If you’ve been thinking of an exterior paint job for your home this summer, you may have already been talking with painting contractors and getting some estimates.

Ideally, you can put the entire project in the hands of the contractor, but you may be thinking that that’s out of your budget. Rather than put off that much-needed paint job, you might want to consider a compromise between a contractor and some sweat equity by doing part of the work yourself.

Depending on how much time and energy you have available, there are actually several different things you can undertake on your painting project that will save you some money. Most require only basic tools and materials, and the skills needed are well within the reach of most homeowners.

Basic exterior cleaning and prep work

Before the house can be painted, there’s a lot of prep work to be done, and that equals labor dollars that you’re paying the contractor for. All of the patio furniture and other items around the outside of the house need to be moved.

Things like hose hangers, wall clocks, outdoor thermometers and wall decorations all need to be taken down (and put back up later). Shrubbery and other landscaping that’s too close to the siding needs to be trimmed back, and sometimes held back temporarily with ropes or plywood.

Once all that’s done, the house needs to be washed before it can be painted. Heavy pressure washing is typically not recommended, since it can drive moisture into siding and hidden cavities, and can actually do more harm than good. However, a pressure washer with low pressure and a wide fan spray can do a great job of cleaning off surface dirt, dust and cobwebs prior to painting. So can a garden hose and a spray nozzle, along with a scrub brush on a long handle.

Repairs and priming

A step beyond basic cleaning and moving is to undertake any necessary repairs, scraping and priming. Depending on your carpentry skills, you may be able to handle repairing or renailing some siding, or maybe taking care of some damaged trim. There may be some vents that need replacement, or other repairs that you can handle prior to the paint hitting the wall.

A very labor-intensive part of just about any exterior paint job is scraping off any old, loose paint. This is often just a matter of elbow grease with a paint scraper, a sander, or other basic prep tools to remove the loose paint and sand down the edges of the remaining paint as needed. After that, you can take it a step further and prime any bare wood with a good-quality wood primer.

One word of warning here: If your home was built prior to 1978, it may contain lead paint. Before scraping or sanding, you’ll need to find out more about the hazards of working with lead paint, and how to test for it. Visit the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/lead, or contact the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).


A top-quality exterior paint job involves a lot of caulking. Caulking seals the small gaps and holes so the finished paint job is clean and smooth, and more importantly, it prevents moisture from getting behind the paint. A good thorough caulking job has the added benefit of blocking air leaks, making your home more comfortable and energy efficient. Just work your way around the outside of the house with a caulking gun and several tubes of good-quality caulking, and close up the gaps.

Talk over the details with your contractor

If you’d like to do some of the work on your painting project yourself, be sure you discuss all the details with the painting contractor. Describe those things you’re comfortable doing, and see if they’re things that the contractor is comfortable turning over to you. Discuss the time frame for getting the work done so it doesn’t impact the contractor’s schedule, as well as suggestions for the best caulking and priming materials to use.

Some contractors may put a disclaimer in their contract saying they’re not responsible for any of the work that you do, while others may get a little more hard-nosed about it and say they won’t warranty their work at all. You simply need to have a discussion with a couple of different painting contractors, and choose the one you’re most comfortable working with.

In the end, whatever the two of you decide on and agree to needs to be put in writing. Your contractor will probably insist on it, and you should as well — it protects both of you!

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