Preparing Exterior Surfaces

If your siding and trim is in good shape, you can happily sidestep the most maddening part of an exterior paint job—removing chipped or peeling paint. But don’t get out your paint clothes and brushes quite yet. Go around the house and take off all screens, storm windows, and hardware that can be removed. Inspect the exterior and replace damaged siding materials. Use a nail set to drive protruding nails below the surface.

Give your house a bath. You’ll need a garden hose and a car-wash brush attachment, a scrub brush or sponge for stubborn dirt, and a mixture of water and trisodium phosphate (TSP) to remove dirt and reduce the gloss of existing oil- or alkyd-based paints. Remove loose and cracked glazing from the windows and reglaze them. Glazing should dry a week before painting. Also caulk all cracks and gaps in the siding; around porch columns; and under, over, and around windows and doors. If you’re using an oil- or alkyd-based paint, wait at least a week after the bath before you paint the house. You can paint with latex the next day. When the siding is dry, spot-prime all bare areas. Don’t miss exposed metal surfaces on gutters, downspouts, and windows.

Tools: Whisk broom, hose, scrub brushes, car-wash brush, hammer, nail set, screwdriver, and a caulking gun.

Clean the siding. Wash the house from the top down, using a mixture of trisodium phosphate (TSP) and water. Rinse well. Let dry one day for latex or one week for oil paint. For mildewed areas, scrub with household bleach and water or a commercial cleaner. Repaint with mildewcide paint.

Make needed repairs. Set popped nails and spot-prime them. Also caulk cracks, replace damaged siding, and prime bare metal spots.

Brush away dust. With a whisk broom or a paintbrush, flick off the dust you missed with the hose. Keep this brush handy as you paint, to clear away other debris.

Remove obstacles. Take off fixtures or cover them the day you paint. Remember to take down other accessories, such as house numbers and the mailbox. To speed up the job, remove, clean, and paint screens, storm windows, shutters, and other detachable components separately.

Preparing and Planning to Paint

Begin exterior painting when the sun has dried off the prepared surfaces. Follow the sun so you’re working in the shade; this gives the paint a chance to cure slowly and adhere better. Work from the top to the bottom of the house to avoid the mess caused by spilled or splattered paint. For a one-story house, do the siding first, then go back and paint the windows, doors, railings, steps, and so forth. If you’re painting a two-story structure, do the trim as you go to avoid leaning your ladder against fresh paint. Always paint above the top of the ladder. Don’t try to paint under it, or you’ll have ladder tracks where the rails touched the siding.

Protect nearby foliage. A little paint spattered on grass will disappear with the next mowing, but it will remain on mulch and taller plants. Protect shrubs, flowers, patios, and walks with drop cloths. Use rope and canvas or old sheets to tie tall bushes back out of the way.

Safely set up ladders. Set ladders on sure footing—never a plastic drop cloth. If the ground is uneven, dig a small hole for one of the legs, or place a wide board under a leg, positioned so that the ladder does not wobble. Use a ladder brace for stability and to hold the ladder away from the side wall for more painting room.

Hang the paint with a bucket hook. To keep the paint bucket from spilling, hang it from a ladder rung with a bucket hook, which you can buy or make from heavy-gauge wire.

Work close to the ladder. For safety’s sake, don’t stretch more than an arm’s length on either side of the ladder—it’s just not worth the risk. Move the ladder instead.

Time the work to avoid lap marks. Plan the work so that sundown does not catch you in the middle of several courses of siding. Otherwise you will get lap marks.

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