How to Paint a House

By: Fix-It Club
Painting the whole outside of your house is a major job. But your home may not need a whole paint job. You may be able to spiff up the appearance of your home and extend the life of an entire paint job by several years with regular maintenance and some quick repairs. Whether you decide to paint a porch, the most weathered side of your house, or an outbuilding or two, the general process is the same as painting your whole house.

You'll need to clean and prep the surface, decide what type of paint to use, and apply the paint. The best time to paint is in late spring or early fall on a dry day that is not too sunny. Temperatures below 40 degrees F and direct hot sun can ruin paint jobs. Inspect your house thoroughly before you paint, and take corrective action to prevent the root causes of paint failure.

Troubleshooting Exterior Paint
There are numerous problems associated with exterior paint, from blistering to chalking. Click here for a handy guide on troubleshooting exterior paint issues.

We'll hit on all the basics of exterior painting in his article, starting in this first section with how to deal with various paint problems.


Peeling is often the result of painting over wet wood. It can also result from moisture within the house pushing its way out. If you cannot control the moisture with exhaust fans, use latex primer and latex paint. Latex allows some moisture to pass right through the paint.

Another cause of peeling is a dirty or a glossy surface. To undo the damage, all loose paint flakes must be scraped off with a wire brush and the surface must be sanded to smooth sharp edges. Bare spots should be primed before painting.


This problem looks just like its name suggests: the hide of an alligator. Paint shrinks into individual islands, exposing the previous surface, usually because the top coat is not adhering to the paint below. Perhaps the paints are not compatible or the second coat was applied before the first coat had dried. To get rid of this problem, scrape off the old paint and then sand, prime, and repaint the surface.


Paint that rises from the surface and forms blisters is usually due to moisture or improper painting. To fix the problem, first scrape off the blisters. If you can see dry wood behind them, the problem is due to moisture. If you find paint, then it is a solvent blister and is probably caused by painting with an oilbase or alkyd-base coating in hot weather. The heat forms a skin on the paint and traps solvent in a bubble.


New paint can run and sag into a series of slack, skinlike droops. This occurs when the paint you are using is too thick and forms a surface film over the still-liquid paint below. It can also happen if you paint in cold weather; the cold surface slows drying underneath. To recoat, make sure the new paint is the proper consistency and be sure to brush it out as you apply. Before doing this, though, you will have to sand the wrinkled area smooth and, if necessary, remove the paint altogether.


This is paint that has a dusty surface. Some oilbase and alkyd-base paints are designed to "chalk" when it rains. When this happens, a very fine powdery layer is removed, automatically cleaning the surface. In most cases, this is desirable. But if foundations, sidewalks, and shrubs become stained, too much chalking is occurring.

This is likely due to painting over a too-porous surface that has absorbed too much of the paint's binding agents. A chemical imbalance in an inferior paint may also be the cause of excessive chalking. The best solution is to wash down the chalking surfaces as thoroughly as possible, then paint over them with a nonchalking paint.


This moldy growth appears where dampness and shade prevail. And, if you paint over it, it's likely to come right through the new paint. Use a fungicide such as chlorine bleach or a commercial solution to kill patches of mildew before repainting.

Running Sags

Using a paintbrush incorrectly (e.g., too much paint on the brush) can create a wavy, irregular surface. To correct it after the paint is dry, sand and repaint surface, smoothing out the new coat to an even thickness.

Paint Won't Dry

This is perhaps the best reason to buy high-quality paint. Prolonged tackiness is an indication of inferior paint. If you apply poor-quality paint too thickly or during high humidity, it will stay tacky for a long time. Good paint, on the other hand, dries quickly. If you think you may have an inferior paint, first experiment on an inconspicuous portion of the house.

Think you're ready to get started? In the next section, we'll go over the prep work you'll need to do before you begin your outdoor painting project.


How to Prep for Painting a House

If you're lucky, all your house may need before repainting is a good, healthy bath. Wash it down with a hose, and go over stubborn dirt with a scrub brush and warm, soapy water. Or wash it down with a power washer. If you're not so lucky, then you just have to face the fact that a time-consuming and dirty job lies ahead of you. Do the job well, and your paint job will not only look better, but it will last for five to eight years on average.

Start by thoroughly examining the outside of the house or outbuilding -- not just the exterior walls but under the eaves, around windows and doors, and along the foundation. Look for split shingles and siding, popped nails, peeling or blistering paint, mildew, and rust stains. Once you've identified the areas that need attention, roll up your sleeves and make the repairs.

Remove small areas of defective paint with a wire brush and/or a wide-blade putty knife.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Remove small areas of defective paint with a wire brush and/or a
wide-blade putty knife. Scrub under the laps of clapboard siding
and on downspouts and gutters.


Use a wire brush and a wide-blade putty knife to remove small areas of defective paint. Scrub under the laps of clapboard siding as well as on downspouts and gutters. For speedier work on metal, a wire brush attachment on an electric drill will remove rust and paint with less effort. For more extensive paint removal, invest in a sharp pull scraper -- a tool with a replaceable blade that's capable of stripping old paint all the way down to bare wood with a single scrape. Hold the scraper so the blade is perpendicular to the wood, apply moderate to firm pressure, and drag it along the surface. Keep the blade flat against the wood so it doesn't gouge the surface.

Move an electric orbital sander up and down or back and forth to remove old paint and feather rough edges.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Move an electric orbital sander up and down or back and forth to
remove old paint and feather rough edges.


For smoothing the edges of scraped spots here and there, you can wrap a piece of sandpaper around a wood block. For larger areas, it's less tiring and more effective to use an electric orbital sander. Move it up and down or back and forth across the surface to remove old paint and smooth rough edges at the same time. Don't use an electric disc sander or a belt sander. Both can leave swirls or dips in the wood that will show through a new coat of paint.


For particularly heavy deposits of paint, heat may be more effective than muscle. One way to apply heat is with an electric paint remover, which is a device with a platelike heating element that "cooks" the paint and has a built-in scraper to pull it off. Wearing heavy gloves, hold the heating element against the surface until the paint sizzles. Pull the remover firmly over the surface. The attached scraper will pull off the cooked paint as you go.

Another way to remove old paint is with an electric paint remover.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Another way to remove old paint is with an electric paint
remover -- a  device with a platelike heating element
that softens the paint and has a built-in scraper.

Liquid Paint Removers

Use liquid paint removers only as a last resort. They work well, but they're expensive, especially on big jobs. Also, they can slop onto perfectly good paint, giving you one more problem to deal with.


Once you have removed all the loose paint, you should apply an appropriate primer to some of the distressed areas, especially if your paint-removal system has exposed raw wood or bare metal. The kind of primer you use depends on the kind of paint you'll be using later. For latex paint, use latex primers; for solvent-thinned paints, use solvent-base primers; and for metals, use metal primers. Not only do these coatings provide extra protection against the elements, they also form a firm foundation for finishing paints. Also, priming is always required when you're working on new wood.

Other Prep Work

Even if you're fortunate enough to skip spot-scraping, sanding, and repriming, there are still some prepainting chores to attend to. They're much less laborious than removing peeling paint but no less vital to a successful job.

Rust stains on siding, overhangs, and foundations need to be removed. Leaks in gutters and downspouts have to be repaired. Loose caulking should be replaced, along with split shingles. Cracks in siding must be filled, sanded, and primed. Mildew must be scrubbed off, and steps should be taken to eliminate its return.

Also, to make painting easier, storm windows, screens, shutters, awnings, wall-mounted light fixtures (be sure to turn the power supply off), the mailbox, and even the street address numbers should be taken down, cleaned, and painted separately. You may even want to remove downspouts, as it's sometimes difficult to get a paintbrush behind them.

To make painting easier, remove light fixtures and other accessories.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
To make painting easier, remove light fixtures and other accessories.

You can typically complete all of these preparations for an entire house in a single day or over a weekend. If you're painting a porch or an outbuilding, it may only take an hour. If you're painting with latex, you can start the following day; solvent-base paint does not adhere well to moist surfaces so wait several days until all the washed surfaces are absolutely dry before applying this type of paint.


Not only will this process get the outside of your house clean and provide a dirt-free foundation for the new coating, it will also help you find surface flaws that have to be dealt with.

Depending on just how dirty the outside of your house is and on the house's size, there are two ways to approach this job. If you live in an average-size house, use a garden hose with a carwash brush attachment to bathe the big areas. For caked-on dirt, use a scrub brush or a sponge and a pail of warm water with a good, strong household detergent in it. Work from the top down, and rinse all areas where you scrubbed with water.

To remove caked-on dirt, use a scrub brush or a sponge.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
To remove caked-on dirt, use a scrub brush or a sponge and a pail of
warm water with a good, strong household detergent in it. Work from
the top down and rinse all areas where you scrubbed.

For bigger houses or for faster work on smaller ones, rent a high-pressure spray cleaner. This device attaches to your home's water-supply system and puts out a jet of water at a pressure of about 600 pounds per square inch. It is equipped with a handheld wand tipped with a trigger-activated nozzle. The pressure is high enough to dislodge not only stubborn dirt, mildew, stains, and dried-on sea-spray salt, it's enough to remove peeling paint. In fact, if the jet nozzle is held too close to the surface it can even peel off perfectly sound paint, split open shingles, and drill a hole in siding. So follow the manufacturer's directions and wear goggles and protective clothing.

You can use the spray cleaner while working from a ladder -- although scaffolding is better -- but practice at ground level first; the force of the spray against the house could knock you off a ladder if you're not careful. Some of these machines come with separate containers you can fill with cleaning solutions or anti-mildew solutions. Sprayers are so powerful that ordinarily you probably won't need to use a cleaning solution; if you do, remember to rinse the surface with clean water afterward.

Resetting Popped Nails

The house bath may reveal nails that have popped out of the siding or rusting nail heads that have left streaks of rust on exterior walls. If so, use sandpaper or steel wool to clean the nail heads. On clapboard siding, use a nail set to recess the nail head about ⅛ inch below the surface of the wood. Dab on a coat of rust-inhibiting primer (unless the nail is aluminum or nonrusting galvanized steel), and let it dry. Then fill the nail hole with spackle or putty. When the filler is dry, give it a coat of primer. For flathead nails, which cannot be recessed, sand the heads until they're shiny, and coat with primer.

Tie a rope around the trunk, and pull the tree away from the house.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
To keep trees out of the way while you're painting, tie a rope around
the trunk, and pull the tree out away from the house. Stake the
other end of the rope out in the yard.

Covering Shrubs

Trees, bushes, and ornamental shrubs can also get in the way of your painting. Prune any branches that hang over the house or brush up against walls. Evergreen trees and tall bushes growing close to the house can be wrapped with canvas drop cloths. Tie one end of a rope around the trunk at least halfway up. Pull the top of the tree out and away from the house, and tie the other end of the rope to a stake placed farther out in the yard. Cover smaller shrubs, flower beds, sidewalks, and driveways with drop cloths to protect them from paint drips and spills.

Estimating How Much Paint You'll Need

The size of the house, the condition of the surfaces, the type of coating you select, and the method of application are all factors that will determine the amount of paint you need to buy.

Narrow lap siding, shingles or shakes, masonry, or stucco exterior walls can take 10 to 50 percent more paint than smooth, flat walls.

Airless sprayers, which apply the equivalent of two coats of paint at one time, may require twice as much paint as brushes, rollers, or pads for the same surface dimensions.

You can get more standard, premixed paint if you run out. Or, if you buy too much, many stores will give credit or refunds for unopened gallons. With custom-colored paints, however, it may be difficult to get a precise match if you run short. Calculate your needs carefully, then buy an extra gallon for insurance.

To determine how much paint your house needs, measure the house's perimeter. Then multiply that figure by the height, excluding gable ends. Take the measurements with a steel tape measure, or reel out a ball of twine around the house and mark and measure the twine. If you will use a different paint on your home's trim, subtract 21 square feet for every door and 15 square feet for each typical window. Divide the final figure by the square-foot coverage specified on the can of paint to determine the number of gallons you will need for one coat.

If your house has gables, you can estimate by just adding 2 feet to the height when making your calculations. For more precision, measure the width of the gable wall and multiply that figure by its height. Divide the final figure by 2 to determine the gable's square-foot dimensions.

For trim paint, the rule of thumb is 1 gallon for every 6 gallons of wall paint. To be more accurate, you'll have to figure the areas of doors, windows, and shutters. For gutters, a linear foot is about equal to a square foot, so for 50 feet of gutter, buy sufficient paint to cover 50 square feet.

Now you're ready to start painting. Keep reading to learn about painting siding and trim.


How to Paint Siding and Trim

A Guide to
Exterior Paint
When painting or your home, it's important to select the right coating for your situation. Click here more information about exterior coatings for your home.

With the surface preparations out of the way, you're almost ready to brush, roll, or spray on a new coat of paint. First, because paint colors tend to vary slightly from batch to batch, mix all the paint together in one or two large containers. Leftover paint should go back in the original paint cans and be resealed.

Plan your painting day so you follow the sun, working in the shade after the sun has dried off the early morning moisture. Try not to let the setting sun catch you in the middle of an exterior wall at the end of the day. If you have to stop, try to finish painting an entire course of siding all the way across the house. Otherwise, you may leave lap marks in the middle of the course.

At the sides of window and door casings, jab your brush into joints, then smooth out the paint.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
At the sides of window and door casings, jab your brush into joints,
then smooth out the paint.

Also, plan to paint high places in horizontal sections across the top of the exterior wall. Never lean away from an extension ladder or reach more than an arm's length to either side. Paint one high section, move the ladder, and paint another, creating a painted band as you go. Repeat the process all the way across the exterior wall. Then, lower the ladder to work on a lower section. An extension ladder can be perilous. Make sure it's on firm footing about one-quarter of its length out from the foundation of the house. Also make sure it doesn't tilt to the left or right. Always check both extension hooks to ensure they are firmly locked on the supporting rungs. The two sections of the ladder should overlap at least three rungs. When moving the ladder, watch out for power lines. Here's another tip: Hang your paint bucket on a rung with an S-shape bucket hook so you can hang onto the ladder with one hand while painting with the other.

If your house has dormers, you may have to paint them from the roof instead of a ladder. If so, the ladder should reach at least 3 feet above the edge of the roof so you can step onto the roof without standing on the top rungs of the ladder.

A corner roller makes short work of the undersides of shingles or clapboards.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A corner roller makes short work of the undersides of shingles or clapboards.

When painting either clapboard or shingles, pay special attention around door and window casings. At the top of each casing you'll find a drip cap or metal flashing that tucks up under the siding. Paint a tight seal between metal and wood. At the sides of the casings, jab your brush into joints, then smooth out the paint to seal them. At casings and for the undersides of siding laps, you may prefer to use a corner roller. Before dismounting and moving the ladder, check your work for drips, runs, thin areas, and missed spots.

Painting Trim

Painting exterior trim means you're making progress and the job is winding down. Unfortunately, painting trim is a slow process that consumes a considerable amount of time, even if you apply the same color used on the siding. Diligence and patience in dealing with these details pays off. If done carefully and thoroughly, trim painting will keep your house looking fresh and protect it from the elements for a long time. Here are some tips to make the job easier:

  • When painting exterior trim, work from the top down; gables, dormers, eaves and gutters, second-story windows, porches and stairs, and foundations. If you don't want to mask around window panes, use a paint shield as you work. Scrape off any spatters and drips later.

  • If you've replaced the caulking around doors, windows, and joints, make sure caulking is dry before painting over it. Use enough paint to form a tight seal between the siding and the trim to keep out moisture, wind, and insects.

  • Paint exterior windows, sashes, sills, and jambs in the same order as the interior ones, working from the sashes out to the frames. Be sure to pay close attention to the windowsills. They bear the brunt of rain, snow, and accumulated dirt. If the windowsills look particularly weather beaten, take the time to give them two or even three coats of paint, including the underside edges.

  • Screens and storm windows should be removed and painted separately. If the screens have holes, this is a good time to mend them or replace the screening. If the screening is sound but needs painting, coat it first (using a pad applicator), then paint the frame. Don't forget to do both sides and all edges of screens and storms.

  • Doors are easier to paint if you remove the knobs, latch plates, and door knocker. If possible, also remove the door from its frame, lay it flat, and paint one side at a time, working on recessed panels first, then raised areas. Sand the bottom and top edges, then apply a thin coat of paint to keep out moisture and prevent rot. While the door is open or off its hinges, paint the jambs and the frame and give the wooden threshold a coat of urethane varnish. Do not paint the hinges.

    When painting an exterior door, paint the panels first, then the rails, the stiles, and finally the edges.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    When painting an exterior door, paint the panels first, then the rails,
    the stiles, and finally the edges, working from top to bottom.

  • Gutters and downspouts made of galvanized metal should be scraped with a wire brush to remove loose paint and then primed and painted again. On downspouts, paint in the direction of the flutes, usually up and down, to prevent runs, drips, and sags. Because some downspouts are flat on all four sides and are attached closely to the house, you may want to take them down to paint them. Consider coating the inside of gutters with an asphalt-base paint, which waterproofs the gutters and seals tiny holes and joints.

    For railing and ornamental metal work, use a lamb's wool mitten applicator instead of a trim brush.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    For railing and ornamental metal work, use a lamb's wool mitten
    applicator instead of a trim brush.

  • On ornamental metal work and porch railings, use a lamb's wool applicator instead of a trim brush. The mitten applicator, which can be used on either hand and is cleanable and reusable, allows you to grasp a railing support, smearing on the paint as you move your hand from top to bottom.
Painting your house can be a big job, but the task isn't difficult. Take the time to do it well, and it will reward you by lasting for many years.

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