8 Steps to Prepare Your Home for Exterior Paint

Stacy Sare Cohen
Written by Stacy Sare Cohen
Updated October 20, 2021
A professional painting a house wall with a roller
ronstik - stock.adobe.com

Before you open a can of paint, make sure you prepare your home for an exterior paint job that lasts

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We’d all love a pristine painted house that belongs on the cover of a home design magazine. However, getting that level of curb appeal isn’t as easy as spraying and brushing on the right paint colors and calling it a day. Luckily, there are practical steps you can take to prepare your home for a flawless exterior paint project that will make you proud.

Difficulty level: 4/5

Time Needed: 3 weekends

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Power washer or garden hose

  • Buckets for cleanup

  • Cleaning solution and bleach

  • Safety goggles

  • Respirator

  • Rags

  • Wire brush

  • Spray shield

  • Ladder

  • Primer

  • Exterior wall paint and stir sticks

  • Trim paint

  • Pressure washer

  • Paint sprayer, rollers, and brushes

  • Painter's tape

  • Drop cloths and plastic sheeting

  • Ladder

  • Paint scraper

  • Wood filler

  • Sander

  • Medium-grit sanding block

  • Spackle knife

  • Exterior caulk

  • Caulk gun

  • Trash bags

  • Plastic wrap or plastic bags

  • N100 respirator, mask with HEPA cartridges, and a protective suit for lead paint removal

1. Plan Your Project During Good Weather

If you’re planning to tackle your painting project on the weekends, know that getting the best exterior paint job requires three weekends of good weather. Give yourself a buffer if unpredicted rain or humidity sneaks in. To be on the safe side, carve out a month during the dry season for your project when temperatures fall between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you paint during inclement weather, it can cause your uncured paint coat to blister. You’ll also need a ladder with good support or a scaffold if your home has more than one story.

2. Prepare and Clean the Area

Remove items near the house such as patio furniture, grills, and trash bins and place them away from the wall of your home. Tape and cover outlet boxes and fixtures with drop cloths and painter’s tape.

Trim trees and shrubs and cover landscaping with a drop cloth. (You don’t want paint on your blooming geraniums!)

3. Wash the Exterior

Close-up of a pressure washer washing a house’s wall
carlofranco/E+ via Getty Images

Washing the entire exterior of your home allows the paint to adhere to the surface. Use a pressure washer with a cleaning solution or a hose and scrub brush if you don’t have a great deal of peeling and flaking paint.

For homes with mildew, use one part of chlorine bleach to three parts water or a mildewcide. Work in sections and rinse the surface well.

If your home has softwood shingles or siding, hand wash it with detergent and water.

4. Test for Lead and Scrape the Paint

The dust in lead-based paint can harm your family, pets, and neighbors. If your home was built before 1978, when the EPA banned lead paint for residences, your paint might contain lead.

You can buy a lead testing kit online for around $25 or take paint chip samples to a testing lab. If your paint tests positive for lead, you’ll need to take these precautions:

  • Wear an N100 or professional-grade respirator with HEPA cartridges, and a microporous protective suit

  • Use a HEPA vacuum

  • Lay down plastic drop cloths to gather the scrapings

  • Dampen the paint with a spray bottle to minimize toxic dust

  • Remove loose paint with a paint scraper or wire brush

  • Dispose of hazardous materials in sealed trash bags

If your paint is lead-free, a mask will do. Use a heating gun to soften the paint and save time. To prevent siding damage, scrape in the direction of the wood grain.

5. Sand the Exterior

A worker sanding a wall
Vladimirs Koskins - stock.adobe.com

Sanding is essential to create a mechanical bond between paint coats. When the paint isn’t lumpy and bumpy, smooth the surface with 80-grit sandpaper.

Speed up the process with a pad or orbit sander. To remove scratches, sand with 100 to 120-grit paper. Use medium-grit sandpaper for weathered wood and fine-grit paper for trim and doors.

6. Caulk Gaps, Patch Holes, and Replace Wood Rot

When sanding is complete, replace any siding or trim that you can’t salvage. Use epoxy to repair rotting wood or replace the wood. Fill gaps around doors, windows, and trim with exterior caulk in a caulk gun. You may want to prime first since primer safeguards wood.

7. Prime Stains and Bare Spots

Prime any stains or exposed areas with a stain-blocking primer using a paintbrush. Primer will penetrate and seal the area so paint bonds to the surface.

If you’re changing the paint color more than a few shades, apply a coat of primer to the home to ensure even coverage. Spray the heads of screws and nails with metal primer to prevent rust from bleeding through the paint.

8. It’s Time to Paint

It’s finally time to make your home shine. Before you paint, cover your mailbox, lighting fixtures, doors, and trim with plastic sheeting using painter’s tape. Pour your preferred color of eggshell latex or flat paint into your sprayer. Working from top to bottom, apply one or two coats as needed to the entire home.

Using a backrolling technique with two painters will cut your time in half. One person sprays the house while another follows with a roller smoothing out the sprayed paint.

Remove the plastic sheeting covering your trim when it’s ready to be painted. For a chic look, choose an accent trim color in a semi-gloss sheen.

Should You DIY or Hire a Professional to Paint Your Home’s Exterior?

DIYers handy with a brush, sprayer, and tools may wish to try their hand at painting the house exterior themselves rather than hiring a pro. The average cost to paint the exterior yourself will total around $750, depending on the paint and supplies you’ll need.

You’ll spend between $20 and $80 for each gallon of paint without a painting contractor discount. Materials (you can find at the top of the post) will cost between $200 to $300.

On the flip side, hiring a contractor for an exterior paint job costs $1,735 to $4,335. Expect to pay $1 more per foot if your home is made of brick and stucco or vinyl.

Does your house have more than one story? Then it’s safer and more budget savvy to hire a professional painter who owns extension ladders, scaffolding, lifts, and safety harnesses. You can hire the best exterior painter by searching online and checking reviews, references, and rates.

So the question is: Would you rather spend three weekends doing a paint job you’ll be proud to call your own or are you content to use that time to relax and let a local exterior painting pro work their magic?

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