Outside Job

Weather, paint type and ladder safety are just a few of the things a pro painter has to consider when painting exteriors.

By Bruce MacKinnon

Exterior painting is an easy job. So easy in fact, any-one can do it. All true, unless you want to do it well.

It is always about prep, prep, prep. You have to remove old scaly, cracked, peeling blistered paint, which usually involves a torch and a scraper or a heat gun or paint stripper or a combination of all of the above. Sanding the painted surfaces and washing them down to remove lingering dust or chalk is also an important step.

The finicky Canadian weather is torture for most exte-rior painters. Cold and windy, or hot, humid days are a pain to say the least. There are days when we wish we could hermetically seal the entire house and air-condition it to get the painting done.

Oh, and rain or dangerously windy days are never scheduled weeks in advance. More often than not, paint contractors have to loosely schedule interior or “conve-nience jobs” to switch to in case of bad weather.

Those of us who paint outside have to find radio sta-tions with reliable weather reports. The Weather Chan-nel was a godsend but the Weather Channel app for the iPhone is even better. One look will give you a really good indication of what weather to expect hour by hour.

Humidity is a real problem for exterior painting. If the moisture in the air is above 85 percent humidity, you have the perfect conditions for a return visit to repaint what slid off into the bushes, or worse, onto the customer’s sid-ing. And, while extremely dry weather isn’t generally an issue here in Canada, avoid painting if it is very dry. The lack of moisture can suck the water right out of paint.

Painting in direct sunlight poses the same issue if it’s too hot. These conditions will make the paint set too fast so that the first brush loads on the surface will dry before penetrating the surface. This is why windowsills in con-stant sunlight need to be recoated every year.

These sunlit areas should be painted before it gets too warm (say, before 11:00 a.m.) or you should figure out away to shade the area. A rule of thumb is to paint in the shade all day if you can, so try to follow the sun around the building.

If it rained the day before and even if it is clear on the day of painting, look for standing water around the site. If there is standing water, there is a good chance your wood or surfaces will not be completely dry yet.

Obviously, safety is your first concern. Look for poten-tial hazards, like bushes pushing against ladders, holes or uneven surfaces where your ladders will be placed. In extreme cases, a safety rope and harness are required if there is no safe way to reach an awkward spot. Tie off to trees on the other side of the house or a large chimney, but only if said chimney is in good condition.

If there is a lot of work to be done above 35 feet, rent a boom. If there are only one or two windows, maybe it’s worth using a 40-foot ladder. However, dragging a 40-foot extension ladder around a large job is exhausting and you will frequently need a man to stand at the bottom of the ladder to be an expensive spotter and serve as ballast. It’s not worth dying because of risky ladder maneuvers. It is cheaper to rent the boom and include it in the price of the job.

Oddly, another danger is that bees and wasps are attracted to the sweet smell of paint. So, keep a can of bug spray handy or a bug swatter nearby.
Sharp and appropriate paint scrapers are essential to preparing old surfaces for new paint. Either stock up onblades for your draw scrapers or buy an inexpensive elec-tric grinder to sharpen the blades. I used a grinder wheel on my drill to do the sharpening.

In older buildings there is still extensive putty work to be done, but the long-time favorite Mastic Putty has gone out of business. The newer putties are a lot softer because they have more oil in them. This makes the putty almost unworkable and it takes many days for it to harden up enough to paint over. And, on a hot day the putty becomes nearly liquid. It still takes weeks for it to dry fully.

One way around this is to add a bit of plaster powder. Durabond or Sheetrock 45 both work nicely. Sprinkle the powder in the pound of putty until it begins to stiffen up and has the consistency of dry peanut butter.

Oil paints have traditionally been the mainstay in exte-rior painting since it stays wet long enough to get it in place before it sets. But new VOC regulations have destroyed oil paint as we know it and they are nearly gone from the market. For now rust inhibitor paints are still untouched.

The solution is not pretty at the moment. Paint manufacturers are scrambling to come out with alternatives for exterior work. Stock up on the old oil while you can so that new paints can be tested and perfected over the next few years.

The alternatives are not as durable or user-friendly as traditional oil paint. And you may have to use XIM sealer. It is designed to transition between existing oil and the new coat of latex or water-borne alkyd.

On warm days, place a wet rag over open cans of paint when you go for breaks. It will keep the paint from skim-ming up. Primers are already thin, but add a touch of water once it gets hot, to keep the primer thin and workable.

When painting windows or paneled doors, paint from the inside to the outside flat areas and edges. This way the final strokes are on the flats with no ridges from painting edges.
Finally, treat the exterior the same as you would the inte-rior of the building. Keep it neat and clean. Sweep up daily. Pick up all the debris from the prep. Leaving the clean-up for the customer is not the way to get referrals.  PP

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