Summer House Projects 2015 — Part III – House Painting

This is the 3rd and final installment in my “what I did around the house this summer” series…the first two can be found here (garden project) and here (driveway project).

Project #3 – Repaint the House

This was a project that revealed itself the first winter we lived in the house (we’ve been there 2 years and some change now).  On the north side of the house, the first couple times we got torrential autumn rains, the paint started bubbling all across the siding.  Once the weather dried out, the bubbles slowly went down, but it made one thing abundantly clear–there was a problem with our paint job.  It wasn’t too bad over the winter, so we figured we’d scrape the siding and repaint the next summer, but we never got around to doing that since it wasn’t too terrible…probably a poor choice in retrospect, but we’re new at this!

The second winter revealed even more paint issues on that wall.  The paint that bubbled the year before started peeling and cracking off in large sheets (some as large as 6-8″ pieces–crazy!), and it only got worse.

Here’s the worst side, just after we power washed. All the white/brown you see is where the paint bubbled off. Grrrr.

We decided we absolutely would have to redo the paint in our second summer, especially since we knew the house had last been painted sometime between November and February (the flippers only had it a few months before we first saw it).  That timeframe is really terrible conditions for exterior painting (it should be at least 55 degrees out, and I can prettymuch guarantee that doesn’t happen in Minnesota in those 4 months).  So the root of our problem was likely a paint job that happened when it was too cold for the paint to adhere properly.

We have a friend in the paint business, so we borrowed a color book and mulled over different color schemes–we figured while we were at it, we might as well paint the house a color we like better (neither of us is big on yellow).  We settled on a dark charcoal grey with a bright red trim.  When John lived in Norway, he really loved the traditional houses there that had cedar shake siding covered in pitch with red trim–and I agree, it’s very pretty, especially when it snows.  However, we have cementboard siding, not cedar shakes, so covering the house in pitch wasn’t really an option.  Charcoal grey paint sounded like a good compromise, though!

The first step was getting all the old paint off.  We decided instead of scraping the siding, we’d power wash anything that was loose off, then use a bonding primer that would essentially glue all the remaining layers of paint to the cement board.  This saved us a good bit of work, and since we don’t know what the makeup of our siding is (some cementboard has asbestos, & we’re pretty sure ours is in that group based on the age), we wouldn’t risk inhaling asbestos as we scraped and sanded. Pressure washing took us an entire day (and it was soooo cold…it was mid-August, but the day we rented the equipment dawned windy and 55 degrees…and it didn’t get much warmer).  We survived, though, and got a ton of loose paint off the house.

John up on the ladder on a cold, cold, August day.

Our next step was the primer.  We decided to prime everything: siding, trim, gutters, soffit, flashing, you name it.  We were lucky enough to have a variety of ladders and a few friends to help, but we had to use brushes and rollers because our paint sprayer wouldn’t handle the bonding primer (seriously, that stuff was the consistency of instant pudding–soooo thick and gloopy).  So it took a while (a 3-day weekend) to get all the primer applied. We were really fastidious about getting it anywhere we’d had issues with peeling paint, less so everywhere else.


And of course, in the process, we uncovered a few minor repairs that needed doing while we were at it.  Chiefly, the windows on our house, which appear to have been trimmed with a series of poor decisions.  Instead of brickmould and drip guards, the upper casings were just 1×4 boards nailed up to cover where the window guts/siding meet.  We didn’t like the look of that when we bought the place, so we knew we wanted to replace them with some proper trim at some point.  However, some point became NOW since the windows were also installed without any dripsills, so the 1x4s turned out to be quite rotten from water running down the siding and behind the “trim” boards (which we discovered by looking down at the window tops as we were up on the ladders powerwashing…it made me so cranky!).

Something’s rotten in the state of Minnesota.

John pulled all the rotten bits off and replaced them with recycled lumber (which is amazing stuff–essentially wood pulp suspended in epoxy, which means it will NEVER rot!) and vinyl brickmould for the upper trim (which also will NEVER rot!), and dripsills to protect the actual wood behind the trims.  Of course, unplanned repairs took a couple days more than we were hoping (and it seemed like every time you prized off a rotten board, the one under it was bad, too!), but we still got it done well before we wanted to start the actual painting.  I won’t lie, though…it was super frustrating to have ALL your windows turn out to be installed bass-ackwards.  Especially when drip sills (which would have prevented all of the rot) cost about 25 center per foot!)…no excuses!

Dripsills. Use them, people.

Recycled lumber FTW! (Pay no mind to the chips missing from the siding…John got a little zealous prying things off the house.)

We also went around and caulked our windows, and we installed a gable vent in our garage front (the garage had zero ventilation, so it got really hot in the summer and got quite musty and dank from time to time).  A 14″ x 24″ vent should help with those issues, and we got to patch the random circular hole in the siding, to boot!  (Someone maybe had a light fixture or something there at one time, but when we bought the house, there was an 8-inch hole that someone had nailed some plywood behind–it didn’t look very nice, and was (of course!) wildly off-center).

Note the weird hole on the left. I suggested we install the vent, then paint the circle yellow and add some rays and call it a sunburst. John was not amused.

John was really happy to have that patched up!

All better. John squared off the hole and used a little patch of recycled lumber board to fill it in.

And it wouldn’t be an exterior home project if we didn’t find at least one wasp nest, right?  Of course.  We found a sizeable nest of yellowjackets in the eaves on the back of the house, so we busted out the chemical warfare and sprayed them (not a fan of that stuff, but it does work).

I will say that painting your house is a fantastic way to get better acquainted with the building and spot all the little things that can be fixed now, before they cause massive problems down the road.  Just for that reason, I’m glad we decided to paint the whole house instead of just touch up the peeling north side!

Fully primed!

Finally, we got to the painting!  John was really excited to bust out the big guns–we picked up a professional-grade paint sprayer for the occasion, which made everything go SO much faster (if only we could have sprayed the primer on, too)!  We did a bit of the trim by hand (around windows and doors, just to avoid having to tape everything off or scrape overspray off the glass), but we sprayed everything else.  The hand brushing took a while, but I like painting with a brush, it’s kind of zen, so I didn’t mind.

Painting the dormer was the most nerve-wracking bit since our upper roof is pretty steep, but we got a couple ladder hooks and laid the extension ladder along the roof for purchase on either side, and to get at the front peak, we anchored a ladder to our window frame to keep it in place as we worked.  I’m not sure if there’s a better way to do it, and I feel obligated to add the “don’t try this at home, kids” disclaimer, but it worked pretty well for us (though it did make me hella nervous while we were up there.

Dip dyed–a good look, no?!

All in all, it came out really well.  I mean, it was a TON of work.  I totally get why people pay thousands of dollars for someone else to do all the heavy lifting.  I do.  I think it was good that we did it ourselves, though.  We were able to fix a few things that needed fixing, and it’s really empowering to know that we can tackle a HUGE project like that and come out the other side relatively on time, on budget, and with a satisfactory quality job.  Go team!  (And if you made it this far into the post, I would like to offer you a virtual brownie for your perseverance!  Thanks for staying with me on this one!)  And next summer, I am going to lounge in my backyard with tasty cocktails…I think I’ve met my quota of massive house projects for the time being!

[pic collage of finished job]

And just in case anyone is interested, here’s some of the stuff we used that I would totally recommend if you are in the market, so to speak (and I’m not getting paid to say any of this–these just worked really well!)

  • Valspar Reserve exterior latex (in Mark Twain Gray Brick, Cut Ruby, and Turquoise Tint)
  • Valspar Bonding Primer
  • Purdy Colossus 3/4″ nap rollers and 3″ sash brushes–high capacity rollers so you aren’t constantly scampering back to the paint tray, really solid brushes that don’t shed bristles, gum up, and wash up fantastically so you can reuse them a lot!
  • Graco Paint Sprayer – worth every red cent for all the labor it saved us, and it gave us a very even finish once we passed the learning curve (which was, mercifully, short!)
  • Werner ladder stabilizer – made the up-high work much less terrifying as it really does stabilize the ladder and get you out away from the eaves a little so you have room to work.