Paint and patience

July 14, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

So, it's been a few years and the age is starting to show. A few cracks here, faded blotches there and the occasional flakes falling from above.

Yup, the ol', sturdy frame is looking a little long in the tooth, ready for a facelift. Or at least a little touch-up.

What is a homeowner to do?

Turn the job over to a professional? Maybe, but perhaps the personal satisfaction of do-it-yourself home ownership is more your style.


If so, well, it's time to pull the multi-colored painter's overalls out of mothballs for a mid-summer makeover of the home's exterior.

But house painting for beginners requires more than a wide brush and a couple gallons of white latex glaze. No, like buying a home there is more to painting it than meets the eye.

"One of the biggest problems that happens to people who try to do it themselves without any advice is they're in a hurry and just want to get it done," says Rich Smith, one of the sons at Greencastle, Pa.-based interior/exterior decorator James J. Smith and Sons.

Translation: This is not a home improvement lark to be approached cavalierly.

Instead, painting the home can be a long, tedious process that begins long before the first drop of color soaks into thirsty walls or trim.

"I would say where people make their mistakes is with poor surface preparation," says Craig Robinson, owner of Town and Country Painting in Hagerstown.

Depending on whom you talk to, a well-painted home will require a new coat after five or eight years.

When starting a job from scratch, Robinson begins by thoroughly cleaning the surface being painted. Where paint is cracked or peeling, he removes all paint and sands the surface down.

He also washes the surface, either with a scrub brush or pressure washer. Paint will cling to dirt and grime if they are not removed, leading to an imperfect new coat apt to crack and peel anew.

Same goes for mildew. Robinson and Smith suggest cleaning mildew away with a solvent such as a trisodium phosphate and bleach mixture to remove mold.

Otherwise, painting the home is similar to any other surface. It must be primed before it's painted, and the number of coats required will depend upon the color being used.

Robinson says painting a home the same color usually will require one coat. Changing colors will require at least two coats, sometimes more depending on the color. And he recommends using a brush with soft bristles, which don't leave brush marks when applying paint.

Because the smoother the finish, the smarter the home will look. As for paint sprayers, there is a time and place for those time-saving pieces of technology. Honestly, Robinson says, you are better off avoiding them unless you're situated in a rural area with no chance of errant paint coming to rest on other homes or vehicles.

The trick is to educate yourself before embarking on such an extensive project, to make sure that paint is being applied properly.

"If not prepared correctly," Smith cautions. "You're wasting your time and money."

Advice from the pros:

Other house painting tips, from Craig Robinson, owner of Town and Country Painting, and Rich Smith from James J. Smith and Sons, Greencastle, Pa.

Don't be shy. Paint or home improvement stores offer valuable resources to walk the neophyte through his or her first painting endeavor. Ask questions.

Prep the surroundings, as well as the surface to be painted. Robinson recommends liberal use of drop cloths to cover walkways, shrubs and other objects (organic or otherwise) you don't want to give a new color treatment to.

Cloths strewn below the work area also make for easier clean up of paint chips that flake off when preparing the home for painting.

Be a weather watcher. If the forecast hints even a little bit at rain, put the paint brush away. Otherwise, water from above will a) erase all you've already accomplish and b) create a new mess to clean from brick or other surfaces paint was unintended for.

Avoid too early a start. Since paint and moisture don't mix, Smith suggests waiting until any dew or overnight moisture has evaporated before starting to paint. Otherwise, the water vapor will push paint from the house as it heats up, leaving an unsightly crack or peel.

Beware the bees. Shutters, gutters and roof overhangs are havens for bee hives. Take care to clear the hazard before attempting to paint nearby.

Be prepared. Make sure ladders are properly anchored to avoid nasty spills. Wear respirator masks when sanding old paint from surfaces.

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