Preparing and Painting Your Home's Exterior

Planning and Preparation is the key to making your job easier and professional. Don't make the mistake of buying the cheapest paint you can find and hopping on the ladder the same day you've made the decision.

Amount of Paint Needed

Your estimate of paint needed will be partially influenced by the surface type and condition as well as the size. Rough materials like masonry, brick, rough sawn siding, and abraided plywood have much more surface area than smooth siding materials and require about 20% more paint.

For convenience and to better assure color matching, it's a good idea to purchase all the paint at one time.

1. Measure distance around house and multiply by the average height. (sides normally higher than front or back.)

2. Deduct square footage of chimneys, windows, doors, etc. that you won't paint.

This figure will give the approximate square footage.

Divide by the coverage estimate on the paint can label.

Equipment & Tools

Since this is an outside project, you will not normally need as much protective breathing equipment or be as concerned about ventilation as for interior painting projects. However, splash goggles, gloves and appropriate clothing covering are highly recommended. A dust/mist respirator mask ( may also be a good idea, especially if dust and/or pollen is a regular problem for you.

BRUSHES. You will need at least one or two brushes. Buy best available and keep them clean.

ROLLERS. Three parts: Handle, roller cover, and tray. Handle can be screwed onto an extension pole up to elaborate telescoping lengths to increase your reach.

PAINT PADS. Surface of stiff, woven material that acts like bristles of a brush. Have few uses in exterior work because they don't hold much, but will work well on flat surfaces and can be used for siding that's in good condition or for new shingles.

ROUGH SURFACE PAINTING. Used for painting split shingles. Looks like a rectangular scrub brush.

SHINGLE BRUSH. Wide, thick, long bristles tapering to a fine edge, used for painting shingles.

SPRAYERS. Can use for paint or stain. Coating is put under pressure and forced through a small aperture that atomizes it into a cloud of droplets. In airless sprayers, diaphragm pumps and hand-held sprayers only the paint is under pressure; these are the most commonly used in house painting.

LADDERS. Make sure any ladder used is in good condition. Wooden ladders will more easily show their wear than aluminum. Throw the ladder away if you see cracks or loose joints. It's virtually impossible to spot fatigued metal in the aluminum so be sure to buy a good one and then take good care of it. Ladder care includes not dropping them, not letting them fall, and not using them for planks. It's preferable to carry ladders upright, keeping vertical. For safety, do not stand on top rung while working.

STEPLADDERS. Same criteria as regular ladders as well as checking out all moving parts, making sure they work smoothly. Lengths from three to eight feet. Will have a shelf for your paint bucket. They do not need to touch the wall, but will be stable if on level ground. For safety, do not stand on top rung while working.

EXTENSION LADDERS. Available in a large variety of lengths and how much weight they will hold. Federally rated.

LADDER JACKS. A ladder jack could be compared to an adjustable shelf bracket. They hold up planks between a pair of extension ladders and work as scaffolding. It's easy to set up and move if there is more than one person. If you have a lot of scraping and grinding, using ladder jacks will be very helpful. Use aluminum planks at least sixteen feet long.

DROP CLOTH. Protect what you don't want paint to fall on. If you're using a sprayer, cover a much larger area because the wind can carry the droplets. Drop cloths made of canvas are thick enough to absorb almost all paint spills and are heavier and stronger than plastic sheeting that can be slippery and easily torn.

MASKING TAPE. Protect window glass and other smaller, finer areas that you don't want paint on. You can mask less with brushing or rolling paint, but spraying will require extensive masking. Rollers will require more than just brushing because there is a small amount of spray created with rollers. Use tape or paper masking. More expensive, newer tapes will pull cleaner without leaving residue. Duct tape works best for masonry. If you have many windows or many items that will need masking, or will be spraying, you may want to consider a masking machine that automatically attaches the tape to one edge of a strip, pulled from a roll.

SCRAPERS. Remove loose paint. Three kinds: Push, Pull, and Molding. Be careful not to gouge wood by working with the grain rather than against or across it. Scraping is hard work, especially hard on your lower back muscles, so go easy.

CAULKING GUN. Use caulk to fill gaps between building materials, like between brick and board siding, wood and masonry, wood and metal, and plastic and metal as well as the joints between two pieces of wood like window frames and door frames. There's several types of caulk for specific jobs. A "gun" makes it easier by holding the caulking material container in a more stable and easily dispensed applicator. There are other tools and equipment that you may need for your exterior painting project. Be sure to ask your Sutherlands paint advisor.


The performance of any paint or coating system is directly related to the quality and thoroughness of the surface preparation before painting. This is more important in exterior work than interior work. Before selecting your covering (e.g., paint, stain) choice for any exposure condition, always determine the amount and the type of surface preparation needed.

All surfaces should always be thoroughly dry and free from dirt, oil, grease, wax, rust, and other contaminants.

Countersink all nails.

Fill all cracks, openings or other surface fissures.

Make structural repairs to keep water from seeping into unpainted edges or other areas of the wood. Seal well.

Moisture Primary cause of failure on wood surfaces. Moisture can get behind the paint film from faulty flashing, improper or inadequate caulking, or porous or cracked paint film on exterior surfaces. Don't paint on damp wood and make sure the walls are adequately vented from the home's interior.

Cleaning Mildew and chalking must be removed and surface must be sterilized before repainting. Products are available for this purpose.

Chalking is loose surface powder. All exterior paints will chalk after long exposure to weather-some more than others. If minimal, it may be able to be sealed to the surface with a clear sealer before repainting.

Sandpapering All glossy areas must be dulled, particularly under the roof eaves, the soffits, and fascia boards.

Application The paint, the surface, and the air temperature should be between fifty degrees and ninety degrees unless the product specifications indicate otherwise. Relative humidity should be below 85%.

Painting early in the day is better than late in the day. Dew or condensation are more likely later in the day.

SPECIFIC EXTERIOR SURFACES (In addition to General Preparation)

NEW UNPAINTED WOOD & HARDBOARD. Spot prime nail heads and putty nail holes flush with surface. Apply recommended primer over entire surface. Sand surface roughness. Wipe clean. Remove any sap with solvent. Shellac over knots before priming. Prime coat.

Note: Back-priming of new wood siding prior to its actual placement on the house is by far the best protection as a vapor barrier. Be sure edges are also sealed.

REDWOOD OR RED CEDAR. These are prone to bleed-through staining when coated with latex paint, depositing brown stains on the surface. These can be washed off with a mild detergent followed by a thorough clean water rinse. Dry completely before painting. To prevent the stain from bleeding through when attempting to cover with paint (not another stain), is to prime with a special primer made for this problem.

NEW HARDBOARD SIDING. Surface preparation will be key to the optimum performance of coating this material. Wash and rinse thoroughly. If water beads during rinse, wash again. Rinse again. Dry thoroughly. If mildew is present, it will need to be treated. Wax in this material may rise to the surface when exposed to hot sunlight or high moisture conditions. Seal.

PLYWOOD VENEERS, TEXTURED WOOD. Prone to cracking. Paint failures are difficult to prevent without using a stabilizer. Use as a spot primer or over-all on new wood or repaint surfaces. Water based stains or house paints are preferred as a top coat.

NEW UNPAINTED BRICK, CONCRETE BLOCK, CINDER BLOCK, VERTICAL MASONRY. All cracks, openings, surface fissures must be repaired before painting. Vertical concrete may already have a surface coating or contain additives. For good adhesion, this material must be removed by sandblasting before any coating application.

UNPAINTED POROUS/OPEN FACE CEMENT/CINDER BLOCK. Fill with a masonry block filler to keep out wind-driven rain. Topcoat. If unsure, ask any Sutherlands representative, call any of the Sutherlands Locations or e-mail your particular situation question or problem . Sutherlands is always happy to be of help to you in your home project plans.

LATEX TOP COATINGS. New, dry masonry that is free of chalk, crumbling, and efflorescence-and is not highly alkaline-will not require a special primer if latex paint is used as a finish coat. It serves as its own primer. If it IS alkaline, you need to prime. If the new, unprimed surface is porous and you are using the latex as a primer, reduce the first coat with one pint of water per gallon.

ALKYD TOP COATINGS. New masonry free of chalk and efflorescense, but suspect high alkali content, will need alkali-resistant primer. Product reduction may be necessary if surface is porous.

REPAINT CONCRETE BLOCK/CINDER BLOCK/ BRICK/ VERTICAL MASONRY. Repair all breaks or defects, including those in old paint film. Deep cracks in masonry should be partially filled with grout, followed by an elastic caulking compound. Don't overlap onto the surface edges of the crack because it will eventually dry and curl. Remove all loose and scaling paint by scraping and sandblasting.

REPAINT ALUMINUM SIDING. If corrosion, remove with power brush, scraper, or sandpaper. If bare aluminum is exposed or factory coating cracked or chipped, prime it.


PAINTED, WEATHERED ALUMINUM SIDING. May be heavily chalked. Clean. If difficult to completely remove by washing and rinsing, primer may need to be applied when dry to obtain proper adhesion. It's important to paint as soon as possible after cleaning so mildew growth doesn't begin.

PAINTED, UNWEATHERED ALUMINUM SIDING. Those protected from weather (e.g. eaves, soffit, porch ceiling, carports, etc.) must be washed and rinsed clean and then primed.


Below fifty degrees Fahrenheit: Latex paints don't work properly. Oil based paint should be thinned. Painting in direct sunlight on hot day: Paint dries so quickly, it cracks. Surface is wet or even just barely damp: Don't apply oil based product. Moisture trapped on the wall behind the paint can lift the paint off the building by causing blistering and bubbling. Latex will allow some water vapor pass through but if the surface feels wet to your touch, it's too wet to paint. Rain or heavy dew: Latex dries to touch in a few hours but will take longer to cure. If it's still wet to the touch and it starts to rain, it's going to wash off. If barely dry, it may blister. Apply early in the day so it will have time to dry before the dew falls on cool nights. Oil paint can't be painted onto a damp surface, but it may do well even if rained on. The worst may only be mottling gloss sheen, of which you will need to paint over after it has dried. Ideal painting day is one that is mild and dry, with a light breeze.


Blistering & Peeling: Scrape and sand to bare wood. Repaint only when totally dry. If preventive measures are not taken, it's sure to return. Water based latex paint recommended.

Mildew: Scrub thoroughly with mildew remover or with a solution of household bleach, detergent, and water. Wear rubber gloves and splash goggles. Repaint when totally dry with paint with a fungicide added.

Bleeding/Rust-colored Stains: Caused by non-resistant nails that weren't sealed before painting or have popped up over time. If they're firmly set, sand down to the nail head and seal it with pigmented shellac and then repaint. If the nails are popped ones, remove and replace with new, slightly larger, rust-resistant ones. Repaint.


Running/Sagging/Wrinkling/Droopy/Wavy: Caused by too thick application. Paint may be too thick or you are applying too heavily. Check on this as you paint and catch before paint is dry so you can usually brush out the runs or sags. Thinning may help if too much is clinging to the brush. If paint has already dried, you will need to sand and, this time, lightly repaint.

Checking: Term for long, evenly spaced cracks, usually horizontal in painted siding. Common in older homes from natural shrinking and swelling, especially with layers of older, inflexible paint. Only way to solve this problem is completely start over...remove, prime, and repaint.

Alligatoring: Term for rough scales. Caused by second coat applied over an incompatible paint or over a wet first coat so no bond was formed. Scrape and sand to bare wood. Prime. Repaint.

Bleeding Knots: Term for circular shaped discoloration in stained or painted siding. Resin, dissolved by solvent in paint, has come to the surface from knots in wood not properly sealed. Strip and sand to the knots. Apply sealer or shellac to the knots. Prime. Repaint.

Efflorescence: Term for brick's and mortar's material of calcium and magnesium sulfates that have dissolved and come to the surface and become crystallized from heat. This frosty coating may appear on damp interior or exterior walls. It must be removed and corrected and the surface must be treated before repainting.

Chalking: More a feature than a problem, common to many latex exterior paints. Paint is formulated to gradually decompose over time so as the binders and resins wear away, the pigments in the paint are released as a very fine powder. With each rainfall, some of the powder will be washed away and take surface dirt with it. It actually helps to keep exterior paint looking bright, but it also creates unsightly stains, especially on brick walls. Lack of rain can result in excessive chalk build up, but inferior paint is also a cause. Wash with a detergent solution, rinse with clear water. For new latex, apply a special chalk-absorbing primer first. For oil base, two coats will need to be applied.


Basic guidelines for house painting

TO LOOK LARGER: Paint light color.

TO LOOK TALLER: Paint any vertical trim in contrast color of house body color.

TO LOOK WIDER: Emphasize horizontal lines with contrast color.

TO EMPHASIZE TRIM: Have a high contrast between main house color and the trim. A dark house and light trim create greatest impact.


BLEND INTO SURROUNDINGS: Don't use colors that contrast with the surroundings.

BLEND HOUSE ACCESSORIES: Paint roof vents to match roof as possible, or other metal house accessories such as gutters the same color as eaves. Color downspouts same color as house.

Take plenty of time to look over and visually picture color options. Doing it in small segments rather than one long stretch of time will be more productive in your choice. Get color ideas from magazines, paint chips, fabrics, and taking photographs of houses you like. Be careful not to chose colors that may be too intense in a wider expanse.
Sutherlands® provides these project tips and guides as a service to our visitors. Due to possible variance in conditions, equipment, materials and individual skill levels, Sutherlands® assumes no responsibility for losses or injuries incurred during maintenance or repair of your property. Sutherlands® assumes no liability for errors or omissions in the Resources section of this website. Please read and follow any safety precautions provided by tool and equipment manufacturers, and consult a building professional in your area if you have any questions about a repair project. Always check your local codes before building, and obtain the required building permits.