Exterior house painting tips

September 14, 2012

I just got bids to paint the exterior of my home. Ouch! I’m a little afraid of being on a ladder, but I am determined to do this job myself to save money. Can you share any tips on what I can do to be more comfortable? I’d also appreciate any and all tips you can share from the type of paint to use to ways to apply the paint. Remember, I’m on a limite d budget but do intend to stay in my home for many years.

— Sally T., Lawrence, Kan.

You’re not alone when it comes to fear of heights. Two members of my family freeze solid with a death grip on ladders when they’re only 5 feet in the air. When they see me go to the top of a 32-foot ladder, they can’t even stand to look at it. Fortunately for you, you’ve got alternatives, lots of alternatives.

Let’s talk about ladder options first, then we’ll jump into some sweet tips that will get you professional painting results. Please understand it’s impossible in this short column to cover everything there’s to know about painting and all the great painting aides that exist.

If you have a fairly level lot and good access around your house, you can rent a motorized man lift from a tool rental business. This is a hydraulic work platform similar to utility company cherry-picker trucks. The platform allows you to stand on a wide, level surface that goes up, down, left, right, in and out. Working controls at your fingertips while standing on the platform, you can get to every part of your house to paint it safely. The platform has sturdy guardrails, and you’ll be very safe.

If you decide to rent one of these machines, be sure to get training on how to use it and be sure that you don’t come into contact with any overhead wires or cables.

If you can’t afford to rent one of these amazing machines, perhaps you can affordably rent iron-pipe scaffolding. Bricklayers use this to work, and it comes with all sorts of sloped stairs, wide platforms, guardrails, etc. You can erect it with help from a friend and create very safe work platforms 20 or more feet in the air.

You might be able to hire a neighborhood handyman at a much-reduced rate to paint just the areas that cause you to feel queasy. You can work side by side with him to provide support and materials so the job goes faster.

Many years ago, the first home-improvement company I started was with a college friend named John. We painted houses in the summer. He went on to become a chemist and worked for one of the major paint companies. When he was studying to get his PhD, you know what he told me? The chemical formula for most paints is strikingly similar to that of glue. John said: “Paint, for the most part, is just colored glue. Don’t forget, glues come in all sorts of strength!”

That has stuck with me my entire life, no pun intended. You should take away two lessons from this remark. First, glue sticks best to surfaces that are clean, dust-free, oil-free and in great condition. Second, not all paints are created equal, and some will not adhere well because the glue component in them is just not that sticky.

Most homeowners never read the label on the paint can. They skip over the part about surface preparation, or they think they know intuitively what to do. This includes washing the surface to be painted.

Let’s exorcise the pressure washing demon right now. Pressure washing is not a bad thing, but it does not entirely clean a surface. You can prove this easily by washing a dirty car with a pressure washer. After the car dries, there’s always a slight film of dirt left behind you can wipe away with a damp paper towel or your finger. The same is true for your home.

I prefer to apply a solution of oxygen bleach to the painted surfaces with a hand-pump garden sprayer. I allow that to soak for a few minutes and follow behind with a soapy solution of water using a brush made to clean the outside of RVs. I immediately rinse the scrubbed area with clean water.

Purchase a paint that has a blend of urethane and acrylic resins or glue. These paints are more expensive, but they last and last. I painted my last house with this paint over 12 years ago and it’s never peeled, the color has not faded, and the paint looks like new when it’s periodically washed with regular liquid dish soap and water.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. He can be contacted through his Web site at www.askthebuilder.com.

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