Nature never intended me for a house painter. My feet turn cold once I get 10 feet off the ground. One whiff of an oil-based paint or primer twists my lungs into an allergic knot. And I barely have patience for discrete projects, the kind you finish in a day, much less those that require hours of preparation and second coats.
So when the time came to paint my last house –– a 3,000-square-foot duplex with eaves more than 25 feet from the ground –– I hired my handy little brother, who back then was saving up for law school, to undertake what, to me, was the impossible. Now that he’s finished with law school, his hourly rate has gone up substantially. And I’m living in a much smaller one-story house that’s just starting to peel. These factors are emboldening me to consider bucking my acrophobic, wheezy-chested nature: Maybe I’ll paint it myself.
Before buying paint, you have to delve into aesthetic considerations. And few understand those considerations better than the color-consulting maestro, Louis Aubert.
Aubert advises that you begin by considering the style of the house. For historic homes, that means looking into what color the house might have been painted when it was built. “It’s like dressing for your body type,” he says.
Also, pay close attention to trim work and other architectural features, such as stained glass and exposed brick. Determine which features to accentuate, such as a well-milled door, and which to play down, such as gutter downspouts. “Appropriate colors badly placed will not make a happy house or a happy homeowner,” Aubert says.
Next, he says, consider the environment. What colors does the surrounding foliage sport? What colors are the neighbors’ houses? “You want your house to be distinctive but not clash with your neighbors’,” Aubert says.
When you’ve got a general idea of what colors you want, take a drive around town to see how similar houses use similar colors. Aubert points out that big houses wear colors differently than small ones do; generally, small houses wear bright colors better.
Once you’ve visited the paint store and narrowed the possibilities down, Aubert recommends placing samples in 2- to 3-foot squares in both bright areas and shady areas around the house.
That’s where the fun part ends.
painting like a master
After selecting colors, you need to gear up and determine how much paint you need. As a rule of thumb, a gallon covers about 350 to 400 square feet, says Joe Helm, general manager of Helm Paint & Supply Inc.
But before you start slathering the stuff on, there’s plenty of preparation to do. In fact, Helm says, “Prep work will be the most labor-intensive part of the job.”
How intensive, of course, depends on the current condition of the house. The more sections of peeling paint, the more scraping and sanding your future will hold.
Because of the age of its housing stock and the prevalence of painted wood construction, New Orleans, more than just about anywhere in the country, brings complications to sanding work. An old house calls for precautions to minimize the environmental impact of removing old lead paint. Wet-misting and tenting are the standard methods to contain lead dust. Helm also recommends a filtered vacuum system that hooks up to a Makita sander.
When the scraping and sanding is done, the next task is to prime any areas where the wood is bare. In the past, Helm says, his family used to recommend oil-based primers. But there have been significant advances in acrylic primers, and oil-based primers seduce mold and mildew in New Orleans’ damp climate. “We’re leaning much more toward acrylic primers these days,” Helm says.
And there’s no need to prime an exterior for color adjustments. Helm says two coats of top-of-the-line paint will usually do the trick.
Another critical bit of prep is caulking. Helm says to focus caulking efforts on any vertical joints or on spots where water can pool at a horizontal joint. It’s not necessary to caulk underneath siding, he says.
Then it’s time for a bit of pressure washing to take off the dirt, pollen and mold. To keep a finished job in shape and free from mold and mildew, Helm recommends pressure washing on an annual basis with a light chemical solution such as JOMAX House Cleaner and Mildew Killer. Heavy bleach solutions, on the other hand, will wear down a paint job and erode the wood. To ensure a fresh surface, Helm says you should begin painting within a week of pressure washing.
Ideal painting seasons are spring and fall, when the temperature hovers between 70 and 80 degrees. Helm says to avoid working on any part of the house while it is exposed to direct sunlight. He also advises against painting too early in the morning, before the dew has a chance to evaporate.
Aubert also throws in a bit of practical advice. Buy a good brush, he says, “and if you don’t feel comfortable on a ladder, don’t get on a ladder.”
I may have to hire a painter after all.