleaning mixture dries.

Before you paint any service give it a good scrubbing


2. Scrape

If there is any paint that is peeling or bubbling, you need to remove it. However, if your house was built before 1978, there is a good chance that the paint contains lead. You can confirm the presence of lead by sending a paint chip sample to a lab.

If your house is coated in lead-based paint, you must take extra precautions to protect yourself and those around you from toxic dust. Lead paint removal may be subject to federal, state or local regulations. If your paint is free from lead, all you have to do is to wear a dust mask and put down drop cloths to catch falling debris.

Scraping by hand is demanding on you but much less damaging to the wood than other methods like power sanders and grinders. You can expedite this process by softening the paint with a heating gun.


3. Sand

After you remove all loose paint, step back to see what is left. If the remaining paint is sticking well and there aren’t too many bumps, you can smooth the difference between the paint and the bare surface with 50- to 80-grit sandpaper.

You can get this job done quickly with a pad sander or an electric random-orbit sander. Make sure there is a smooth transition from the old patches of paint to the exposed surface. For parts of the house that are particularly visible, you can follow up with a 100- to 120-grit sanding to eliminate scratches.

If less than half of the paint is remaining, it might be best to just remove all of it. To get rid of tough spots, you can use shrouded grinders or chemical or infrared strippers, then sand again to make sure the surface is smooth.

If you choose a random-orbit sander to do your paint removal, make sure to use a respirator. If you’re just sanding by hand, a dust mask is all you need.


4. Patch and Fill

Once you’re done sanding, the next step is to fill in the minor dents and cracks. This is also the time to repair or replace any pieces damaged by rot. The type of filler you’ll want to use will depend on the type of finish on the exterior of your house.

For deep cracks or rotten holes, it’s best to use two-step epoxies. Don’t use caulking on the cracks just yet — wait until you’ve primed everything.


5. Prime

Primers are designed to create a good surface for your paint to adhere to. They can be used on filler, bare wood, epoxy or deteriorated paint. If your surface is clean enough, you don’t need to do any priming.

For most surfaces, you can use an acrylic primer. For cedar and redwood, however, use oil-based primers because water-based primers will allow rusty, reddish-brown stains to leach out of the wood.

Although primer colors are often tinted a color close to that of the top coat, it is recommended that you use a contrasting color for your primer. This way, when painting the top coat, you can easily see if you’ve missed a spot because the primer color will be easily visible.

It is recommended you use a contrasting color for your primer


6. Caulk

The last step before painting is caulking. This step involves sealing not only the cracks in the wood but also the joints where two different materials meet, such as door frames, window frames, molding and fascia boards.

If you have an old stucco surface with chips or pits, they must be patched with new stucco and then given time to cure. If your wood siding or fascia boards are rotting, replace them. Sand wood trim and doors gently to create a surface ideal for painting.


Choose a Good Paint Type

Now that the caulking’s finished, you’re ready to start painting. But you want to make sure you’re using a quality paint. Although oil-based paints were once the norm, the best exterior paints today are water-based, 100% acrylic latex. The formula consists of three main parts:

  1. Pigments: These give paints their color.
  2. Binders: These help the pigments adhere to the surface.
  3. Solvents: These help the paint spread more easily.

When paint dries, the solvent evaporates and leaves behind the pigments and binders — which together are known as volume solids. Generally speaking, the higher quality the paint, the higher percentage of volume solids. Better paints may also have better binders, which makes them more durable.

You can find out the percentage of volume solids in a paint by checking the manufacturer’s website or a Technical Data Sheet from your local distributor. Paints labeled “premium” or “super-premium” tend to be higher in volume solids.

Best exterior paints are water-based, 100% acrylic latex


Choose Your Colors

One of the hardest steps in this process is settling on the perfect color. Here are some tips to help you narrow down your options:

  1. Consider the elements that are hardest to change. Surfaces like roofs, stonework and driveways are not likely to change, so take them into consideration when choosing exterior colors. The colors you choose should tie these fixed elements together.
  2. Consider the architectural style of your home. If you have a classical federal-style home, you don’t want to paint it burnt orange — and if your home is a New England saltbox style, a pale mint green is going to look bad. The color scheme you choose should match the style and era of your home.

Many paint manufacturers make collections of historically accurate colors. If you need some inspiration, browsing these collections is a good place to start. You can also speak with a professional who specializes in historical paints.

  1. Think about the visual effect you’d like. If your home sits far back from the road and is behind a few trees, you might want to pick a brighter color so it stands out. If you’d like your home to blend in more, a darker color is a better choice.
  2. Choose three or more shades of paint. Exterior schemes typically feature three major elements:
  • The field color, which is the dominant shade
  • The accent color, which brings smaller elements like doors and shutters to life
  • The trim color, which is used for roof edging, railings, window casings and other trim work

Your trim and field colors should be contrasting. If your field color is dark, a pale shade like white will probably be best for the trim. As for accent colors, you can be bold, but don’t get carried away — bright red looks great on a door, but not on your shuttles and gables.

If you don’t feel confident enough to create your own custom color scheme, take advantage of the preselected color palettes offered by most major paint brands.

  1. Don’t rely just on paint chips. A shade of paint can look a lot different on a wall than it does on a chip. So, to ensure that you have the color you want, buy a quart of the paint and test it out on a less-seen area of your house. Study how it changes with the light and under different weather conditions. This will help you make sure you’ll be happy with the color for a long time.


Paint the Walls

Now that you’ve selected the perfect color, you’re ready to paint your wall. The recommended way to paint it is called spraying and back-rolling, which requires two people. One person uses a spray to spread paint across the wall quickly and evenly. The other person follows behind and runs a roller over the sprayed paint. This method delivers an even finish. Make sure to protect your windows by covering them with plastic or using a sprayer with a shield.

If your budget allows it, apply a second coat after the first one has fully dried. This is more necessary for vibrant hues — as sometimes a second coat is needed to get the full color — but is recommended for all shades.


Paint Everything Else

Once you finish the walls, you can then proceed to paint everything else, which includes the doors, molding, fascia and shutters.

For this job, you should use a brush — and a high-quality one, which will cost between $12 and $22. Avoid cheap brushes, as they may shed bristles into the paint. Angular sash brushes are also to be avoided, as they only work for windows. If you are using latex paints — which is recommended — make sure to buy at least two flat head 2 1/2-inch synthetic bristle brushes.


Exterior Painting Tips

Here are some general exterior painting tips to keep in mind:

Check the weather. It’s best not to paint in direct sunlight — the paint will dry too quickly and cause lap marks, blistering and peeling. High winds can also dry the paint too quickly, and blow dirt into your paint. Painting should also be delayed if it’s going to rain or if the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

On an extension ladder, paint everything you can reach. If you’re on a 16-foot extension ladder, going up and down every few minutes can be time-consuming. So paint everything you can comfortably and safely reach before moving up or down the ladder. Learning to paint with both hands will double your reach.

It's best not to paint in direct sunlight

Keep the can close. Hold your paint can close to the surface you’re painting — this will reduce your arm movement and minimize dripping.

Take down shutters. If you want the paint job on your shutters and doors to look as neat as possible, take them down and paint them on a well-protected patio. Once the paint has dried, rehang them.

Don’t tape your windows. Taping your windows before painting frames and sills is a huge pain and not worth the effort. An easy alternative: once the paint has dried, gently scrape off any drips with a razor blade.

Avoid lap marks. Lap marks refer to areas that appear darker as a result of painting over dried paint. To avoid these marks, you should work fast and paint in sections small enough that the previously painted section remains wet until you can brush the newly added paint into it. If you still end up with lap marks while adding your first coat, you can probably cover them up with your second coat.

Avoid brush marks. Brush marks appear at the beginning and end of a brush stroke. Luckily, you can avoid these by starting every stroke in an unfinished section, at an edge or against a window or door trim. Then, in a single movement, brush toward the finished area while sweeping the brush up and off the surface.

Choose your battles. Spend more time on highly visible areas such as around the front and back doors. Other places, like under the eaves, may not require the same attention to detail.


After You Paint

Here are a few things you can do to extend the life of your paint job:

  • Inspect your caulk every year and replace any areas that are cracked or missing.
  • Remove any mold or mildew that you spot.
  • Wash away stains left by nesting birds and pollen.
  • Touch up blistering and peeling paint before it spreads.


Hire a Contractor

Exterior house painting involves a lot more than just slapping on a coat of paint. To all but the most hardcore do-it-yourselfers, it can be quite a daunting endeavor. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the steps and live in Fairfield County, Conn., Westchester County, N.Y., or the surrounding areas, let the seasoned professionals at Shoreline Painting do the job for you.

We’re a family-owned company and have been in business since 1975. Our knowledgeable team has extensive training and is available to help you with any questions you may have. Contact us today to see what we can do for you.

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