Paint the Exterior of Your Home in Five Steps

Painting the exterior of our home seemed like a huge, expensive, and messy project, which is why we delayed it for so many years. But our home was the same dull gray color as a cloudy sky in the middle of winter, with teal-colored trim from approximately 1992. Since we live in the Pacific Northwest and the sky is cloudy nine months of the year, our house faded into the background.

It was time for a change, and we discovered that we could finish this home improvement project in a fraction of the time and cost than we had previously thought!


The "Before" picture on a rare sunny day.

We decided to get a quote from a painting company to see how much it would cost. The price tag was $3,500! Since we could not afford to pay that much, we decided to do it ourselves. In my younger years I would have just ran to the store and bought a bunch of paint, but experience has taught me that lack of research and planning can end up doubling the cost of the project when you have to hire a pro to fix your mistakes.

The first step in our research was to consult with a personal friend who paints homes for a living, who directed us toward the ideal paint for our climate. Based on the price of the paint, we were able to set a reasonable budget. We also added in the cost of prep materials like tape, paper, painter’s plastic, and renting a spray gun.

Then it was time to settle on wall and trim colors. This can be a sticking point – at least, it was for my

Photo by Walulla Junction

husband and me. We took a brief fieldtrip to the hardware store, gathering paint chips and pamphlets that showed complementary colors for walls and trim. After narrowing the choices down to our top five, we taped them to a prominent spot on the house to look at during different parts of the day. After a few days, we were able to agree on a color that we both liked!


The final step in our planning process was calculating how much paint we would need, which is pretty simple but requires careful notes. Length times width of every paintable surface will give you the square footage. With wood siding, you will get about 200-250 square feet of coverage per gallon by spraying it on. With aluminum siding I could get more because the paint doesn’t soak into the siding as it does with wood. For our home, we settled on 10 gallons of paint for the body, 2 gallons of accent color, and 1 gallon of trim color.


It’s absolutely necessary to make sure that the surface of your home is clean and dry. Do your best to remove all grease, oil, flaking or loose paint by cleaning and scraping. This will give your new paint an ideal surface to adhere.

If you have wood siding, a considerable amount of your time will be spent on pressure washing, hand-scraping, and sanding the exterior of your home in preparation of new paint. Wire brushes are helpful for really loose paint while a putty knife with a 6″ to 8″ blade is necessary. Once the paint has been removed, sand the surfaces to eliminate hard edges.

Our house has some wood siding, but mostly it is aluminum, which can be tricky because of “chalking.”

Photo by jzawodn

Chalking is when the sun breaks down the paint and creates a powdery film on the surface of the aluminum. If the powder is not properly cleaned, the new paint will not stick to the siding. Although there are additives that can be added to the paint to help it stick better, it seemed the better option was to properly clean the siding.

First I tried a powerful pressure washer. Still chalky. Then I used a bristle brush with TSP and bleach. Still chalky. Finally I rigged a yellow kitchen sponge with the green abrasive side on the end of a sheetrock sanding pole with zip ties. Still using the TSP and bleach, I scrubbed my entire house, rinsing it down with a garden hose. By the end of this process our house was squeaky-clean.


After I purchased the paint it was time to mask and cover all the surfaces I didn’t want to get paint on. I prefer to use plastic for the windows and 12” paper and tape for other surfaces. You can buy a paper and masking tape dispenser that makes it very easy to apply. It costs about $30 but will save you a lot of time. I taped the gutters to prevent overspray and also removed all of our light fixtures, the house numbers, and our other decorations.


The "After" picture on a typical gray day!

It’s best to wait a week to let your house completely dry before attempting to paint. If you don’t, the paint will not adhere correctly and peel. In the meantime, decide whether or not you’ll use a sprayer – I did, and I can tell you it’s well-worth the rental fee. Make sure you understand how to use it correctly, and be sure to clean it immediately.

Once your house has been sprayed and the tape has been removed, you’ll be able to enjoy your new paint job for many years to come!

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