12 Things You Must Know Before Painting a House Exterior

Painting A House Exterior

Painting a house exterior is an involved and time-consuming process which can be exacerbated by not following these 12 items you absolutely must know before starting. Whether you plan on tackling this project on your own or hiring a professional, there are certain things you just can’t skip over.

In this article I am not going to just list these 12 things out for you, but I am going to explain the most crucial parts of each in a super simple easy to understand way. Taking a few minutes to read this entire article will save you a lot of mistakes and wasted time and money. Okay let’s get going!

1. Always Check for Lead Paint (Pre-1978)

It wasn’t until 1978 that the federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in both commercial and residential properties. If your home was built prior to 1978, there is a high likelihood that lead-based paint was used on the exterior of the home.

Although testing for lead-based paint can be done by yourself through specialized test kits that can be purchased at your local hardware store, sealing or removing lead-based paint should be left to the professionals.

Sealing lead-based paint, you ask? Yes, it can be done! The reasoning is simple: lead-based paint is only a hazard if deteriorating. That is, if it is cracking, peeling, chipping, or damaged in some way. It is likely that your home would have been repainted at some point if it was built prior to 1978, so test multiple areas of the exterior for lead-based paint.

The bottom line is this: if your home was built prior to 1978, it is best to have a professional opinion on the best way to deal with the likely presence of lead-based paint. They will be able to confidently tell you whether or not you need to remove the paint or if you can simply seal it. Again, both of these tasks should be completed by a professional.

2. Check With Your Home Owner’s Association for Approved Color Pallets First

Could you imagine finishing a massive project like painting the exterior of your home only to find out through a nasty correspondence from your home owner’s association that the color pallet is not approved? It has happened, and it will likely happen again to some unfortunate souls.

Some HOAs post their approved color pallets online or in community message boards, but I always recommend having the foresight and taking the time to submit your color pallet for official approval prior to commencing the job. Some HOAs also require written submission of all exterior work to be performed including exterior painting. If your HOA requires this and also meets quarterly, it could take some time for you project to be approved, so plan accordingly!

Trust me on this one, taking the additional time during the planning portion of your project could save you a massive headache and thousands of dollars in the long run. This is one of those times where it isn’t better to ask for forgiveness than it is to first ask for permission!

Pro Tip: Include the color of your roof and desired colors for your main body, trim color, and front door color to give your HOA the complete picture!

You’d be surprised how restrictive some HOAs can be when it comes to exterior color choices, so it’s always a good idea to check with them prior to starting an exterior painting project. Furthermore, some HOAs even restrict the color choices to pre-approved pallets or schemes, meaning only certain base colors can go with certain front door colors and trim colors. This leads us back to the pro tip: just give them all the information and wait for approval first!

3. Paint Will Not Stick Well to Rough or Dirty Surfaces

Rough or dirty surfaces will keep the primer and paint from adhering well, opening the door for your new paint job to not withstand the beating it will surely endure being exposed to the elements. For this reason, ensure you clean all surfaces thoroughly and sand any rough areas, particularly the areas of exposed wood like trim and around windows and doors.

The fastest and most cost-effective way to clean the exterior of your home is to use a pressure washer. If you don’t own one, they can be rented from your local hardware store. Depending on how large your home is, a four-hour to one-day rental should be plenty of time to complete the clean up process. You will also need a two-story ladder if your home is two stories. Rent both up at your local hardware store for under two hundred dollars.

Sand any rough spots in wood trim adornments, around windows and doors, and cracking or peeling existing paint. Using an electric sander, start with rough sandpaper and finish it off with two passes with a fine sandpaper. This will help to smooth the surface for a aesthetically pleasing finish as well as provide the best surface for primer and paint to adhere to.

4. Paint Will Not Adhere to Rotting Material

Paint and primer also have a difficult time adhering to rotting or decaying material. It might be tempting to try and paint over any imperfections, but you are better off biting the bullet now and completing the project the right way the first time.

Remove and replace any rotting or decaying material prior to priming and painting. If you try and paint over it to hide the imperfections, the paint and primer will not adhere to the material and it will continue to be exposed to the elements. This will quickly lead to having to replace it anyway. Take the time now, replace the old material, and give your exterior the best chance to withstand the elements for decades to come.

5. Always Prime Exterior Surfaces

With emerging technologies in the paint sector, we’ve seen ample products hit the market that combine primer with paint. I absolutely love using these products on the interior of the home as it saves valuable time and money.

For the exterior, however, it is often best to apply a complete coat of primer before two coats of paint. This will give your exterior the best chance of standing up to the elements for the longest possible time. The exterior of the home is simply exposed to many things that the interior isn’t, namely large temperature shifts, high winds, rain, snow, hail, and direct sunlight for large stretches of time. All of these will slowly eat away at your beautiful new exterior over time.

For these reasons, I highly recommend just biting the bullet and taking the additional time to apply a full coat of premium primer prior to applying two full coats of paint for all exterior surfaces of the home. When done correctly, your new paint job will last 15 to 20 years.

On the flip side of that, should you skip corners and apply only a single coat of paint and primer mix, you could be repainting your exterior again in as little as five years. Take the time to do it right now so you’re not back out there painting again in five short years!

6. Caulk All Joints As You Would Inside

Caulk helps to seal any gaps in joints and edges to provide a solid base and water-tight seal prior to painting. There are pros and cons of each type of caulk. Even though it can’t be painted over, I recommend using a silicon caulk for the exterior of the home as it is 100% waterproof and provides the best longevity. Acrylic and latex caulking can be painted over, but they are not waterproof and tend to collect mold faster than their silicon counterparts.

Just as you would caulk around edges of projects inside, particularly around areas where water can get to, you should provide the same level of protection to the exterior of your home. Although it is best to use waterproof silicon caulk that cannot be painted, now is as good a time as any to ensure the exterior of your home is sealed properly.

I recommend caulking after you’ve prepped the house for paint, which includes cleaning, any needed repairs, and sanding. Apply caulking to all crevices that require it and, with a wet finger, remove any excess and create a solid seal by running your finger over the bead of caulk until you reach the end.

7. Buy 5-Gallon Buckets of Paint or Combine Smaller Cans

The reasoning for this tip is simple: different cans of paint can have the slightest of variations in color, meaning if presented with the choice of buying 5-gallon buckets of paint or five one-gallon cans we should side with the bigger bucket.

A one-gallon can of paint typically has a 400 square foot coverage, so you are likely to need anywhere from eight to ten gallons of paint to cover the entirety of the exterior of your home, depending on size. Realize that you need to account for the main body, trim work, and the front door, which are all likely to be different colors. Plan ahead so you can purchase large amounts of the same color to mitigate the risk of slightly varying hues.

If you are forced to buy the paint in one-gallon increments, as might be the case for the trim color, for example, purchase the required paint and mix all cans together in a five-gallon bucket. Once the paint is mixed together, stir it vigorously to create one uniform color. Save the cans so you can return any excess mixture to the cans for overnight storage should you not be able to knock out all trim work in one day. At the start of the next day, mix all paint together in the same manor.

8. Start at the Top and Work Down

This tip is more subtle. Starting at the top and working down your home helps to control any drips and splatter that might occur from rollers or sprayers. This is particularly true for trim work and your front door, which draw the eye more heavily than the main body of the home.

Even though majority of the imperfections caused by drips and splatter will be largely unnoticeable on the exterior of your home, it is good practice to paint with the proper techniques, of which this is one. An additional tip along the same lines is to break your home up into manageable sections when planning out your labor. Focus on completing one or two sections a day until you finish the project.

9. Pay Up for Premium Paint

Similar to our reasoning for always priming the exterior of your home, it is often a good idea to pay up for the good paint. It may add an extra 20% to your upfront costs now, but paying up for premium exterior paint could add a full 100-200% to the lifespan of your exterior, not to mention the added protection it provides for any exposed wood as would be the case for trim, accent details, and around doors and windows.

If you are not sure what product is best for the material of your exterior, a quick Google search or the professionals at your local hardware store should be able to point you in the right direction!

10. Wait on the Weather

We obviously want to wait to paint until there is no rain, that is a given. But we also want to wait until you have a day with low humidity (comparative humidity for your area – basically, as low as it can be) and slight cloud coverage.

The reasoning for this is simple: both humidity and sunlight affect the dry time for paint on the exterior of the home, but too much direct sunlight can lead to blistering and visible deformities as the paint dries too fast. The perfect exterior painting weather is a slightly cloudy day, with temperatures between 65-75 degrees and low humidity.

Now, I realize not every area in the country provides ideal conditions for painting, but the goal is to get as close to these parameters as possible. Scope out the upcoming forecast for your area over the coming week and circle the day that comes as close to the aforementioned weather criteria as possible.

If concessions have to be made, it is better to accept dry, arid weather and direct sunlight than it is to paint in heavy humidity. You can simply start earlier in the day and wait until a couple hours before sunset to mitigate the effects of direct sunlight.

11. Different Exteriors Require Different Things

Is it better to roll my house, paint with a brush (that’s silly, kind of), or use a paint sprayer? How many coats of primer and paint are optimal for the material of my exterior? The answer is “it depends.” Classic answer, right? But it is so true, especially for the exterior of a home.

Different types of exterior materials and finishes require different techniques for optimal painting. The possibilities are too extensive to cover fully in this article, so I highly recommend doing some research online or talking to a professional prior to jumping in.

As for a main point from which to deviate, the 90% solution for trim is to paint it by hand with a brush and to use one coat of primer and two coats of paint. The front door is small and easy to cover with a brush and roller. The front door is the one spot on the exterior of a home where I am fine using a paint/primer mixture. Remove the hardware or tape it well with painter’s tape and apply two coats.

For the main body of the home, it is likely best to use a paint sprayer. Materials like brick, stucco, and vinyl siding are easiest to achieve full coverage with a sprayer. If you decide to tackle it with a roller, ensure you use a “rough” roller brush to be able to cover the many grooves and gaps in the finish of the exterior walls. Again, use one coat of primer and two coats of paint for the best finished product.

12. Keep in Mind the Four Majors When Deciding on Color Scheme

As we’ve alluded to previously, there are four main areas of the exterior of your home that come together to form the complete aesthetics: the main body of the house, the trim work, the roof, and the front door. An easy rule to follow when picking colors is to keep trim color choice in the same color family as the main body unless using a white or grey trim choice. The front door is where you can make your statement.

Main Body of the House

The main body of the house is considered the base color. It will be the color that covers the most square footage of the home. A good idea is to keep the main body color neutral, natural, and subdued. Think about renting a paint sprayer to tackle painting the main body of your home. Utilize one coat of primer and two coats of paint for the best outcome, only after cleaning the siding appropriately.

Trim

The color for the trim work should be chosen to accentuate the main body. Keep away from clashing colors, typically resorting to colors from the same pallet to keep the aesthetics warm and inviting. The lone exception to this rule is using whites or grays, which naturally provide neutral contrast without being too overbearing. It is often best to paint the trim of your home with a medium-bristle brush after a thorough sanding. Utilize one coat of primer and two coats of paint.

Roof

It is likely your roof color and style will not be changed when repainting the exterior of your home, but just keep in mind the color and look of the roof when deciding on the rest of the colors for the exterior. Also pay attention to when you expect to have to replace the roof next to see if you have an upcoming opportunity to change every aspect of your exterior color pallet.

Front Door

The front door is where you make your statement with color and design. Historically, the color red on the front door signifies a home that is completely paid off and owned outright, but recent trends associate red with boldness. Other homeowners decide on a color for the front door based on a warm, feng shui pallet designed around the cardinal direction the front door faces.

The big picture with the front door is, from a design perspective, it is your place to make a statement and express your individuality. Don’t be afraid to try different looks as painting the front door is quick and easy. If you don’t like the look of it, try a new color! This also goes into the thought process leading to painting the front door last.

Take a step away from the house and look at the house as a whole with the new front door color. If it feels like colors are clashing, try stepping to a more neutral hue in the same color pallet.

Not mentioned previously is the color of the garage, if you have one. The reason I left the garage out is due to the fact that not all garages can be painted. That point aside, it is often common design practice to treat the garage in a similar way as you would the trim on the house. Keep it neutral or in the same color pallet as the main body if you can, and want to, paint it.

Pro Tip: To breathe new life into your garage door, try rubbing a clear oil into the surface as opposed to painting it. Take a clean rag and cover it with oil. Rub the oil into the surface of the garage door to fight natural fading and blemishes. You will be left with a garage door that appears brand new in about half the time it would take you to repaint it! Olive oil or vegetable oil can also be used for a more temporary fix to breathe new life into your garage door.

BONUS TIP

Rent a paint sprayer from your local hardware store to cut down on the time requirement of the project. The biggest “gotcha” with renting a paint sprayer is to ensure you check the specs of the sprayer you rent online to double check if you need to dilute your paint. Some sprayers require dilution of the paint while some don’t. Just run a quick Google search to find out if the sprayer you rented requires you to dilute the paint and if so, the correct ratio of water to paint.

If you try to run fully viscous paint through a sprayer that requires dilution, you are likely to run into multiple clogging episodes as well as spotty finishes. Instead of a smooth finish, it will look like a topographic map with peaks and valleys. This is less of an issue on the exterior than it is on the interior, but it is good practice to ensure you are running the correct viscosity of paint through your sprayer.

I recommend starting on the back of your home if working with a paint sprayer for the first time. Any subtle mistakes will be hidden from plain view and you can get some practice and repetition with the new tool before getting to visible areas of the home.

Wrapping It Up

Painting the exterior of your home is a large project, so ensure you plan and mentally prepare for the commitment. The previous 12 (plus the bonus!) tips should cut down on that process and time commitment and keep you from making far-too-common mistakes. The biggest thing to keep in mind is to take your time with each step, from planning to execution. Don’t skip corners when it comes to the exterior of your house because you will likely be paying for them twofold in short order.

Also realize this is not a complete instructional article on how to paint your home, so continue your research and planning process before jumping into the project. This article is intended to mitigate some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen with even professional painters. That said, if you decide to hire a professional, bring some of these tips and tricks up with them in general conversation to gauge their level of professionalism. Shop for your labor the same way you would shop for a new home!

David

David has been an avid DIYer for years. Recently he's really taken to home security, but he has a lot of experience with all sorts of projects from Plumbing to Electrical and Framing to Tiling.

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