Q: I’ve been putting off painting my house for years. It should have been done five years ago, but with one thing or another, it just didn’t happen. I guess now I’m going to pay the price.

My house has a combination of stucco and wood siding. When I rub my hand on the wood and the stucco, I get a chalky residue. There are areas on the shady side of my house that have brown spots and other areas of the wood trim that are blistering. I’m going to do this job myself to save some money. Could you give me some pointers on how I can do a good job so I won’t have to redo it anytime soon?

A: Kevin began his career as a painter in Alameda, Calif., rejuvenating some of that city’s fine Victorians. Invariably, the wood was old and dry, and the paint was in bad shape. Most looked more like the Bates Motel than the classic "painted ladies" that they truly are. He spent many a day scraping, sanding and priming before he could finally put the color on and bring them back to elegant life.

The key to a long-lasting exterior paint job is meticulous preparation and high-quality materials. Because your home was built in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the paint is most likely acrylic latex. You’ve identified three problem areas you must address to get a quality job.

  • The chalk is the result of oxidation of the surface. It must be removed to allow the new paint to adhere to the surface.
  • The brown spots are mildew. If you don’t kill it, the mildew will bleed through the new work.
  • The blisters on the trim are the result of sun heating moisture in the wood and bubbling the paint off. Scraping and sanding are in order here.

The first step to prepare the surface is to clean it. The quickest and easiest way is with a pressure washer. The water blasts away dirt, chalk and loose paint. Pressure washers are a little tricky to operate, especially on wood. The stream of water can be adjusted from a pencil-like stream to a wide fan. Wash any areas with mildew with a 3-to-1 mixture of water to household bleach. Two passes should do the trick. An additive designed to kill mildew is available to use with the pressure washer.

Start on an out-of-the-way corner of the building until you get the hang of it. Pull the trigger (there will be quite a kickback) and move the wand over the wall in a consistent side-to-side pattern. Use a fan setting to avoid damaging the wood or stucco.

Pressure washers are available at rental centers and often at Lowe’s and Home Depot. Make sure to ask the salesperson for a quick tutorial on operating the machine. …CONTINUED


Once the building is washed, let it dry for a few days. Wood siding and trim can take as long as a week to dry, depending on the weather. While the building is drying out, scrape off any residual loose paint. Feather the edges of scraped areas with 120-grit sandpaper. Carry a dust brush with you to brush any sanding dust off the newly washed building.

Next, apply a high-quality stain-blocking latex or oil-based primer. To do a "Cadillac" job, we suggest priming the whole building. Adding a mildewcide to the paint will help protect against the rebirth of fungus.

Allow the primer to cure according to the manufacturer’s instructions before applying the finish coat. While the primer is curing, caulk any open joints or cracks in the stucco with a good-quality acrylic caulk. Smooth the caulk with a wet rag. Don’t think about leaving the primer unpainted. Primer is designed to act as a basis for the finish. If left unpainted for any length of time, it will fail. All of the preparation done to this point will have to be redone.

The final and most exciting step is the finish coat — "putting on the color." Use a top-of-the-line, 100 percent acrylic house paint in the sheen of your choice — flat, satin, semi-gloss or gloss. The shinier the finish, the more any defects will show. We’ve always been partial to a satin sheen for its washability and because it hides defects well.

Over the years, we’ve used brushes, rollers and airless sprayers to apply primers and finishes. Our best results have come from using the airless sprayer to apply paint to large surfaces, then going back over the area with a roller or a brush while the paint is still wet. We think that method gives us the best of all worlds. The sprayer gets the material on quickly, and the brush or roller gives a uniform coat that gets into all the nooks and crannies.

Finally, we’d like to say a word about safety. Many of the materials that make up paint are toxic. Protect yourself when working on your house. When scraping and sanding, wear eye protection, a dust mask and gloves. When using an airless sprayer, use a respirator with a charcoal filter. And remember to use extra caution when working from a ladder, especially when using the power washer. The recoil when you pull the trigger can put you on your keister in a heartbeat.

For more information, go to www.paintquality.com, by far the best Web site we’ve seen on painting.


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