How to Paint the Exterior of a House

For the “biggest bang for your buck” – paint the exterior of your house. It’s easy, rewarding and not terribly expensive. There are, however, a few basic rules to follow and some pitfalls to avoid.

Preparation is Key

Before you paint the exterior of your house, take the time to prepare it. This will make a world of difference – both in appearance and longevity of your paint job. Preparing an exterior of a house for painting can take as much time as the paint job itself.

How to Paint the Exterior of a House

How to Paint the Exterior of a House

Most of the prep work is just common sense. All loose paint needs to be either scraped or wire brushed off. Chalking, a normal part of paint weathering, needs to be washed or sanded off. A best pressure washer will make short work of this – but be careful. High pressure water can cause a lot of damage. A simple spray attachment on your garden hose is often quite sufficient.

Glossy paint needs to be sanded enough for your new paint to adhere. If you are unlucky enough to encounter alkyd (oil) paint, you will need to either sand it vigorously or repaint it with alkyd. Be careful! Latex paint can literally peel off in sheets if you get this wrong – a rather large disappointment. If you are unsure, just paint a small section and check it the following day.

Painting the exterior of your house without re-caulking is almost a crime. Remove all the caulking that is loose or shriveled. Take the time to do a nice job – the difference in quality is huge and very worthwhile. But this is your next big pitfall – one that is very commonly disregarded with poor results: Bare exterior wood quickly draws the moisture out of any caulk – causing it to fail years before it should. ALWAYS spot prime any bare wood before caulking.

Paint and Tools

You can save a bundle at the checkout with cheap paint. But you will be buying clay fillers and extra water instead of quality polymers and pigments. Buying the cheap stuff often means going back for more, painting two coats instead of one, and repainting years before you needed too. Quality definitely matters.

A decent paint store can be a wealth of information regarding materials and colors. Take full advantage of their knowledge and experience.

Working with dollar store tools is a recipe for misery. Invest in some nice tools every time you paint and look after them. Buying ladders or scaffolding might not be worthwhile to you. A rental center will deliver what you need for a reasonable price.

Protect the Landscape

Nothing spoils the appearance of a beautiful, well done paint job quite like a huge mess in the yard! A mess of paint chips, painted and trampled shrubs, drips on the sidewalk and driveway – the possibilities for destruction are limitless. Carefully cover everything with plastic and drop cloths. Tie back (or prune) any shrubs that are in the way.

What About Badly Damaged Wood?

Generally speaking, one carefully applied coat of good quality paint is adequate (unless you are doing a dramatic color change). But what if your wood has been neglected and is badly weathered and damaged? I routinely rescue wood that belongs in the kindling box with a simple trick – a rather closely guarded secret of some painting contractors.

“Massage” a very generous amount of flat alkyd paint into the wood. Nurse as much paint into the dry wood as it will absorb, and consider doing two coats if it’s really in bad shape. Then let it dry for a couple of days before putting a nice finish coat of latex paint on top. No latex paint can rejuvenate damaged wood like alkyd can, and no alkyd can offer the elastic, bullet proof outer surface like high quality latex. It’s a perfect combination.

The wood will almost certainly be cracked and split in places. Within reason, you can fill these with caulking. Common wood filler will soon crack and fall out, but a two part epoxy will work fine.

Where to Start?

Another serious pitfall to avoid when painting the exterior of your house is painting in the sun. Which side you work on depends entirely on where the sun is – and where it will be while your paint is still wet. This can be more important than rain, although rain will wash away your hard work if the paint is very fresh.

Ideally, the sun should have passed the side you are going to work on, and the wood will have cooled down to the touch. Paint needs to dry at a controlled pace, from the inside out. Blazing sun will cause the outer skin of your paint to dry much to fast. Painting hot wood will cause rapid drying from the inside, before the paint can properly penetrate the wood for durability.

To avoid “lap marks”, you need to finish each board or panel before the paint dries. High temperature makes this a very difficult task. Cooler temperatures allow you to work on a much larger area without running into this unsightly problem.

Painting in the spring or fall is actually better than mid summer. The cooler the sun and temperature, the more leeway you have. On the other hand, cold temperatures will delay drying of the paint, with adverse results. Don’t work too late into the day if a cold evening is on the way.

Start at the top and work your way down, to avoid worrying about paint drips and ladder marks.

Stucco and Concrete

You must use latex paint on stucco. Alkyd paint does not breath as well and is not compatible. A good trick – one that will horrify your neighbors – is to spray your stucco with water before painting. It’s tough to achieve a nice even finish on hot, dry stucco. A damp interior of the concrete will reduce paint consumption and give you the nice finish you want.

The trick is to allow the surface to dry and get it painted before the interior dries out too much. Consider using an elastomeric coating, which is expensive but will span small cracks and last much longer.

Concrete has a tendency to shed paint. If you are determined to paint smooth concrete, a two part epoxy paint is your best bet by far.


Unless you have a steady hand, you might want to mask off some areas that don’t get painted. Use blue or green painters tape – it works better and comes off easier. Don’t leave it on longer than you need to.

To get a neater edge, try not to get a lot of paint on the tape. When masking off glass, allow about 1/16 of an inch of paint onto the glass to get a nice seal.

Anyone can grab a brush and slap paint onto the exterior of a house. But some knowledge can make a world of difference to the end result. Avoid common mistakes and work carefully. The exterior of your house will look like a professional painting contractor did it. And it will last for years – not months!

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Hi there! This is Mattie. When I am not making DIY projects for my house, I spend most of my time researching and writing reviews of different products that you can buy online. I am an office worker turn full-time blogger, and I hope to help other homeowners like me on how to improve and reinvent your home using the best ideas and equipment.

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