Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Exterior Painting: What to look for: Part 1 (The Assessment)

Well folks, it's that time of year again! Time to take a walk around the the exterior of your home and make sure everything is in good shape. All too often we take the outside of our homes for granted. After all, we just had it painted a couple of years ago. It should still be fine, right?

Well, maybe!

Find some time on a nice and sunny Saturday of Sunday (or whatever day you have off!). It only really takes half an hour or less to do it and it can be WELL worth it. You know Ben Franklin's old saying: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." It's as true on your home as it is for your health.

Here are a couple of things you should look for as you walk around:

1: Condition of the paint. Sometimes this is pretty easy. Does it look uneven? Is it noticeably fading? Is there any peeling? Look at this picture, it's pretty obvious that paint is looking a little lean.

In addition to the obvious peeling, run your hand across the painted surface. Did you get some white residue on your hand? If so, this is called "Chalking" This is a sign that it's time to repaint. The paint film is breaking down and losing it's protective qualities. It's usually accompanied by a "washed out" look. Chalking is a normal part of paint aging. High quality 100% Acrylic exterior paints don't do this as much as lower quality paint. This is why you do NOT skimp on the quality of your paint!

2: The Caulking. This can be a tough one. There are many places where caulk belongs and many places where it does not. I won't cover all of that here, but I will in a future post. Caulk is designed to be a flexible sealant that helps to keep water and air from intruding into your home. The two most important places to look are around your windows and doors and above all of your horizontal trim boards. There should be NO gaps or cracks at these joints. Cheap caulk (also known as "painter's caulk" for some reason) will crack within a couple of years. It's just nor very flexible. I like ti use Urethane Modified Latex Caulk with a 55-year rating.

3: Siding and Trim. If you have wood trim or any siding made from wood or wood products, you probably have a problem somewhere! Much of these problems are caused by poor installation methods or poor finishing. Many of these problems can also be caused by defective or missing caulking. Look for buckling in the siding, moist or rotting wood, excessive insect activity, etc.

You can clearly see the buckling in the siding in this picture. Unfortunately there is really nothing that can be done to fix this besides replace the damaged siding. Many times this doesn't create any problems, but it can also open up gaps to allow water to get in. Generally there is no damage to the framing. It's usually a pretty easy fix, we do it all the time.

This is typical of "hardboard" siding that is so prevalent in the Midwest. You can see the bottom has taken on water and has deteriorated beyond repair. Simply painting the bottom edge a few years ago would have prevented this. Now it will need to be replaced.

More hardboard siding, this time it's lap siding. It's not immune to damage either! Much of this damage was caused by a gable vent that wasn't installed or flashed properly. Unfortunately, the solution is complete replacement. You never know what's behind lap siding! If left untouched, the backer board and the framing may rot resulting in additional repair cost.

4: Windows. Windows are a notorious weak spot of a typical home. They can be drafty, letting air in and out, but they are also highly susceptible to rot. It's usually easy to spot and most is repairable with the right knowledge and skill level.

Most rot occurs along the sill, usually at the edges where it meets the brickmolding. Brickmolding is a fancy name for the decorative trim around the window. Many times this joint is not caulked very well, or has separated with the settling of your home. Many windows can be repaired, but the ones in the picture will need to be replaced. Sometimes that's just the best way to fix the problem.

It's a little hard to see, but the sill on this double-hung window is badly rotten. Normally, this is relatively easy to fix. Unfortunately, the middle window sash is rotten as well. This window had to be completely replaced. This goes to show you that if you spend a little money on maintenance and prevention you won't have to spend a lot on replacement. The repair would have cost less than $500.00. The cost to replace and finish the window were over $2,000.
Stay tuned for more tips on what to look for when thinking about exterior painting and repair. Take a look around your house and check out your home's health! When you notice one of these problems, it's better to take care of them sooner, rather than later. If you live in the Kansas City area, feel free to contact me. My website address is

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