Six Tricks for Exterior Painting

Use these pointers to work magic on your home’s curb appeal and longevity

Performing your own acts of home-maintenance and home-improvement can save you a lot of money. And one of the best ways to get a big bang for your buck is to do your own painting and staining. Whether you’re a first-time finisher or a practiced painter, heeding basic advice can make the years and the problems disappear — like magic.

1. Choosing color
Color selection is important, so don’t trust a 2-in. paint chip. Instead, view the biggest paint sample you can find — like an entire house. Designer and HGTV host Lisa LaPorta recommends visiting the best neighborhoods, where colors were likely chosen by architects or designers. Look for house styles similar to yours and note colors that will enhance the architecture of your house.

Trick: To envision a color transformation on your house, try out an online painting tool (see SOURCES in PDF below). Once you’ve chosen a main color, Lisa says, buy a single gallon and apply it to your house to see if you really like it before you paint the whole thing.


A mustard trim color is perfect for this Mediterranean style house, but it would be garish on a Cape Cod.

2. Assessing conditions
Inspect for paint failures that reveal deeper problems; then make them vanish for good. Blisters and rust or mold stains can indicate moisture problems; cracking layers of paint may be caused by poor surface prep or bad application practices such as painting in direct sunlight (see No. 5: “Proper Timing,” below). For a lasting finish, eliminate the cause of the paint failure, not just the symptoms.

Trick: Paint that’s lifting from a previous layer indicates a problem with adhesion, but if paint has peeled down to the substrate, the cause may be moisture migrating from beneath the surface. Visit the Paint Quality Institute Web site to see photos that can help you analyze your paint problems.

3. Prepping and priming
To produce a durable coating, your opening acts must include banishing dust, loose paint, mold, rust and grease and then scuff-sanding glossy surfaces. However, do not use detergent to clean surfaces that will be painted, as it leaves a film that can keep paint from bonding. Once the surface is clean and dry, you’ll want to apply a primer/sealer such as Kilz (see SOURCES in PDF below) to seal bare wood, mask dark colors and block bleeding stains.

Trick: A pressure washer is an excellent tool for removing dirt and cobwebs from the exterior of your home, but these machines can be too harsh when used for stripping old coatings. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended settings — spraying too hard will damage wood fibers. If you are cleaning lap siding, spray at a downward angle. To learn how to revive old wood siding, see “More on Wood Prep,” in PDF below.

4. Using super tools
Look beyond the basic brush for tools that can simplify the task. An adjustable extension pole will expand your range and reduce ladder time. A bucket grid is more efficient than a roller tray when applying lots of paint. A Handy Paint Pail helps to prevent hand fatigue during trim work, and its magnet holds the brush right where you need it. Voila!

Trick: Keep a Hyde 6-in-1 painter’s tool up your sleeve (or in your pocket); it’s handy from start to finish. Once you use its curved edge to clean a paint roller, you’ll never want to work without it.

5. Proper timing
Work in the shadows. A cloudy day is ideal (as long as rain isn’t in the forecast for 24 hours). Painting in direct sunlight is unhealthy for you and for the finish coat. The heat causes paint to dry too quickly, leading to lap marks and future blistering.

Trick: To escape direct sunlight, use the clock to your advantage: Paint the west side in the very early morning, the north side anytime, the east side during the afternoon, and the south side in the late afternoon/early evening. And don’t cheat on the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the appropriate temperature range (during application as well as the curing phase).

6. Staying safe
Don’t do an unintentional disappearing act; levitate wisely by correctly using a sturdy ladder. You may need to consider renting scaffolding or a mechanical lift. For added security, use fall-arresting gear.

Trick: To sustain your own sturdiness, be sure to take plenty of rest breaks and stay hydrated (with water, of course). Wear eye protection during all phases of the project to block UV rays, debris (from scraping and pressure washing), spatters and drips.

Remember that painting does not need to be an all-or-nothing project. You can still save money while hiring a professional to paint the areas that are too high or precarious for your reach. (Of course, for many diehard DIYers, acquiescing to accept help may be the greatest magic trick of all.)

This project is part of HANDY's Top 5 Collection: Painting Tips.
Click here to check out the other four painting articles in this collection.