Exterior Paint Prep: Worth The Work
“I had the best weekend painting my house!” said no one, ever. Painting is hard work.
A few days of pre-paint prep will add years to the life of a paint job. Properly prep surfaces for lasting, professional results and rest easy knowing you won’t have to paint again for a decade
GET THE LEAD OUT
Before starting, test painted surfaces for lead. Lead is toxic to humans and no known level of exposure is considered safe. Choose an EPA-recognized at-home test kit, like 3M™ LeadCheck™.
If you find lead, contact an EPA-certified renovator or lead-dust evaluator for the next steps. Read more in our blog, “Lead Paint Lowdown: Still Toxic, After All These Years.”
WASHING & DRYING
Begin with a pre-project wash on every surface you’ll paint. This kills mildew and breaks down years of grit and grime. For this step, you’ll need a hose with a solution sprayer attachment or a pressure washer and a low-pressure pattern nozzle.
Pick an overcast day for this project, so the cleaning solution doesn’t dry out before it’s washed off. Cover nearby plants with old sheets, so they aren’t dirtied by overspray.
Working from bottom to top in a small section, loosen grime by spraying water on the exterior. With the section still wet, apply a cleaning solution like this old favorite.
Allow the solution to sit for a few minutes, re-wetting if it dries too fast.
Then, working from top to bottom, use clean water and rinse away the solution. If using a pressure washer, take care not to force water into the clapboards or siding—the goal is to rinse.
Don’t be shocked if your home’s freshly washed surface looks dull, dull, dull. That means it worked! The TSP preps the paint for a new layer by breaking oil-based paints’ gloss and roughening latex-based paints’ finish.
Give your home two days of dry time before taking on the next step.
Go with the grain—that’s this step’s mantra. It’s time to remove loose, flaking paint—by hand.
Visit the tool department to feel different brands of paint scrapers. This priceless tool actually costs less than $30. Find one you love—it’s going to be your new right (or left) hand for the foreseeable future so it’s gotta feel right.
For tough jobs, like stripping a home’s exterior down to the boards, use a hot-air gun. It’s slow-going, but using a heat gun lifts away decades of paint.
While scraping or stripping paint, it doesn’t hurt to work lead-safe: Spray water on the surface as you scrape to minimize dust, collect debris as you go, wear a face mask and a disposable Tyvek suit.
Rough spots happen, so get comfortable with a random-orbit sander. Gentle as she goes with this electric hand tool. Go with the grain to smooth out rough spots, but too vigorous an effort is rewarded with a gouge. Use 60- to 80-grit sandpaper for this step.
If you’re stripping down to the boards, this next step is vital: Sand away any gray wood to reveal clean, bright wood. Gray wood means old, sloughing surface cells, which paint peels off of. Bright wood is the right wood.
FIXING & FILLING
By now, it’s likely your house looks like it has taken enemy fire. Filling bare spots, gouges and chips is the next step.
For smaller dings and nail holes, a putty knife and patching compound should do the trick. Larger holes are best filled using a two-part resin filler, which clings well to larger-surface areas.
Repair damaged or rotting boards with epoxy wood filler, which can be shaped to shore up and match boards. Find serious rot? Call a carpenter.
SANDING, PART DEUX
Re-sanding is the final prep step before priming and painting. Use your random-orbit sander and 100-grit sandpaper to create a paint-ready surface.
After all fillers and compounds are dry, sand the following for primo paint adhesion:
- All patched, filled areas, to smooth
- Transitions between bare wood and paint, so paint won’t “pop” at the ridge
- Shiny spots on existing paint, to completely de-gloss
Be sure to de-dust all surfaces after sanding, so your primer will adhere—a leaf blower or dry paintbrush work well.
Now you’re ready for the next steps, caulking, priming and painting, which we’ll tackle in our next McLendon Blog.
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