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Tips for Prepping Your House for Painting

Here on the coast, most houses need to have their exterior painted about every five to nine years especially on the south and west faces. Those near the salty beaches need more care and to be painted more frequently than those inland. Believe it or not, sunshine (UV light) has a lot to do with paint longevity, too.


And while it is a good investment to take care of your biggest investment – your house – sometimes a good wash job can do the trick, stretching out the need for a paint job another year or two. That’s because with the dirt and grim gone, moss and mildew don’t have a good place to grow and slowly eat away at your house paint.





So, before heading to the paint store, take a closer look at your paint job. If the surfaces are intact, maybe a good scrub and a little touch up here and there will buy you time and save you money. We recommend washing your exterior every year. Sure, it takes a little while, but it’s much faster and far less expensive than prepping and repainting. Using a ladder for this task? Make sure to check out our tips on ladder safety.


To wash the house, we recommend using “30 Second Cleaner” sprayed on a dry wall surface, then lightly scrubbing with a soft boat brush on a pole handle or extension. Thirty seconds to one minute later, flood-rinse away from where you will apply it next. Doing small areas works best, as does working the lower walls first, and then going to the higher areas. Remember to rinse each section and any plants nearby thoroughly. You will be happy and surprised how quickly this cleaning chore can be accomplished! 


We do not recommend the use of a pressure washer for this job. Over the years, we’ve just seen too much bubbled paint from saturated siding damaged by overzealous owners who ended up doing more harm than good. Soap and a hose are your friends!



If you have cracked and peeling paint, a simple wash will not suffice this time. Not everyone is a DIY-person, so you may need to hire out the job. If that’s the case, we suggest getting two or three bids and make sure to have a short written contract. (See story on contracts.)

Before you begin – either hiring someone to paint or embarking on the project yourself -- take a look at other things that might affect your new paint job if done out of order. For instance, do you have a mossy roof or plugged gutters? If you have a mossy roof, take a stiff broom and remove as much as possible. To kill the roots, use the powdered variety of Moss Off. If you use the liquid hose-end sprayer application, you may want to cover plants below roof edge with plastic tarps. Then, simply follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Cleaning a Rain Gutter


Once that’s done, clean the gutters, downspouts and fascia with soapy water and a soft brush. Don’t forget to rinse thoroughly. Does the siding or trim need repairs, too? First things first, prep is 90 percent of the job. Of course, if you’re hiring the paint job out, you’ll want to include this specific preparation in your contract.




Another thing to determine before you even begin to prep the house for painting is whether your home has lead paint. Simple test swabs are available at paint stores for this. You can also hire pros to test the whole house for lead. When painting a house that has old lead paint you must take extra safety precautions. 


Because any home built before 1978 could have lead-based paint, it is important to remove the peeling flakes with care. There is a direct link to potential lead paint poisoning in young children and animals when the chips or dust are ingested or breathed.


First, stretch wide tarps under the working areas to catch all the paint chips. Then scrape all blistered and cracked paint until it can no longer be scraped off. Power washers tend to blow the chips everywhere into the air creating a potential problem.  “Working wet” is a good idea so that the flakes don’t fly around. Catching the paint chips on the tarps makes it easier for you to properly dispose of the paint chips in a sealed garbage bag in the trash can.


Avoid sanding unless it is wet sanding with wet-able sandpaper. Spray water from spray bottles onto the surfaces as you go so you can reduce potential lead-based paint hazards. By never letting your house get to the point of having to scrape and sand before painting is the best, proactive approach to avoid releasing any lead that may be in your paint. For more tips on prepping a house with lead paint, check the internet for lead-safe work practices.



As noted earlier, sometimes a house only needs a good scrub, but if you determine you do need to paint the house, it still should get a good scrub first. Refer to the directions above! Again, pressure washers blow paint chips around the neighborhood and also carry with them the risk of penetrating too deeply into the siding and even damaging other components of your house. Instead, a flooding nozzle on a garden hose is well-suited to this task.

After you have washed and rinsed the house from top to bottom, take a break and let the house dry. It only takes a couple hours instead of weeks from pressure washers. The walls will dry rapidly on a warm day and you will be ready to spot prime all the bare wood surfaces with a good quality primer designed for the wood or composite you are covering.


When the primer is dry, it is time to caulk the cracks and crevasses. This is not only for a better looking paint job, but also adds to weatherproof around the doors and windows. Invest in a 35-year paintable caulk such as “Quad” – your time is worth it!


Take a wet finger to smooth caulk lines so that you don’t create a bulging mass or ugly smear. Be as careful and perfectionistic as possible with the caulk, there are some tools out there to help. Properly applied, it will help the whole paint job look professional.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is executive director. This is a nonprofit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County. For questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or buying, call 360-533-7828 or visit 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen. Our office is fully ADA-compliant.

Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner or one of our contractors? We have rehab loan funds at tailored rates!  Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen. Our office is ADA compliant, complete with a designated disabled parking spot, ramp and ADA compliant restroom. 

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