How to Paint Your Home's Exterior Like a Pro

The key to a successful exterior paint job is proper preparation. These step-by-step instructions will show you how to paint your house effectively and efficiently.

Whether your facade is looking a little worn or you want to give your home a colorful makeover, a fresh paint job is a great way to add curb appeal. The project involves a significant time commitment, some specialized equipment, and basic home improvement skills, but the outdoor update is well worth the effort.

Before you jump into painting your home, you'll want to decide on a color scheme, research the best type of paint for your home's materials and climate conditions, secure scaffolding or extended height ladders, brush up on your safety knowledge, adequately and thoroughly prepare your surfaces, and maybe even recruit a few friends to help with the project.

exterior of house with decorative fence green and gray siding
Brian McWeeney

Step 1: Choose Exterior Paint Colors

Deciding on a color scheme is one of the first steps to tackle. Start by choosing a color family for the siding, followed by color families for other portions of the facade, such as shutters, trim, and the front door. Pay attention to the elements you won't be painting, such as the roof and gutters, and consider how these surfaces will look with your chosen colors. Once you've decided on a color family, select the specific exterior paint colors you want to use for each surface.

Test out colors, just like you do for interior paint jobs. If you don't want to paint a bunch of color swatches directly on your house, apply the paint to large pieces of foam core. Observe how the colors look during different times of the day. Also, be sure to observe the color on all sides of your home. A color that looks perfect in a shaded spot might look different on a sunnier wall.

Pick a paint (as well as a primer) that is formulated for exterior applications and appropriate for the surface you'll be painting. Painting your home is an investment of time and money. For a project that pays off, choose high-quality paint that will stand up to time and the elements.

"When looking for exterior paint be sure to get a high-quality primer that will coincide with your surface materials, like wood or stucco," says Travis Nolan, founder of Old Crow Painting, "For top coats, always go premium for a long-lasting finish that will secure your investment."

Step 2: Prep for Painting

Clean Exterior Surfaces

"Preparation is key for getting a paint job that looks great and lasts a long time," says Geoff Sharp, president and owner of Sharper Impressions Painting. Important prep steps include power washing your exterior to remove any debris and dirt, scraping and priming any peeling paint, and caulking any gaps and joints to create a good seal. When power washing, know that too much pressure can damage surfaces. Follow the instruction manual's recommendations for pressure settings and other operational precautions.

Sharp also says to bleach any mildew because paint won't adhere properly to mildewed surfaces. Allow the bleach to remain on the surface for 10-20 minutes to kill the mildew.

Test for Lead Paint

When painting a home built before 1978, testing for the presence of lead paint is an essential step, says Sharp. Lead paint can become a hazard when it is disturbed during scraping and painting. Test kits (available at home improvement stores) can detect the presence of lead. If your home is harboring lead paint, consult the Environmental Protection Agency's guidelines and call on an expert. The EPA maintains a list of lead renovation, repair, and painting (RRP) firms that are trained to safely deal with lead-based paint.

Check the Weather

Consult the forecast before diving into your paint project, too. "For exterior paint projects, the best temperature for latex paint falls between 50-70°F, while the best temperature for oil-based paint falls between 45-90°F," says Matt Kunz, president of Five Star Painting, a Neighborly company. "Any colder and you risk the paint taking too long to cure, which attracts insects, dirt, grime, and other debris to the wet surface. Oil-based paints will also thicken in low temperatures, causing stiffer brushing, heavier application, and less coverage per gallon."

Gather Equipment

Equip yourself with adequate and safe equipment for reaching high spots on your home's exterior. Use a ladder or scaffolding designed to stand securely against a house. The ladder or scaffolding should also reach high enough for you to safely paint the highest peaks without having to stretch or climb above the height recommended by the manufacturer.

Right before you crack open your paint cans, take the time to mask off and tarp any surface you won't be painting, including landscaping.

Step 3: Take Time to Prime

It's tempting to jump right into getting that new color on your home's exterior so you can see the results. But you'll love your new paint job even more if you apply primer first. Primer not only helps the paint adhere better to the surface, but it also works as a protectant. Look for an exterior primer that acts as a sealer and dries to a mold, mildew, and fungi-resistant finish. Primers can also be tinted for better color coverage.

Step 4: Paint Your Home's Exterior

While a paintbrush will certainly get the job done, a paint sprayer will make the job more efficient. "If you don't have a sprayer, consider renting one. This will make your job significantly easier and produce a better result," says Nolan. Be sure to use a respirator and other safety equipment recommended by the sprayer manufacturer.

When using a sprayer, it's important to go back over the surface with a brush or roller to ensure even coverage. Nolan recommends back-brushing for wood surfaces and back-rolling for cementitious surfaces.

Plan to apply two coats of paint, which will also help promote even coverage. "The first coat, called the base coat, will give you the first film of protection and absorb into the surfaces," says Sharp. "The second coat, called the top coat, will give you a uniform appearance and make sure the old color is completely covered."

Once you've finished the second coat, inspect your exterior for any spots that need to be touched up, clean your brushes, rollers, and equipment, and admire your fresh facade.

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