Your Place: When painting a house, how cold is too cold?

Posted: November 25, 2011

Question: I want to paint my house, but the mornings are cold.

How do I know if it is safe to paint my house if the weather is cold? Does the wood have to be a certain temperature for the paint to stick?

Is there a device I can buy to let me know if the wood is too cold to paint or is there a general rule of thumb?

Answer: I have painted in cold weather over the years, but rarely when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees. Water-based paints tend to start thickening around 50 degrees; oil-based, when I used it, was a bit more forgiving.

I usually waited to paint on days when it was in the 50s to low 60s, with little wind so that the paint would not dry too quickly. I tried to start the job early enough so that the paint set up before dark.

The Paint Quality Institute states that most latex paints should not be applied when the air temperature of surface being painted is 35 to 50 degrees, depending on the manufacturer's recommendations on the paint label.

"Painting in cold weather is more difficult, and it takes longer to dry, leaving the wet paint more susceptible to dirt, insects and pollen," the institute says. "If you use a latex paint, wait until the temperature is predicted to remain above the recommended minimum for the next 36 hours."

There are paints that have come out since I've needed to paint in cold weather that are designed for use in northerly climates. You can search on the Internet.

Professional painters know all the tricks, and they seem to be the ones able to get away with painting in cold, as well as hot weather.

The latest I've been able to paint is Dec. 14, a rare spate of 60- and 70-degree days, in 2000 or 2001, if memory serves.

Mostly, I touch up spots on weekend days that weather and time accommodate.

Pests, pests, and more pests. According to a recent survey of pest professionals in the Philadelphia area conducted by the National Pest Management Association, the two most challenging pests during the fall and winter months are stink bugs and house mice, with fleas and silverfish a distant third and fourth, respectively. Here are some other findings:

46 percent of respondents said they had noticed an overall increase in pest populations in the Philadelphia area over the last year. Specifically, bed bugs, fleas, odorous house ants, house mice, and stink bugs.

Eastern subterranean termites, carpenter ants, carpenter bees, bed bugs, and house mice are listed as the five most destructive pests in the area.

From a recent Ask Al chat.  I have a second home in Bucks County that will be empty this winter.

If I empty the water lines and shut off the water is it OK for me to turn the heat off through the winter?

If so, what should I do to make sure I have no issues with the water lines if I come back for a week in January or February when the weather is really cold?

Handyguy Brian responds:

"I have a cottage I winterize. I drain all water from any pipe, trap, toilet - everything. If I have a trap I can't drain I replace the water with antifreeze made for the purpose.

"I then turn off the gas and electricity. I make sure the fridge door is open and dried out (to prevent mold). Then I place mouse poison around a few places just in case."

Every week, I do at least one chore defined as maintenance.

This week, it was changing the filter in the furnace's whole-house air cleaner.

Why did I do all this?

With heating season here, a clean filter is key to efficient operation. Unlike my old rambler in the city, which depended on an ancient furnace converted to oil from coal in the 1940s, my current furnace is a relatively modern, high-efficency condensing gas model that, while not totally problem-free over the last few years, needs a bit of routine TLC to work properly and efficiently.

There is nothing worse than having your furnace go down during a snowstorm in the dead of winter.

Maintenance can help prevent this nightmare.

Your Place:

Join Al Heavens for a live chat Monday at noon, when he will discuss issues related to taking care of your house.

Questions? E-mail Alan J. Heavens at or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies. He is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing).

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