Your Place | Don't touch that paintbrush until the surface is prepared

Posted: April 13, 2007

Question: I know you've talked about this many times, but painting season is upon us, and I want your take on surface preparation. I know you always say that preparing the surface will make any paint job hold up longer.

Answer: Coincidentally, Debbie Zimmer of the Rohm & Haas Paint Quality Institute has been talking to me about this very topic, so I'm ready to tackle your question with expert accuracy. In addition, now that the exterior of my house is completely painted with two coats on everything, I can live vicariously through you.

To get picture-perfect, long-lasting results on your exterior, Zimmer offers four basic rules:

Prepare the surface properly. Anyone who has ever painted knows there is a natural tendency to start applying paint as quickly as possible. But even the best-quality paints can fail if they are applied to a dirty or unsound surface.

Before you begin to paint, make sure the surface is clean and free of chalk and dirt. Use soap and water with a scrub brush, then rinse. Or consider using a power washer, which can be rented at a home center. Treat any mildew on the surface with a 1:3 mixture of household bleach and water. Apply the mixture and allow it to remain on the surface for 20 minutes. Be sure to wear eye protection.

Remove any loose, flaking or peeling paint by scraping, sanding or wire-brushing. Feather back rough paint edges by sanding. If you are repainting a glossy surface, be sure to sand it so that the new paint will adhere better. And spot-prime any bare wood.

Finally, brush off any dust or particles left from the sanding and scraping prior to painting.

Buy top-quality paint. To get a durable paint job, be sure to purchase the best you can. Acrylic latex is an excellent choice for most exterior applications. Such paints have superior adhesion and will maintain a tight grip on a properly prepared surface. That helps prevent premature paint failures like blistering, flaking and peeling.

Another plus with top-quality acrylic-latex paint is its flexibility, which enables it to expand and contract with the surface when temperatures rise or fall dramatically. That also extends the life of the paint job.

Don't go cheap on tools and brushes. To get the best results, use good-quality paintbrushes, rollers and other application equipment. With brushes and rollers, be sure that you have the right type of applicator for the paint. Use synthetic-bristle brushes that are tightly packed and well-balanced and synthetic-nap rollers for latex paint.

Paint in the right conditions. Weather plays an important role in both applying paint and its long-term performance. Choose the right type of day to do your exterior painting. It's best to tackle this job when the weather is mild, but not too hot, and when there is little or no wind.

It's also best to avoid painting in direct sunshine, since the surface of your house can be 10 to 20 degrees hotter than the air temperature - and that can cause the paint to dry too quickly. By painting in moderate weather, you'll get the best performance from your paint and your efforts.

Have questions for Alan J. Heavens? E-mail him at or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.

comments powered by Disqus