Even the nicest, most expensive homes are protected by a skin less than a millimeter thick. Ah, the miracle of paint. If you keep your home's exterior paint in good condition, it can actually save you thousands in home repairs (as well as keep neighbors from gathering in your yard with pitchforks and torches, eager to rid the block of an unsightly blight).
Repainting your house is not a casual, finish-in-a-day project, though, especially if you're going to do it right. Here are the steps you must take and the tools you should have at hand to give your home a facelift.
For the Best Results, Do Your Prep Homework
Painting a house is an exercise in patience and preparation, and any painter will tell you that proper prep work is three-quarters of the battle (and yes, about three-quarters of this feature).
First, you'll need to start with an honest inspection of your home's exterior. Are the gutters leaking? Do you have rotten wood under the downspouts? Are shingles split? Is mildew building up behind an overgrown foundation planting? Is ivy eating your home? Before you begin to prep your house for painting, you'll want to address any and all of these issues. Only then can you scrub-a-dub your house, since paint won't adhere well to dirt.
There are a couple of ways to accomplish this cleaning. You could use your hose and pick up a washer wand attachment meant for cars, or use a stiff push broom. This Old House recommends using a cleaning mixture of one gallon of water to one cup of bleach and one cup of a phosphate-free cleaner like a TSP substitute. Once you've washed, remember to thoroughly hose down your siding.
If this job is a really big one, or you're a particularly impatient homeowner, you might consider using a power washer. You probably can rent one locally, or you can buy one like the Snap-On 1,600 PSI Electric Pressure Washer ($89.95 with free shipping, a low by $21), which has a an adjustable nozzle, 30-foot power cord with GFCI protection, and 20-foot pressure hose. Take care with a pressure washer, though; they have been known to break glass, drive water under siding, or even strip siding off of a house when used improperly. You've also got to wear goggles and protective clothing when operating a power washer.
Get Ready to Paint... With Even More Prep Work!
Next, you'll need to... continue to prep your house's siding for painting.
It's time to replace any damaged shingles (from power washing!), patch any noticeable holes, adjust popped nail heads, treat mildew, sand rust stains, re-caulk joints, reglaze windows, and generally make sure that you have a clean surface that is water- and air-tight. Now's also the time to trim shrubs and trees away from the house.
Of course, the most time-consuming task to prepping your house for a new coat of paint involves the laborious scraping away of old paint. There are a variety of tools and methods you can use to get a smooth, uniform surface. But, before you begin scraping, consider the risk of lead paint. If your house was built before 1978, you might want to take a paint sample to a local lab for testing. If the test comes back positive, you should absolutely hire professionals to scrape your house; they know how to do it without spreading the toxic material.
If the results come back negative, consider then how you want to proceed. For those who aren't afraid of working up a sweat, a wire brush, putty knife, and a pull scraper are the right tools for scraping off old paint. The wire brush can easily remove very loose paint. The putty knife will handle more reluctant paint chips, and the pull scraper will attack larger areas of loose paint.
For paint that doesn't come off easily, a heat gun can help break the bond between the wood and the paint. Another way to remove paint is with an electric paint stripper, which grinds paint off, although you'll need to buy replacement disks with use. After scraping the majority of the surface area you'll paint, you'll have to tackle the borders between the remaining paint and the bare wood with an orbital sander in order to eliminate lines in the final paint coat.
Finally, if you're considering using a paint sprayer for the job, you'll need to carefully mask off any spaces you don't want to paint, including windows and door knobs. But be careful with a spray gun: in the hands of the inexperienced, it can lead to uneven coverage, thin spots, drips, and overspray. The extra prep work associated with a paint sprayer often eats into the time savings, and of course the equipment isn't free.
Take Paint and Application Tools Into Consideration
Once the prep work is done, it's time to select your paint and equipment.
Acrylic vs. Oil-Based Paint
Almost all house paint today is acrylic latex, which, in modern formulations has excellent durability and is easily cleaned with water. It's versatile in that it also adheres to both latex or oil-based primers. However, if you're painting cedar or redwood shingles, you'll want an oil-based paint. The same applies to high-traffic areas such as steps, porch floors, and cast-iron ornamentation.
How Much Paint?
Now comes the question of how much paint you will need. You'll first want to prime your house, especially if you have a significant amount of raw wood showing. Once that is dry, two coats of finish paint will usually give you the most long-lived protection. To determine the precise quantity you'll need, simply calculate the square footage of the surfaces and compare it to the manufacturer's coverage claim. If you're using a different color for trim, you can estimate you'll need a gallon for every six gallons of your primary color.
Pro tip: Once you've bought your paint, pour all of it into a larger vessel and mix all the gallons together before beginning the job. By mixing it together you'll eliminate the slight differences in tint.
While paint can be expensive, don't be afraid to invest some money in to your brushes, either. The right brush can make big difference in the smoothness of your coat, and properly maintained, brushes can last for many years. If you're using an acrylic latex paint, you'll want a brush with nylon and polyester filaments. The bristles should be of uneven lengths in order to maximize paint holding. The bristles should also be chiseled: the bristles on the inside of the brush are longer than those on the outside. A 5" straight brush and an angled trim or sash brush for borders and edgings should see you through painting your house. If you have to paint ornate metal work or porch railings, consider a lamb's wool glove applicator.
You'll also probably need a ladder, one that can telescope up to everywhere you need to reach, and support enough weight for both you and your gear.
Planning Your Path
When you're painting, try to work in the shade as much as possible; it's just more comfortable! Expert painters tackle their projects by painting a stripe the width of the surface (in this case, your house), then move down and paint a strip beneath that one and work their way to the ground. It's important to paint trim after painting the body of the house. And to paint doors, it's best to remove all hardware, remove them from their mounts, and paint them horizontally.
Painting a house can be a time intensive and laborious process, but it's one that rewards patience and persistence. You'll be living with the new color and the quality of work you've put in for at least 10 years, so make it count. If you do it right, those neighbors won't be rioting on your front lawn; they'll be looking to your home as the local standard of excellence.