The Beast Of Exterior Paint


Painting the exterior of your rental is a very daunting task.  No matter if it’s one color or 3 colors it’s a big commitment of time and or money.  It’s something you hope to not have to repeat within a few years. I’ve recently delved head first back into the realm of exterior paint.  I made the decision to paint a porch on my Victorian rental, which meant selecting colors that would eventually be carried through to the exterior of the home.  During the time I became reacquainted with the tips and tricks of painting as well as learning some new information that I find highly useful.  Regardless of whether you plan on doing the work yourself or hiring out it’s a good idea to have a base level of knowledge so you can properly evaluate contractors and their plans.

Tip #1 Pick Your Colors First

This is especially true with exterior painting.  Before you do any surface prep, before you get bids, pick your colors.  If you tend to be color indecisive (my hand is raised) getting your wood prep done first may leave your colors vulnerable to further decay from Mother Nature.  If it takes  you 2 weeks to commit to colors, that’s 2 weeks that your porch is unprotected to elements that use and weather throw at it.  Second, if you are hiring out, the colors (and how many colors) you use may impact the final price of the work.  (There are a lot of intricacies to this topic so we can’t go into it here.)

Tip #2 For every hour you spend painting you should spend 2 hours prepping

This was something I learned as a child working on my parents rentals.  Before I learned to write cursive, I knew how to hold a paintbrush and paint a porch spindle.  One of the lessons I learned from my parents was the importance of preparing wood properly.  I believe the tip about a 2:1 ratio of time came from my other Grandfather who wasn’t an investor but an avid woodworker and restorer.  

Most people spend little time on the prep because they hurry to the finish line of getting the color on.  How you apply the color only has about a 30% effect on the way the paint wears.  The other 70% is everything you do beforehand. Don’t be the person who sprints to the end.  Spend your time carefully preparing the wood surface so that your hard work will pay off and stick around.

Tip #3  Scraping & Sanding Is King

Before you put down the primer, take a scrapper and remove as much of the chipping and peeling that you can.  How much of this you have, depends on how old the paint is.  The goal is to remove any paint that isn’t properly adhering to the surface anymore. 

Once you’ve scraped the surface then you need to sand the surface.  Sanding the surface does a few key things.  For surfaces that are exposed wood it removes the top layer of sediments and other elements that may prevent the primer from properly adhering.  This includes mold and mildew.  Sanding the surface also provides a little grip to the exposed wood, giving the prime something to stick to.  If you ever have been able to peel paint off a surface like sunburnt skin, then you know it is important to have a finely roughed up surface.  When you are sanding, if you arent going down to bare wood everywhere (a debate for a later time) you will at least want to accomplish 2 things when sanding.  First, smoothing the edges of the paint “splotches”.  Creating a slightly neater finish than leaving the rough edges created by chipping paint.  Second, removing the very faintest top layer of color thus roughing up the surface so the primer can stick easier.  You know you will have achieved this level of roughing up when you have seen a slightly color change in the sanded area.  

Tip #4 Don’t Forget To Wipe

Okay, sorry for the crude statement but it got your attention.  After you’ve finished sanding the surfaces, wipe them down with a slightly damp cloth.  You don’t want to soak the wood or get it any discernible level of wetness with the cloth.  It’s just barely on the side of damp so that it can easily collect dust and debris off the surface.  Give the surface about 5-10 minutes to air dry before priming.  

You also should repeat the above if you’ve left the surface primed or painted for more than 4 hours and are doing another coat.  If that’s confusing, try this: If you apply primer, let it dry overnight then come and do a first coat of color, wipe before you paint.  If you paint in the morning and come back 6 hours later to do another coat, wipe it down quickly. It’s a good rule of thumb to wipe down the surface again if you can graze your hand along the surface and not disturb the paint.   Of course we are gently wiping. 

Tip #5 Earth Tones Don’t Fade As Quick

This was news to me.  When I went to get quart samples of my colors (more on that next) the paint tech told me that when painting exterior surfaces consider using earth tones for as much of the surface as possible regardless of color trends.  Why? Because earth tones are made using naturally occurring elements rather than highly synthesized elements of lighter colors.  God, the Intelligent Designer, Allah, whoever you believe in created things to stand up to..well..nature.  So it goes that paints made with naturally derived elements will hold up against nature a little better.  How much better is hard to say.  But earth tones fade less quickly when exposed to sun and rain than lighter synthetic colors do.  Now if you get your paint from the dollar store, disregard this tip.  Nothing is going to change how freaking quick your paint will fade.  

Tip #6 Sample The Milk Before You Buy The Cow

Before you commit to gallons of your paint colors, buy quart samples.  Most people buy gallons of their colors and the paint all of color one, all of color 2, etc only to realize they don’t like color 2, or 3 doesn’t go with two 2 well, etc.  

Use your quart samples in a small area where you can get a reasonable indication of how the colors will look together on the surface.   But don’t don’t judge until you’ve done all the steps.  Properly prep your paint surface,  prime it, apply one coat of color, and your second coat before you judge the color scheme.  Do this in a nearby area for all your colors, remember a small area.  Then once its fully dried, take a step back and judge the colors then.  If you don’t like something it’s easy to make color adjustments at this stage when the worst you will have to do is prime a small area back to neutral.