Tired of Re-Painting Your Old House?

Q: "We have an old house. In the last eight years we have painted it three times. My husband wants vinyl siding. But I don't think that's appropriate. What are our other options?

A: "I have sympathy for anyone coping with the expenses of home improvement via "deferred maintenance," because my house so obviously needs painting that it won't be long before my neighbors start a bonfire with old paint brushes on my lawn. However, I can tell you that vinylizing a house is no substitute for a good paint job. If you can afford vinyl siding, why can't you afford a paint job? The answer is, alas, good paint jobs require good preparation which can consume up to 85% of the labor cost.

Repainting an old house three times in eight years implies painting over cracking and peeling old paint. Today's acrylic paint is a superior product providing excellent protection above in a thin surface, but it's not a miracle worker that will atone for the unredeemed sins of old paint below.

If the adhesion of old paint has been weakened, covering it with today's acrylic paint might pull it off and make surfaces look worse. Acrylic paints "dry" quickly, but they "cure" over many days. As they cure, by a process called "co-polymerization," the paint film shrinks and can detach weaker layers of old paint." That's why, after adequate preparation of old paint surfaces, an oil-base primer is recommended. Oil-base paint doesn't pull old paint, and it will resist the pull of an acrylic topcoat.

Adequate preparation must include "feathering" the sharp edges of old paint where many layers have fallen away because it's impossible for any paint film to maintain its thickness around a sharp edge. Incidentally, that's why skilled painters sand the sharp edges of new construction millwork trim.

I know these mere words are cold comfort without a practical solution to the problem at hand. I suggest the honorable practice of adequately preparing and painting one side of the house each year. After four years, repainting might not be necessary for another five years or more. Painting once in nine years is much better value that painting it three times in eight years.

I'll end with the Wisdom of Lucy, motivating brother Linus by wiggling the fingers of her hand in his face. "She these?" she says. "When I put 'em together, watch out!" If there are several houses in a neighborhood that need repainting, explore the savings of mass production. Put the preparation of all houses out to a single bid with the promise that the winning properly bonded contractor will be the first bidder on the individual paint contracts. Working together, some public funding might be found."

John Crosby Freeman, The Color Doctor, has been featured in Country Home, Renovation Style, Old-House Journal, Traditional Building and Old-House Interiors. Nearly 20 years ago, he developed Southern Heritage interior, exterior, and accent color cards for Valspar at Lowe's, which evolved into The National Trust American Tradition palette. The Color Doctor, who has written thousands of successful prescriptions for architectural colors, is available to write one for your residential or commercial property via email or a consultation on-site.