Exterior Painting Tips

No matter how experienced you are as a painter, there’s always room to learn more. This is especially true with exterior painting. These jobs are often large and demand efficient application methods if you’re planning to make money. Exterior painting also happens in less predictable conditions than interior, and outdoor situations are also harder on coatings.

#1. Brush & Roller Can Be Faster Than Spray (and better)

Spraying paint certainly has its place, but the old ways aren’t necessarily as slow as they seem. There are professional painters who efficiently use brush and roller on large exterior jobs, and swear they can out-paint anyone with spray equipment when masking, scaffolding and cleanup time are taken into account. Quite apart from speed, there’s also the issue of durability. All else being equal, brush-applied paint typically lasts longer outdoors than spray applied because the action of the brush drives paint deeper into the wood fibers. When it comes to exterior painting, absorption is key.

#2. Beware of Chronically Peeling Outdoor Wood

If you’re asked to paint exterior wood siding that hasn’t held paint as long as it should have in the past, beware. The most likely cause is internal moisture migrating through exterior walls during cold weather, flaking off paint as it does. No matter how well you prep a surface like this, and no matter how good the primer and paint you choose, peeling paint will happen if there’s an outward migration of moisture. Most common on older homes, chronically peeling wood is usually something that shows up here and there – not over an entire wall. Explain the problem to your client and make them understand that you can’t guarantee lasting results on wood siding with a moisture migration problem.

#3. Educate your Clients About Stains

As a painter, it’s natural for you to get requests to finish outdoor wood with transparent or semi-transparent products. The thing is, you need to educate clients about living with stains (as opposed to paint) if you’re to avoid disappointment and call-backs. The first thing clients need to understand is that staining demands more prep than painting and it will cost them if they want a good job.

Lack of absorption is the biggest technical hurdle to overcome when staining outdoor wood. New lumber is especially bad for not letting film-forming stains soak in properly. Without full absorption, you’re in danger of premature peeling. This is why very few outdoor wood stains perform optimally on wood that is not sanded. Pressure washing first makes sanding go faster later because you’ve already began to open up the wood pores sealed over by mill glaze. Pressure wash, let the wood dry for a couple of good days, then sand with a 60- or 80-grit disk in a 6” random orbit sander. This is the fastest way to optimize absorbency on both new wood and old. Clients need to understand why it’s taking so long for you to start using a paint brush.

The second thing your clients need to understand is that the best stain lasts less time than the best paint. How often have you heard a client say “I just want to keep that new wood looking natural”? This is where you need to kick into teaching mode.

All else being equal, when you look at wood stain products, the more opaque the “stain” you apply, the longer good appearance will last. It’s like sunscreen. Clear outdoor wood finishes preserve bright new wood, but they don’t provide much protection from the sun. A rich, dark brown stain or an opaque paint-like stain lasts the longest, all else being equal. Opaque stain is the wood finishing equivalent of a sunscreen with SPF 100.

“Clear wood coatings are an option on exteriors, but they won’t last as long as pigmented products”, explains Jim Ireland, commercial painting expert with Beauti-Tone. “The largest problem with product failure is UV damage, especially on southern exposures. The more pigment the more UV protection.”

Besides UV rays, the biggest destroyer of outdoor wood stains is moisture. No matter how thoroughly you coat surfaces, moisture will sneak past the coating and soak into the underlying wood. If the stain you’re using traps that moisture, premature finish failure will occur. That’s why you don’t want to coat wood with too much stain. Some stains are designed for one coat only, and it’ll say so on the can. Any more than this and you can trigger finish failure because the stain can’t let moisture out quickly enough. Even products that call for several coats should not be over done. Stick with two coats, or three at the most. Any more and you risk getting a nasty callback.

tricks of the painters' trade

#4.Treat Lead With Respect

Lead was a part of house paints until it was banned in 1978, and this means you’ll be dealing with exterior projects that contain at least some lead at some level below the surface. The thing about lead is that it’s easy to overlook the dangers. In theory you may know that sanding lead paint releases airborne lead that’s dangerous to inhale, yet before you know it, you’re telling yourself that “a little sanding” won’t do anyone any harm. Actually, it might do you significant harm if it means you’re breathing lead-laced dust. Exterior paint jobs are more likely to contain lead than interiors, so protect yourself accordingly.

#5. Use Good Caulking

Exterior caulking is like tires on a new car. Neither is usually very good quality because prospective owners don’t appreciate the difference enough to pay for quality. No one ever walked away from a new car because the stock tires weren’t good enough, and no one is going to notice if you use cheap caulking to fill and seal the outside of a home. The thing is, this misses the point. By using the best caulking before exterior painting, then explaining to the client why this matters, you’ve just vaulted yourself way beyond the average painter. It’s a little thing, but little things are often the difference between repeat clients and customers who can’t even remember your name next time. Right now the best exterior caulking is probably polyurethane. It remains flexible forever, it’s amazingly paint – able and it’s pleasant to work with. Polyurethane caulking is less common than it used to be, but worth looking for. pp

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