Picture Perfect Painting

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Picking up a paintbrush may seem like a straightforward home improvement task. But in truth, this simplest of home improvement projects may too often be just a little more complicated than what meets the eye. Poor preparation, bad brushes and just plain lousy technique can turn your painting project from fabulous fresco to something that really misses the masterpiece mark.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions to my national

Picking up a paintbrush may seem like a straightforward home improvement task. But in truth, this simplest of home improvement projects may too often be just a little more complicated than what meets the eye. Poor preparation, bad brushes and just plain lousy technique can turn your painting project from fabulous fresco to something that really misses the masterpiece mark.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions to my national radio program, The Money Pit, from frustrated folks who were trying to solve a myriad of painting problems. Here are a few of the most common culprits and the solutions you need to save time, money and your pride!

GET READY, GET SET -- THEN SAY GO -- Getting the right equipment before you start the job means you won’t have to stop in the middle of the job to run back to the hardware store. You’ll need ladders, drop cloths to protect sidewalks and shrubbery, long handled paint brushes and rollers, a paint sprayer and tape for trim and detail areas. Also, don’t go cheap on the brushes. Better quality brushes deliver a smoother finish and the difference really shows. Keep in mind that brushes are available in both synthetic and natural bristles, also known as “china” bristles. For best results, use synthetic brushes for latex paint and natural bristles for oil based paint and clear finishes.

PREP MAKES PERFECT -- The success or failure of any paint project rides at its roots on one basic need: the paint has to stick. It’s not surprising then that much of the effort of any paint project goes into making sure this happens. Paint won’t stick to a loose or dirty surface. Between air pollution, mold, mildew and the deteriorating effects of the sun, there’s a fair amount of work that must be done to get the surface ready to go.

For exteriors, pressure washing is a great first step to remove old paint and clean dirty or weathered sources. With a combination of a high-pressure stream and a bleach cleaning solution, you’ll knock days off doing the job by hand. If you are working inside, use liquid sandpaper to remove oil, dirt and grime from trim and wash walls down with a TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) solution which is available at most home centers and hardware stores.

PREPARE, THEN REPAIR -- Now that you can see the wood surface underneath the old paint, you should check for rot, warping and insect damage. Replace any damaged boards around windows and doors, and have your local pest control company inspect any damage you think is insect-related. Take the time to inspect all surfaces carefully, being alert for anything out of the ordinary. If there is loose, bubbled or peeling paint, it usually means there is a leak and you need to check for a water problem. It’s critical to not just ignore these symptoms and paint over them. If the underlying cause is not found and fixed, it will only get worse. This is also a great time to caulk any holes and gaps to improve energy efficiency.

PRIMING MAKES PERFECT -- Primers are critical coatings that must be applied to provide a firm bond between the substrate and finish coat. Although most do-it-yourself painters look forward to getting to the color coat as soon as possible, skipping the primer step is short-sited. Primer is the “glue” that makes the top coat stick. Skip it and you’ll find that the hours of preparation and painting work you put into your projects might have to be repeated long before the paint surface wears out.

Primers like KILZ are available in both oil and water base formulas. For surfaces that are badly stained, or that have had a water leak, oil based primers work the best. When using oil-based primers, it is usually a good idea to prime the entire surface you are painting and not just the stained areas. Since oil primers do such a good job of sealing the surface, spot priming may result in an uneven finished coat.

PICK THE RIGHT PAINT -- Exterior paint is different than interior paint, and many homeowners make the mistake of not choosing the right paint for their home. Exterior paint is formulated for color retention, flexibility to withstand expansion and contraction due to weather, resistance to tannin bleed and resistance to mildew. Exterior flat acrylic latex paint is the easiest for do-it-yourselfers to work with. For trim, consider a durable alkyd/oil paint that offers high gloss with good adhesion and stain resistance. When it comes to buying paint, don’t buy discount brands. You get what you pay for when it comes to paint and the lower the cost, the shorter life it will have. Since paint is 90 percent hard work and 10 percent material, always buy quality paint from a name brand company.

Also, always buy a bit more paint than you think you’ll need. Surprisingly, many stores are willing to accept returns on unused paint, even if it is a custom color, and having the extra means you’ll avoid color matching problems if you run short and need more. Before you start your paint job, check the temperatures. Paint won’t adhere if it’s below 55 degrees or won’t go on smoothly if it’s above 90 degrees.

NO BAD PAINT -- JUST BAD PAINTERS -- Blaming the paint for an unacceptable result is quite common. Some years ago, a friend mentioned to me that he must have had some “bad paint” because the top gable section of wood siding we were repairing had blistered very badly. My buddy had installed the siding and painted the entire home himself about four years earlier. Upon closer examination, the real culprit became obvious. The “painter” had neglected to “back-prime” the siding in the gable. Back-priming refers to the technique of priming all surfaces of exterior siding before it is assembled, including the back of the board. By doing so, you can control the amount of moisture absorbed by the board from behind and prevent early paint failure. When I mentioned this to my friend, he recalled that he had completed siding the entire home but ran short of material for the section that failed. When the remaining material finally arrived, he was in a rush to get it completed and took a short cut that he is now paying for.

In truth, paint is manufactured in factory controlled conditions in huge vats that hold thousands of gallons at one time. It is virtually impossible to have a “bad” can of paint exit from this environment and make it into your shopping basket at the local superstore. If you spot a paint failure, the cause is usually something much more common…like human error!

For more tips on how to solve painting problems, check the Web sites of major paint manufacturers like BEHR. Most offer paint problem solvers and color selection tools that help you get the job done.

Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show's podcast or sign-up for Tom's free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program's Web site.

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