No home improvement project revives, beautifies and protects a house as quickly, effectively and affordably as exterior painting. A new coat of paint can completely transform the look of your home. And while painting a house can be a big job, it’s a project that can be completed in a week or two.
If you hire a professional painter, expect to pay from $1,000 to $6,000 or more, depending on the size and condition of your house, according to HomeAdvisor. By making it a do-it-yourself project, you can save on labor, which typically accounts for more than half of the cost. But know that painting your home will take some serious effort.
Regardless of whether you hire a professional or take on the work yourself, you'll want this project done right so you don't have to repeat it in a few years. With this in mind, here are 10 exterior house painting rules you should never break:
Pay for top-quality paint, primer and caulking compound. Top-quality paint lasts longer and flows and covers better than poor-quality paint. Buy paint that has a lifetime warranty against defects in the finish.
With most house paint, you get what you pay for – and the best ingredients are expensive. High-quality exterior paint typically costs from $35 to $40 per gallon, and up to $80 per gallon. Be sure to choose 100% acrylic paint.
Top-performing exterior paint brands include Behr Premium Plus Ultra exterior paint and Clark + Kensington exterior paint, which cost between $35 and $40 per gallon, and Sherwin-Williams Duration exterior paint and Benjamin Moore Aura exterior paint, which are both above $50 per gallon.
Flat finishes, which are preferred for siding, do a good job of hiding defects and irregularities. Satin and semi-gloss enamels, used for trim, are more durable and easier to wash.
For paint to adhere well, it must be applied to a surface that is clean, dry and not flaking or peeling. Depending on the condition of existing siding and trim, this often means considerable scraping and sanding before you can paint.
Begin by washing the surfaces. You can use a hose and a scrub brush with water and detergent, or a pressure washer. If you use a pressure washer, be careful not to drive water deeply into the joints between siding or erode the surface of the wood with the high-pressure water spray.
To remove loose, flaking paint, you’ll need a scraper. Then, for removing tougher paint and smoothing the surface, a 5-inch disc power sander or a random-orbit sander will work well. Start with 60-grit sandpaper and follow up with 100-grit sandpaper.
The idea isn’t to remove all of the paint – just to remove loose paint and smooth the surface. Use a putty knife and wood filler to fill cracks and holes. Let the filler dry, and then sand these areas again. Brush off all of the dust, caulk the joints, and allow the caulk to dry before applying primer.
Although today’s house paints do not contain lead, paint applied before 1978 is likely to contain lead. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that any home improvement work involving lead paint can create a lead dust or chips that can be hazardous to the health of children and adults.
For lead testing and removal, the EPA recommends you contact a local lead-safe certified renovation contractor, which can be found through the EPA’s website.
Begin with a high-quality alkyd primer for your base coat if you’re painting over bare wood or metal, which will be specified on the paint label and will help keep the paint from bleeding. Some painters like to tint the primer toward the final paint color to minimize the need for two finish coats of paint. Others prefer to tint the primer with a contrasting color, which will highlight any spots that the final coats haven’t completely covered.
After the primer, apply the first finish coat. After it becomes tacky, apply a second top coat.
Use a high-quality brush, roller and, for some houses, an airless sprayer that can be rented at most home improvement centers or tool rental outlets. The easiest way to apply primer and paint to textured surfaces is to spray it on with an airless sprayer, and then back-roll it by hand with a roller to ensure adhesion.
If you have never used an airless sprayer, pay close attention to the equipment’s directions and gain a little experience by painting a less-conspicuous side of the house first. Work from a 5-gallon paint bucket, and use a paint strainer so paint doesn’t clog the sprayer.
Don’t paint your house yourself unless you have the time, tools, skills and stamina to do the work. Depending on the size and height of your house and the condition of the existing siding, preparing and painting a house on your own can be a tedious, difficult job.
Don’t paint on hot days, in the rain or during windy weather. Ideal temperatures for painting are between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot weather causes the paint to dry too quickly, as does direct sun. When possible, wait for the shade. Temperatures below 50 degrees may prevent the paint from adhering to the surface properly. Dampness or dew can bubble surfaces.
Protect decks, shrubs, gardens, patios and walkways from paint spills and splatters with drop cloths or plastic sheeting. This will save you from big cleanup problems later. If you use an airless paint sprayer, masking and covering is imperative – overspray can even coat your neighbors’ cars.
If you’re a painting novice, do your homework. You can find lots of free information online, including videos by experts that break techniques down into steps.
Work from the top down, starting with overhangs so fresh paint won’t drip on newly painted surfaces. Paint the siding, and when that’s dry, tape around windows and doors, and paint the trim. As soon as you’re finished painting the trim, remove painter’s tape or masking tape so it won’t leave residue. After all of the paint has dried, touch up areas where paint hasn’t fully covered the surface.
Request detailed bids from at least three painting contractors, and ask them for the names and phone numbers of satisfied customers. Call two or three of those customers or, if possible, visit their homes to inspect the workmanship. Networks like Angie's List, HomeAdvisor, Fixr and even Google and Yelp can help you find local professionals and see reviews from previous customers.
A renovation project for each season
Homeownership comes with a never-ending list of home improvement projects, and being able to time them right can be tricky. Ultimately, the best time for a home improvement project is when you have the time. But if you’re eager to plan projects to set yourself up for success, consider which season has the right weather patterns, minimizes future maintenance issues and makes it easiest to hire professionals. Read on for the best time of year for 12 home improvement projects.Interior paint
Best time of year: Winter
The benefit of painting inside is that you have air conditioning and heating. “We paint interiors all year-round because of that climate control,” says Tina Nokes, co-owner of Five Star Painting in Loudoun County, Virginia, which is a part of Neighborly, a network of home service providers. Your biggest concern when it comes to a quality indoor paint job is humidity – so if you’re in the middle of a humid summer, it’ll take longer for a room to dry and it will dry unevenly. If you’re worried about humidity levels inside, paint your interior rooms during the winter, when the air is driest.Electrical updates
(Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)
Best time of year: Winter
Electrical work can happen just about any time of year, unless it’s during rain or a thunderstorm, for obvious safety reasons, explains Dennis Burke, owner of Mr. Electric of Southeast New Hampshire, which is also a Neighborly company. What truly makes winter a winner for electrical updates is that you’ll be avoiding the bulk of competing homeowners. Burke says late spring and early summer see a big influx of requests from clients, as well as late summer as people go on vacation. “Labor Day to Thanksgiving is also really busy,” he says.Building a deck
Building a deck
Best time of year: Winter
An outdoor project like a backyard deck seems like a natural undertaking for summer, but it’s actually just the opposite. Deck builders and contractors report that pressure-treated wood, which is best for building a deck, stabilizes best when humidity is low. Additionally, the increased sun exposure in summer can cause the surface of a deck to crack, and cloudier winter days help avoid early damage. If you live in a particularly cold climate, aim for early winter to avoid the bulk of snowfall and temperatures that are too cold for contractors to work outside.Full-room remodel
Best time of year: Winter or spring
Remodeling or updating a well-loved room in your home can happen any time of year, but it’s best to be proactive and avoid higher labor costs or jampacked contractor schedules during the summer months. HomeAdvisor reports that July is the busiest month for bathroom remodel requests, with 48 percent of homeowners indicating they’re ready to hire and start work immediately. Avoid the rush by scheduling your remodel earlier in the year.Cleaning out gutters
Cleaning out gutters
Best time of year: Early spring and fall
The gutters along your roofline collect leaves, twigs and other debris over time. When they get too full, the drains can clog and cause water to sit along the edges of the roof and get inside the house or continue to weigh down the gutters. Avoid any problems by cleaning out your gutters in the fall, when leaves are most likely to make their way in, and again in early spring so the path for water is clear before April showers roll in. If you're not comfortable on a ladder or you have a high roofline, consider hiring professional help that will take proper safety precautions.New floors
Best time of year: Spring or fall
The best time to install wood flooring is during parts of the year with the least extreme conditions. In spring and fall, you'll avoid peak humidity and dry air, both of which can cause problems like bowing and warped wood or cracking in too-dry conditions. Plus, you can open windows to ventilate the smell of wood stain or carpet adhesive, and you’re least likely to have the heat or air cranking in spring and fall.Updating a deck or fence
Updating a deck or fence
Best time of year: Spring, summer or fall
The wood on a deck may fare better in winter, but staining a deck or painting a fence often requires additional weather consideration. “Decks and fences are a little more finicky (than painting a house exterior). We need it to be even warmer, around 40 to 50 degrees,” Nokes says. A good deck staining or painting company will recommend a timeline specific to temperatures where you live to avoid an incomplete, delayed or flawed project.Exterior paint
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
New paint will freshen up the look of your exterior walls, and painting is a doable project for a decent chunk of the year. Temperatures have to stay above 35 degrees for exterior painting, so in the early days of spring and late days of fall, weather-dependent work may be delayed if temperatures drop. For this reason, Nokes keeps clients on a watch list: “If we get a warm snap, I’ll call them right away,” she says.Home addition
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
For outdoor work, it’s best to avoid the seasons that will bring inclement weather and delay the project. Plan for the project to begin after the chance of snow in your region has passed, and shoot for a completion date before the frost returns in the fall to reduce the chances of delays. But be sure to schedule all professionals well in advance. In fact, Burke says a month to two months’ advance notice is often needed for electricians to complete an estimate, plan a contract and schedule work.Roof repair and replacement
Roof repair and replacement
Best time of year: Summer, early fall
It’s a given that you don’t want people working on your roof in icy or wet conditions. As a result, the best time of year for roof repair or replacement is also when the professionals are busiest. Be sure to plan roof replacement a month or two in advance to avoid having to wait with possible leaks causing damage to the inside of your home.HVAC care
Best time of year: Early fall
Any repairs to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system should be done as soon as you notice an issue, but if you’re planning to do routine maintenance, schedule a professional long before you’ll need to turn on the heat. That way, any potential problems that could leave you without heat are found and fixed before the first cold nights of the season. The same goes for air conditioning in the late spring and summer.New appliances
Best time of year: Fall
Consumers can expect everything from washing machines and oven ranges to refrigerators to sport discounts leading up to the holidays. Even if you’re not updating your kitchen until May (and your home can accommodate an extra oven or fridge for five months), keep an eye out for deals. Stores that sell appliances like Sears, Lowe’s and Home Depot are known to regularly offer holiday weekend deals.Read More
Updated on May 1, 2020: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.