My House Painting Tips

February 6, 2012

My name is Anna Giles. I began working for Shearer Painting 2 years ago and have learned a considerable amount about house painting since – especially considering that I knew nothing about house painting when I started. I began helping the owner with estimates and have since looked at over 700 homes. Even though I’m not an expert, I’ve put together the following tips about exterior house painting in an effort to help guide you through the painting process.

When you’re painting your house, you want to get the most out of your investment – especially considering it can cost more than purchasing a new car. If your paint is applied correctly, it can last 10 years, but stain will need to be reapplied more frequently (anywhere from 2 – 10 years), depending on your stain.

You can often tell how long a paint job will last by its prep work. But the paint or stain is equally important. By using high-quality materials and matching them to your house and climate and doing regular maintenance between recoatings you will be ensured a lasting finish.


If you’re buying standard high-quality paint or stain, you should expect to spend about $35 – $45 – per gallon. If you are thinking about using “green,” or zero-VOC products, you’ll have to spend a bit more; typically, $45 – $55/gallon. One gallon will cover 350 – 400 sq. ft., so plan on using about 20 gallons to cover an average, two-story, 30×40 house. Many painting jobs will need a primer and two topcoats.

Acrylic latex paints

Both professional painters and homeowners love acrylic latex paint. This kind of paint is water-based and comes in many color choices and three very popular finishes. Flat paint does not give your home good protection against the elements. Satin, whose sheen is a bit higher, is good for wood siding. Gloss or semi-gloss gives a home the most protection and works effectively on high traffic areas like door and window trim.

There are several pros to using latex: it’s easy to use, and you can clean it up with water; the paint stays flexible, even after drying, so it breathes and moves a bit to accommodate temperature change or house settling without cracking; and you can apply it to aluminum, vinyl, fiber cement, brick, stucco, and metal siding. Cons to using latex include paint fumes and oil paint bonding issues (unless you prep the surface really well). If you’re applying latex paint over oil, you may have to strip almost all of the old paint off the wood, which can be time-consuming and expensive. It’s best to use oil on oil and latex on latex. Latex typically costs $35 – $45/gallon or $45 – $55/gallon for premium paint.

Oil-based paints

Oil paint can be a favorite among pros and do-it-yourselfers because of its durability. In fact, it used to be considered the “gold standard” for exteriors and even high-traffic areas like doors, handrails, house trims, and floors. But nowadays, latex is king.

Oil paints will dry hard and get even harder over time; this is one of the reasons why they’re perfect for high-traffic usage. Many people apply them to their steps, porch floors, metal handrails, and front doors. But as time goes on, oil paint can crack and become brittle, which creates an “alligator” look (though some homeowners love it). You should never apply oil paint on top of old latex paint, because the two paints will not bond.

In order to clean brushes and other equipment, you’ll need to use toxic solvents. An average can of oil paint has more VOCs than a conventional can of latex. Low-VOC oil is available for purchase, but even those products have more VOCs than low-VOC latex.

Expect to spend $35 – $65/gallon for premium oil-based paint.

Exterior stain

If you want to let wood’s natural features shine, stain is a fantastic choice; but keep in mind, you should still protect your house from the elements. Redwood, cedar, and other lovely wood varieties look amazing with a good stain on them. Stain isn’t as protective as paint – sun and weather can permeate the stain, which causes wood to discolor and age.

But just like paints, stains come in oil-based and latex. You still shouldn’t cover an oil with a latex stain, or vice versa, unless the old stain coat has weathered and aged to the point where the new coat can successfully adhere to it.

Stains come in three finishes: clear, semi-transparent, and opaque. Clear stains are very translucent. You can see the wood more clearly, but you’ll need to reapply every 2 – 3 years. Clear stains have varying appearances, so make sure you test out the stain on a scrap piece of shingle. As time goes on, the wood under a clear stain will discolor, forcing you to move on to the next step.

Semi-transparent stains are bulkier and give you more protection than clear stains, since they have a bit of pigment added to them. You won’t have as many color choices as you would for latex paint, but you still have plenty of options. Make sure you reapply in 5 – 7 years.

An opaque stain’s behavior is similar to that of paint – they give you maximum protection and hide the look of the wood, and yet still allow texture to show through. You have many color options here, but choose your color very carefully. If you want to change colors, you’ll need to completely sand the surface. Opaques will last you a good 10 years or more.

A few good points to take note of in terms of using stains: they don’t need extensive surface prep, unlike paint (just wash, dry, scrape any cracked or raised skin, and restain with a brush); you don’t need primers and you may just need one coat. But, depending on your stain, you may need to reapply often. Stains cost around $35 – $45/gallon.

What I hope you’ll take away from this article is that by purchasing a high-quality product from a reputable paint store, you’re sure to be satisfied with your long-lasting paint job (asking other people’s advice, whether it be homeowners’ or pros’, doesn’t hurt either!). Keep in mind when buying latex paints, select ones that are 100% acrylic polymers or resins (this label can be found on the front or in the ingredients list). Low-quality paint will feel thin, run down your surface, and spatter off of rollers. Contrastingly, high-quality paint will feel thicker, level well when applied, and will hide the old paint layer or primer in 1 – 2 coats maximum. With stain, look at brand name and reputation to determine quality. Again, ask for recommendations, accept that you will pay more, and above all else, take your time!

Here are some links to other articles I have written:

A brief history of the paint company, Benjamin Moore.
A history of Sherwin Williams
The definition of an accent wall; how to select colors and go about painting one
Painting your walls black can be exciting, not dreary

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