10 Things Not to Do When Painting Your Home

Old house in country
Could a coat of paint turn that dilapidated country house into the mod farmhouse you dream about?
Ron Chapple Studios/Hemera/Thinkstock

In the bright light of a new summer, the outdoors couldn't look better. The grass is neon-green, the sky is itself-blue, and the clouds gleam wispy-white.

As you stroll the grounds of your castle (or just step out on your front stoop), you notice that one thing doesn't fit in the brilliant glory: your house.


It's faded. It's dirty. It's peeling and cracked like an old sunburn.

Suddenly, summer doesn't seem as fun anymore, not when you have an endless exterior house-painting job looming over you. To make it more enjoyable, let's play a game where we predict the horrible house-painting mistakes you're about to make before you make them. Avoid these, and you might salvage your summer, as well as your time and money.

10: Under Pressure

Lincoln Memorial getting pressure washed
Even Abe gets a pressure wash twice a year from the National Park Service.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

For those who are into cutting corners, the idea of avoiding a thorough exterior scrubbing before painting is tempting. I mean, you're going to literally paint over any dirt or grime -- no need to change your spaghetti sauce-stained shirt if you're just going to wear a jacket over it, right?

Unsurprisingly, washing off the built-up dirt or paint residue is not just an unduly complicated step in the painting process. It's also a necessity for ensuring the paint job adheres well. New paint won't cover filth for long. This critical step rinses away any mildews or molds that have developed on the old paint, too [source: Hurst-Wajszczuk]. A good pressure wash is essential to that dream of a 12-year paint job. Do a merely superficial rinse and you're not giving your new paint the clean canvas it needs. Rent a pressure washer and don't look back.


9: Let the Experts Lead

Lead paint peeling
Lead paint peels from the door and walls of patient room number 58 at the Traverse City State Hospital in Michigan. The Victorian Italianate building now houses an upscale restaurant and private and commercial condominiums.
© Robert Sciarrino/Star Ledger/Corbis

This one isn't just a friendly "hey, don't be a dummy" reminder; it's actually important for your health.

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. homes built (and painted) before 1978 have lead-based paint [source: Minnesota Department of Health]. The same lead-based paint that's been shown to cause developmental delays in children and a host of health problems in adults [source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development]. So before you start stripping away merrily, do your homework and determine if you're dealing with the leaden stuff.


If you are, it might be smart to hire a contractor who's dealt with lead-based paint removal in the past. That person will be able to determine if grinding, applying heat or using chemicals is the best plan of attack and will be well-versed in the safety precautions and waste procedures required for lead-based paint in your state [source: Kolle].

8. Rush Job

Team of painters
Nobody could paint a house in one weekend, except maybe these guys.
ognianm/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock

If you're really looking to make yourself miserable, tell yourself you can paint the whole house in a weekend.

Think about it this way: You probably wouldn't trust a contractor who bid you a two-day paint job, unless there are six of them working at a time. That's because they should offer a wash, any repairs you have to make (which might involve sanding or priming) and a couple coats of paint. In other words, professionals would estimate at least three or four days for three painters on an average-sized house [source: Tedeschi]. If it's just you and a friend? Give yourself at least a week to do all the same steps, and don't be shocked if it creeps into two.


We all know the most pressing issue with underestimating your timeline: an annoyed spouse who no longer wants to spend "just one more" summer night up a ladder. But beware: If you don't plan out far enough, you might find yourself in the midst of a forecast that's far stormier than a ticked-off partner.

7: Weather or Not

Brightly painted beach huts
The paint jobs on those beach huts look professional. You can bet whoever painted them accounted for weather (and exposure to salt water).
Davis McCardle/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Which brings us to the weather. Since you're no fool, you know not to paint in the rain. Rain is wet. Wet makes paint run, and doing outside chores in the rain makes one feel Eeyore-like, to boot. You've got this one down. You will paint at the height of summer, in 90-degree F (32-degree C) weather, with a stiff breeze that'll make everything dry extra fast! You're a genius. Even better, you're going to be a tan genius.

Wrong. Painting in the hot sun is actually almost as bad of an idea as painting in the rain. Scorching hot or just windy? Either condition could mean the paint dries too fast, leading it not to set properly -- which means peeling, flaky exteriors [source: California Paints]. Too humid, and the paint will not dry well at all; it might even develop the same kind of sweaty exterior that you have, painting in the too-hot heat.


6: Brush Up

Painter on ladder
Don't overestimate your (rookie) abilities before you head up that ladder.
Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a DIY-er is to pretend you're not. Sometimes that means you take on more you can handle; sometimes that means you have all the tools of a pro -- without the slightest idea of how to use them.

Which brings us to the sprayer. You probably watched a contractor effortlessly turn your neighbors' boring beige rambler into their blue heaven in mere moments, with the help of a high-power paint-spewing machine. That's it, you thought. I'll just get that and paint like a pro.


Not so fast. Literally. Because while a sprayer might seem like a terribly efficient, foolproof technique, it's far from it. If you don't know how to use a sprayer, you're going to quickly be schooled in uneven mists or unpredictable streams that have accidentally painted your bushes, windows or the family dog a lovely eggshell white.

Unless you get a lot of practice with sprayers, it might be a better idea to stick with old-fashioned rollers and brushes.

5: Quantity Counts

Can of blue paint
Don't complicate your painting project with multiple trips to the store. Just buy enough to begin with.

This tip might fall under the umbrella of a more general "don't be a cheapskate" category, along with the next couple of pages. While it might seem like the paint industry is running an expensive racket -- going on about how you have to use primer, multiple coats and fancy-pants exterior paint -- don't become so jaded that you decide to scam the system by buying the least amount of paint possible.

The problem with that is twofold. One is pretty obvious: Someone is required to make a trip to the hardware store, in a panic, every time you run out of paint. The hapless person gets the wrong color. You yell. The person cries. The house -- half the color of "Summer Leaves," half the color of "Evergreen Dew" -- is a monument to hurt feelings.


The other problem is that even if you do get the right color, you're still not guaranteed a uniform hue. Buying the right amount of product, from the beginning, allows you to "box" the paint. That's a fancy way of saying "pour all the cans together." Because each shade can vary by bucket, you'll get a nice, even tone if it's all mixed together [source: DIY Network].

So just remember: For every 400 square feet (37 square meters) of area, buy 1 gallon (almost 4 liters) of paint. Don't skimp.

4: Cheaper Chips

Lots of paint
Whatever color you decide on, don't compromise on the quality, unless you enjoy spending every few summers on a ladder with a paintbrush in hand.

Continuing on to our "cheap effort begets cheap look" section, let's point out the obvious: Buying cheap paint isn't worth it.

Dow Chemical Company's Paint Quality Institute conducted field tests that showed high-quality acrylic exterior paint can hold up nearly twice as long as cheaper exterior paint [source: Zimmer]. Let's keep in mind that Dow manufactures materials used in paint, so the company might have a horse in the "buy more expensive paint" race.


But most professionals agree without hesitation (or stock options) that high-quality paint is going to last substantially longer [source: Schwartz]. While buying a $25 can versus a $50 can might seem like a great savings, it's probably going to cost you within a few years when you have to redo the chipping, flaking, fading job. Consider it an investment.

3: An App for That

Paint being applied to stucco with roller
That minty ice cream color paint is going to adhere better to the stucco if you use the right roller (in this case, probably one with a 3/4 inch nap).
Viktoriia Khorzhevska/Hemera/Thinkstock

By now, you've probably gotten the idea that your penny-pinching exterior paint job might actually cost you. But it's important we point out one more -- often overlooked -- expense that you really should shell out for, and that's the brushes or rollers you're using.

What, you thought we'd just tell you to go to the dollar store and pick up seven of whatever they had? No way. Applicators might seem like an afterthought, but choosing quality products are going to go a long way to getting your house the prettiest coat.


The Paint and Decorating Retailers Association point out several reasons that higher-value applicators might serve you better than, say, smearing paint over the exterior of your home with your very inexpensive hands. Higher quality brushes are simply designed better. They have tapered bristles that won't shed, for one. They'll also hold more paint, meaning that you can get the job done faster [source: PDRA].

2: Drop and Roll

paint-splattered boots
Tarps? Bah.

It's easy for most of us to imagine the finished paint job of a new house, but a little more difficult to foresee all the things that could potentially go very wrong in the process. That's why it's important to take the time to prep accordingly for the large amounts of permanent pigment you'll be flinging around.

That means doing a little more than putting on your grungy jeans and a baseball cap. Don't assume that you're careful enough to avoid the bushes and grass around the house; cover a good-sized area with tarps or drop cloths around your painting site.


And for goodness' sake, don't even pretend your hand is steady enough to create the perfectly straight line around your trim. Tape up windows, trim and doors to ensure you don't have splotches of paint migrating where they shouldn't.

1: You Paint It Yourself

Professional painter
You really think you could take on that professional painter in a house-painting showdown?
David De Lossy/Photodisc/Thinkstock

The biggest mistake you can make when painting the exterior of your home?

Painting the exterior of your home.

Now, let's be fair. Painting a house's exterior doesn't have to be a professional's job. Plenty of folks have dived into a home-painting project and gotten a terrific result. But those people are no doubt motivated, guided by research and undaunted in the face of setbacks. They might not be entirely normal.

Most of us are cheap, clueless and impatient for a quick, flawless result. And that might mean that you're better off hiring a group of dedicated contractors who can guarantee your vision. Take into account all the things we've just talked about: how big the job is, what kind of timeline you expect, cost and materials. If you're not feeling super confident about the task -- or you do have a bigger obstacle, like lead paint -- hire someone to do the dirty work.

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Things Not to Do When Painting Your Home

Since my husband routinely uses my last name as verb meaning "to do a house maintenance job quickly, cheaply and shoddily," I pretty much just brainstormed all the dumb things I would do if asked to paint a house exterior. Plan for two days (in the highest heat of summer), give the house a cursory squirt with a hose, buy applicators from a garage sale and expired paint from a discount outlet, then get bored with taping windows and trim halfway through. Voil√°! Kershnered it.

Related Articles

  • Bonderud, Doug. "4 common DIY house painting mistakes." AngiesList.com. Oct. 11, 2013. (June 16, 2014) http://www.angieslist.com/articles/4-common-diy-house-painting-mistakes.htm
  • California Paints. "Painting Exterior Surfaces." Californiapaints.com. (June 16, 2014) http://www.californiapaints.com/project-guides/painting-basics/finish-coats/exterior-painting.aspx
  • Chism, Mike. "Is it worth buying the most expensive paints?" Chism Brothers Painting. 2014. (June 16, 2014) http://www.chismbrothers.com/blog/is_it_worth_buying_the_most_expensive_paint
  • DIY Network. "10 things you must know when painting a house exterior." DIYNetwork.com. (June 16, 2014) http://www.diynetwork.com/painting/10-things-you-must-know-when-painting-a-house-exterior/pictures/index.html
  • Flietner, Maureen Blaney. "Painting the House." BobVila.com. 2014. (June 16, 2014) http://www.bobvila.com/articles/372-painting-the-house-should-you-hire-a-pro/#.U59mnJSwJaZ
  • Heavens, Al. "5 steps before tackling an exterior paint job." Chicago Tribune. Jan. 31, 2011. (June 16, 2014) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-01-31/classified/sc-home-0131-home-remedies-20110131_1_exterior-paint-job-debbie-zimmer-adhesive-foam-tape-squares
  • Hurst-Wajszczuk, Joe. "How to paint your house's exterior." This Old House. 2014. (June 16, 2014) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20180479_20399507,00.html
  • Kolle, Jefferson. "How to strip years of paint off a house." This Old House. (June 16, 2014) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,386353,00.html
  • Minnesota Department of Health. "Exterior Lead Paint Removal." Minnesota.gov. June 4, 2013. (June 16, 2014) http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/lead/homes/exterior.html
  • Paint and Decorating Retailers Association. "Frequently asked questions about paint applicators." PDRA.Org. 2013. (June 16, 2014) http://www.pdra.org/paint-applicators.html
  • Resene. "Check the weather before painting." Resene.com. (June 16, 2014) http://www.resene.com/homeown/painting-your-home/Check_the_weather.pdf
  • Schwartz, Donna Boyle. "What type of paint is best for exteriors?" BobVila.com. 2014. (June 16, 2014) http://www.bobvila.com/articles/oil-vs-latex-paint/#.U59B-5SwJaY
  • Tedeschi, Bob. "The How-Tos of House Painting." The New York Times. July 13, 2011. (June 17, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/14/garden/the-how-tos-of-house-painting-the-pragmatist.html?pagewanted=all
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "About lead-based paint." HUD.gov. (June 16, 2014) http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/healthy_homes/healthyhomes/lead
  • Zimmer, Debbie. "Best paint offer return on investment." Paint Quality Institute. April 2011. (June 16, 2014) http://www.paintquality.com/homeowners/newsletter/archives/april2011.html