Exterior House Painting

Exterior house painting does not have to be a maintenance headache. The right painting prep along with good exterior painting techniques can help you get the job done more efficiently. The approach to painting a house can vary depending on the architectural style of the home, but the fundamental painting steps remain the same.

There are four basic steps to consider for an exterior painting job:

Exterior House Cleaning
Paint Masking and Covering
Painting Prep – surface preparation
Exterior Painting – application


Exterior cleaning, paint masking, and paint prep are at least 50% of the total work necessary to complete an exterior house painting project. Before applying paint, it is a good idea to take the extra time to do these preparatory steps. The result will be a better looking and longer lasting paint job.



Painting Tools - Application

The tool selection for exterior painting should be based upon the scope of the paint job and the method of paint application. Standard paint applicators consist of paint brushes, paint rollers and roller accessories, and spray equipment. Types of paint sprayers include airless paint sprayers, HVLP sprayers, and conventional air sprayers. Ladders and ladder accessories are also necessary for most exterior elevations.

House Paints and Primers

There are some characteristics regarding exterior house paints and exterior primers to consider when determining which products to use for your project.

Solvent Bases
The vast majority of exterior paints are water base and oil base paint products. Water base paints are the superior choice for most exterior house painting applications. Their ability to withstand nature’s elements is far superior to that of oil base paints. However, oil base paints offer a clear advantage for use on ferrous metals such as iron because of their rust inhibitive qualities. Oil base spar varnishes work well for door thresholds.

Tint Bases
Tint bases are designed to correspond to different color values ranging from light pastels to ultra deep colors. For example, many accent colors use deep and ultra deep tint bases.

Paint Sheens
Paint sheens describe the reflective qualities of paint. They range from flat to high gloss. Most exterior water base paints are available in flat, low sheen, and semi gloss (soft) sheens. Some exterior water base and oil base products can be found in high gloss sheens.

Paint Grades
Grades of paint represent the different lines available from a manufacturer. These include contractor grade, premium grade, and eco friendly lines.

Never mix paints with incompatible solvent bases, tint bases, paint sheens, and paint grades.

Exterior Painting Tips:


A semi-gloss (soft) sheen performs better than a low sheen and a low sheen performs better than a flat finish for deep and ultra deep colors.

Exterior House Painting – Application

The best method of applying exterior paint, i.e. brushing, rolling, or spray painting largely depends upon the architectural design of the exterior elevations, types of building materials used, and color variations. Some architectural elements can easily be painted with a brush and roller whereas others are more readily spray painted. Many house exteriors are composed of an assortment of architectural components such that the combination of spray painting and applying paint with a brush and roller is the best means.

Architectural Design
The combination of architectural design elements primarily determines the course of action in which an exterior of a house should be painted. Exterior elevations may consist of such basic elements as fascia boards, gutters, eaves, walls, and a simple trim detail. Then again, some exterior elevations may include more complex items such as an elaborate trim design, columns, beams, corbels, porch ceilings, shutters, railings, trellises, etc.

Color Schemes
The transition between different colors can affect the method of paint application. The line where two colors converge is usually formed by cutting in with a paintbrush or masking and spray painting.

Building Materials
Houses are constructed with a wide assortment of building materials, each with their own unique characteristics. Materials with a smooth or semi smooth surfaces can be painted with a brush and roller. Very rough and irregular surfaces are more easily spray painted.

The following list includes different architectural design elements and building materials:

How to paint eaves

How to paint trim

How to paint wood siding

  • Ship lap
  • Bevel
  • Tongue and groove
  • Shingle sidewall
  • T111
  • Board and batten

How to paint stucco

How to paint brick and block

How to paint cement fiber siding

How to paint vinyl siding

How to paint aluminum siding

Many houses have paint grade windows and doors. These are usually constructed of wood or metal.

How to paint a door
How to paint a window

Additional design features

How to paint shutters
How to paint metal railings

Where to Start

An efficient way to paint a house exterior is by using the top-down approach. Start with the uppermost areas and work your way down. Keep in mind that the sequence in which the exterior architectural features are painted also depends upon color variations and methods of paint application.

Exterior house painting typically begins with the overhangs, eaves, soffits, cornices, or any other design element that forms the transition between the walls and the roof. The painting continues with the body (exterior walls) followed by the windows and exterior wall trim. The exterior doors and any accent features are usually the last items to be painted.

Exterior Painting Tips:
You should not apply paint to an exterior surface when the air temperature is below 50 degrees F (10 degrees C). There are a few paint products on the market that have been formulated for cooler temperatures.

With warm air temperatures above 75 degrees F (24 degrees C), try to avoid working in the direct sun. This will help to improve the workability of the paint. This is especially the case for water base paints.

Final Thoughts

If you have access to an airless paint sprayer, it can be a huge time saver. For example, surfaces that are not flat, such as shingle sidewall, various types of wood siding, and eaves require extensive cut-in with a paint brush. Painting over brick or other irregular surfaces can be difficult with a paint roller. Spray painting not only eliminates the tedious cut-in and roll, but it also produces better coverage. I recommend using a spray tip no larger than a 615 for a typical house exterior. Elastomeric paint coatings are an exception. They do require a larger orifice size - .023, .025, or .027.

Exterior painting often requires the use of ladders. Please take all the necessary safety precautions when undertaking an exterior house painting project because safety always comes first.

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Professional Painting, Inc. is a full service painting company serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1988.