Four Simple Rules for Perfect Exterior Painting

If you want professional-looking results when painting exterior wood, approach the project as if you were a professional painting contractor. That means following four simple rules that come second nature to experienced painters, says Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute.

For the uninitiated, here are the four rules that great painters swear by:

1. Take time to prepare the surface properly.

According to Zimmer, this is where a lot of inexperienced painters go wrong.

"It's important to fight the urge to start painting as soon as possible," says Zimmer. "Even the best paints can fail if they're applied to a poorly prepared surface."

Before beginning to paint, clean the surface thoroughly. This can be done with rented power-washing equipment or by scrubbing with a long-handled brush using plain soap and water.

Afterward, remove any remaining loose, flaking, or peeling paint by scraping or wire-brushing. Next, sand down rough edges on the old paint, as well as areas where the paint is glossy.

Finally, brush off the dust and particles left from the sanding and scraping. Then sand and prime any areas where the wood is bare.

2. Buy top quality paint.

"To get the best-looking and longest-lasting paint job, it's important to use the highest grade of paint," advises Zimmer. "On wood and many other exterior surfaces, top quality 100 percent acrylic latex paint is the best choice."

Because these paints contain more solids than run-of-the-mill paints, they form a thicker, more durable paint film. What's more, they hide better, so they'll often conceal the old paint color in fewer coats, saving a lot of extra work ... and saving money, too.

"Top quality 100 percent acrylic latex paints also have better adhesion, so they get a better grip on a properly prepared surface," says Zimmer. "And they remain flexible, so they can expand and contract with changing temperatures. These attributes help top quality paints resist peeling and flaking, which adds to the life expectancy of the paint job."

Top quality 100 percent acrylic latex paints typically last 10 years or more, compared to three or four years for lower quality coatings, according to Zimmer. So, they are a much better value in terms of cost per year of service -- no small consideration in these trying economic times.

3. Use quality brushes and equipment.

For the best results when applying top quality paint, use quality brushes and accessories, says Zimmer. "Better quality equipment makes the work easier and helps apply the paint in a thicker, more uniform coat for a better-looking paint job."

She advises homeowners to choose brushes that are well-balanced and springy, with multiple lengths of split bristles packed tightly in a - to 1-inch thickness on a standard 4-inch brush.

When working with latex paints, it's important to use brushes with synthetic bristles -- ideally, polyester. According to Zimmer, polyester bristles will hold their shape and maintain the proper stiffness regardless of the amount of water they encounter.

4. Paint in the right weather conditions.

After you have your quality paint and tools in hand, choose the right type of day to apply the paint. Doing so will enable the paint to form a tough, durable, protective film.

Zimmer says it's best to do exterior painting in mild weather, ideally when temperatures are above 50 degrees F, and when the wind isn't strong.

On very hot days, try to avoid painting in direct sunshine, since surfaces sitting in direct sun can be 10 to 20 degrees hotter than the air temperature. One way to cope with this and still keep the job moving is to paint on the shady side of the house.

The four rules for perfect painting involve a lot of common sense and take a little self-discipline. But, if you follow them, you'll be rewarded with a beautiful, professional-looking paint job that will last for years.

For more advice on paints and painting, visit the Web site of the Paint Quality Institute at